OSWEGO, NY – Nearly three dozen students from around the county took control of the May meeting of the Oswego County Legislature. They came in as students and left as teachers.
The students sat with their legislator counterparts and cast their votes during the meeting.
Paul A. Forestiere II, executive director of Oswego County Cooperative Extension, helped organize the annual event.
“I am absolutely thrilled at the number of people who have come here today for Oswego County Youth Government Day. Look at this place, it’s packed!” Forestiere quipped at the meeting.
While there were nearly three dozen students from around the county taking part in the meeting, the packed house probably had to do with some of the other things on the legislators’ agenda he acquiesced.
“Today is a day for us to give young people an opportunity to learn first-hand about American government,” he said. “All of the children that you see here today are children that have been picked by their school in a variety of different ways. The only thing that we ask of them is when they go back to their school is that they take some time to talk with their classmates and with their teachers and with other people. The role here is kind of train the trainer. We want them to go back and talk about what they’ve done, what they’ve learned today.”
The students took an active part in a mock debate (regarding oil being discovered under Lake Ontario and whether off-shore drilling should be allowed).
In the end, the no votes came out on top, according to Legislator Jack Proud, facilitator of the event.
“We had a spirited debate with great participation,” he said.
Earlier in the day, they also toured the Oswego County Justice Center, including 911 and the courts.
When they got back, many of the students were asking a lot of questions, Forestiere said.
“Their brains were really moving,” he said. “And the (other) thing that absolutely blew me away was when I asked for a show of hands for how many kids knew about the 4-H program, about half the youth in this room raised their hand. So … that means we’re making great in-roads because more and more people are starting to recognize that the world’s largest youth development organization is here in Oswego County.”
During the legislature meeting, the students sat with their respective legislator and took part in casting votes on the day’s resolutions.
“I liked it. It was fun and we learned a lot,” said ‘chairman’ Baxter Mason. “The legislators made it a very real experience for us.” During the meeting he assisted Chairman Kevin Gardner in running the meeting.
However following the meeting, he added that politics likely weren’t in his future.
He said he wants to be a marine biologist.
“It was a good experience,” said Legislator Richard Kline’s student counterpart for the day Matthew Francis. “We learned a lot about county government and other stuff, too.”
“They are doing a good job, a very good job,” Chairman Gardner said. “They’re a very enthusiastic group this year, honor roll students.”
“We’ve had a great day. We really have a good group of students this year,” Forestiere told the legislature. “They are really interested; they want to know what’s going on and they want to become involved.”
He urged the legislators to look at the students in the room. Some of them just might wind up in public service in the future, he noted.
“The reality is, you are looking at the next generation. And maybe by exposing them to what we have today, maybe we can get some of the young people to say, ‘yes, I would like to do that,’” he said.
He thanked the county and his staff for all the hard work that went into making the day possible.
“Our mission is to educate. That’s what we do; we educate, real world, real time,” he said. “This is what it’s all about.”