By Megan Martin and Aleeza Zinn
On Feb. 6, the Senior class will arrive at school not in jeans and t-shirts, but rather suits and heels. On this day all 400-plus seniors will participate in the annual Mock Congress.
Mock Congress’s planning first began in 1998, to prepare for Mock Congress in February of 1999. AP United States history teacher Tony Manno and government teacher Steven Caziarc used their common prep periods to create and plan Mock Congress.
“We made some changes over time. For example, in year one, the two parties mirrored the school’s colors. But when one team put up posters advocating the White Party, we knew we had to fix that the next year,” said Manno.
Mock Congress has been happening annually since.
“Mock Congress itself is, I suppose, a day-long process beginning with the state of the union by the president, who is a staff member, followed by party caucus meetings,” Molly Gerber, government teacher, said. “And then the seniors break into the House of Representatives and the Senate to debate on and pass bills that they have written as their term papers for their government class.”
The planning of Mock Congress starts long before the actual day in February. Government teachers gather in mid-summer to discuss the timing of Mock Congress for the following year, along with which teachers will have their classes in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. The teachers continue strategizing all of the details of Mock Congress throughout the year. They work together to determine the timing and due dates of the writing process.
The writing process for the seniors, leading up to the day, consists of eight steps. The assignment begins with picking a topic, “something they’re passionate about, they want to see change in society,” said government teacher Allison Goldberg. This is followed by multiple steps for research about the chosen bill. Nearing the end of the project, the students create an outline, rough drafts and eventually a final draft.
After the seniors’ bills have been graded and returned, the teachers place the students in committees of eight or nine people. “There are weeks of committee meetings in classes where the classes will get together,” said Gerber, “and debate bills to see if they’re going to pass to get on to Mock Congress.”
These committees specialize in reviewing all of the bills fitting their topic of “expertise,” such as energy, relations and health. After discussing and revising the bills, the committees choose certain bills to move on, to be deliberated in an elected group of student officials.
Seniors are elected to higher positions in the same way that real life government elects officials, only “we tweak it a little bit to make it more workable for our process,” Goldberg explained. The students then announce their candidacy, and advocate for their ideas and the role they want to play. The senior class then nominates and elects who they want to be in the leadership roles.
This elected group of students meet and pick the top 12 bills they want to debate. These bills are the ones deliberated in Mock Congress. After the bills have reached Mock Congress, they need to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The bills also need to be passed by the president, and signed to become a law. If the president vetoes the bill, then it can still be overridden by the House and the Senate with a vote of two thirds or higher.
The president is played by a mystery teacher, whose identity is not revealed until the day of Mock Congress.
The day of Mock Congress begins when all of the seniors meet in Kofman Auditorium, with the student leadership, staff and president sitting at the front.
“We have the announcement that the president is here to give the state of the union address and that’s when you find out ‘ooh’ who’s the president this year. The mystery president comes up to the stage and gives his speech. Sometimes it’s comedic…or a fired progressive speech,” said Goldberg.
The seniors then split up in to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House meets in Kofman and the Senate meets in the media center. Within the Senate and the House, the students divide up one more time, into republicans and democrats, to have a quick meeting on where they are going to stand on an issue.
“The bulk of the day is really slogging through the bills pro and con and voting on them,” said Goldberg.
There are breaks throughout the day, including one for lunch, and another for hearing the bills the other chamber has passed.
Through Mock Congress, it has been proven that students gain a more in-depth understanding of how government works. “Going through each of the stages in a modified way, students understand the process better of how a bill [goes] from just an idea to all the way to the end and becomes a law,” said Gerber.