South Orangetown Central School District

Eighth graders Jaden L. and London O. represented the South Orangetown Middle School Debate Club at the New York State YMCA Youth and Government Middle School Model Youth Legislature in Albany last month.

Over the course of three days, the two SOMS delegates had the opportunity to present bills they had written to their peers for debate and tour the State Capitol. They sponsored and presented a bill to prohibit book bans in K-12 schools to more than 200 peers from across the state, which passed. Jaden was awarded “Outstanding Delegate” for his performance, participation and collaboration and for exemplifying the YMCA’s core values of honesty, caring, responsibility and respect.

Although both Jaden and London have been Debate Club members since sixth grade, this was their first opportunity to travel to the annual statewide conference.

“I tried a bunch of things and just liked debating, so I stayed with it,” London said. “It’s a good way to get experience with public speaking which is helpful if you’re shy.”

“My mom urged me to join Debate Club as a way to learn to advocate for myself,” noted Jaden, who is interested in pursuing a career in medicine. “The club helps you with exploring future careers and gives you a look ahead at clubs and classes you might want to take in high school.”

The SOMS Debate Club, which builds on skills middle schoolers learn in their core subject and Research & Debate Explore classes, first participated in the Albany conference in 2017. Members of that original group went on to help found the Youth and Government Club (YAG) at Tappan Zee High School in 2019 and have been elected to statewide positions. Three of these former SOMS Debate Club members, now seniors, volunteered at this year’s middle school statewide conference, where they ran different assemblies where middle school delegates presented bills and served as chaperones.

“The SOMS Debate Club was the first time I was exposed to anything related to politics or government. It was a very meaningful experience and being recognized at the state level kept me motivated and gave me direction,” reported Matt T., who is Co-President of the TZHS YAG and is in his second year as the New York State YAG Secretary of State.

Ailish M. is the TZHS YAG Judicial Lead and was elected as NYS YAG Principal Justice this year. “Matt and I attended the state event in seventh and eighth grade,” Ailish M. recalled. “We were awarded ‘Best Bill’ and getting that recognition was exciting and motivating. I was also inspired by one of the mentors, who we’d see year after year. Her passion was inspiring.”

While the middle school level statewide program is composed solely of a legislative branch, the high school program features legislative, judicial and press branches, which offers expanded opportunities for students who are starting to consider college and careers. The SOMS Debate Club is advised by Library Media Specialist Kim Landgraff and the TZHS YAG Club is Social Studies teacher Scott Muscat.

“I plan to pursue medicine but participating in Youth and Government definitely helped me with public speaking and making friendships with other students across the state who are interested in talking about current events. It has really opened me up as a person,” said TZHS YAG Co-President Meline K., who is serving a second consecutive year as NYS YAG Editor-in-Chief. “The Judicial branch is great for people interested in becoming lawyers, but you can pursue whatever your interests are through YAG. If you’re interested in medicine, you can write and advocate for a bill related to healthcare. ”

Over the past four years, the TZHS YAG Club has grown to 60 active members and has sought to develop leadership skills among its members, many of whom began in middle school. “Not only is our school district represented in the leadership within all three branches at the state level, but we all have underclassmen within our club to continue the program that has been built,” Ailish added.

Congratulations to Jaden and London and best of luck to TZHS YAG at their statewide conference in March!

Debate Club and YAG members