AURORA -- March 10 was Harmon School's eighth-grade Mock Con-gress day.
Final voting by opposite houses on bills that passed the House or Senate took place March 17. In the end, only 17 of the 95 bills proposed went the distance and passed every hurdle.
For this year's event, students were assigned to the Senate or House of Representatives according to their eighth-grade social studies class. Four classes made up the Senate and six classes made up the House.
Each student also was assigned a state to represent at random, with equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House. Students began by investigating their state and finding a Congress member or senator from their state who they agreed with on key issues.
Then they explored an issue area of personal interest. What they learned, they published on personal pages that grew to include links to their bills and bill presentation, along with all sources they used for research.
During the second week, students caucused and chose partners to begin the bill writing process. Along with the bill that each group of two or three built on the Mock Congress website, they also created an 11-slide Google presentation to use in presenting their bill.
The bills focused on a national problem and showed how to solve it in a practical, affordable way.
The third week, students presented their bills to classroom committees in sessions run by committee chairpersons elected by their peers. Bills that passed classroom committees advanced to the full House or Senate.
This year's committee chairpersons were Ryan Stahl, Ricky Reynolds, Jeff Miller, Aden Ricketts, Mara Hanson, Mackenzie Roy, Luke Evans, Celeste Conley, Kyle Zagorsky, Erika Lee and Rohan Shaik.
Students elected their peers to full House and Senate leadership positions according to their political parties. Overall, students were split almost 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with more students identifying with the Green Party than every before.
The House was majority Democrat and the Senate was majority Republican. In the House, the speaker was Ari Shepherd, the majority leader was Spencer Baldwin and the majority whip was Mikayla Martin. The minority leader was Sophia Manav and the minority whip was Jeff Miller.
In the Senate, president pro tempore was Ryleigh Jones, majority leader was Sean Fritinger and majority whip was Leah Domos. The minority Leader was Jory Alqahtani and minority whip was Emma Krondorfer. These students all played very active roles on Mock Congress day.
According to social studies teacher Paul Frank-mann, Mock Congress day engages students in politics from first period through the end of the day.
All of Harmon's eight-grade faculty members help make the day run smoothly, aided by Harmon custodians John Eacott and Ed Safko, who set up seating and sound equipment, and band director Lindsay Draime and orchestra director Jason Burdett, who lent their rooms as meeting spaces for the full House and Senate.
Harmon's sixth- and seventh-grade staff and students also juggled their schedules to make the day possible.
A number of guest speakers from all levels of government joined Mock Congress day activities.
One day U.S. Rep. David Joyce stopped by with his district director Nick Ciofani. He spoke briefly about the appropriations process and his concerns for keeping funding for the Great Lakes Initiative that he sponsored under the new administration.
He then took students questions and validated their concerns and ideas.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin and state Rep. Sarah LaTourette shared the stage one day.
According to Frankmann, both did a wonderful job explaining the workings of the different branches and levels of government, and encouraged students to keep in touch with them with their ideas.
Womer Benjamin answered questions about properties being developed in Aurora and LaTourette answered many questions about education.
"It was exciting to learn about a bill that she [LaTourette] sponsored which has just been signed into law," said Frankmann. "It will allow high schools to add foreign language endorsements to transcripts for students who reach a high level of proficiency either through classroom study of a second language or through speaking another language at home."
Northeast Ohio District representatives Josh Prest (for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman) and Sarah Lowry (for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown) visited, and after short presentations and longer question-and-answer sessions, stayed to listen to student bill presentations.
Noted Frankmann, "If Harmon's Congress was the Congress of the United States, it would forward the following ideas to the president to be signed into law":
Tougher gun licensing and background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals.
Limits on greenhouse gas emissions through tax incentives and penalties on fossil fuel fired power plants and industry along with new taxes on fracking.
Turn more federal forest lands over the the National Park Service for conservation.
Limit government power to seize private property through eminent domain.
Limit welfare benefits to six months for those physically and mentally able to work.
Flip inner city buildings to create housing for homeless veterans.
Eliminate Common Core standardized testing and restore funding to foreign language, the arts, home economics and physical education programs.
Postpone the start of the school day until 9 a.m. and eliminate homework, but not studying, for grades 6 to 12.
Fund two-year college scholarships for qualifying foster children.
Standardize and subsidize college textbooks.
Along with the thank-yous students have written, they will forward copies of the bills which went the distance to each of the guest speakers.
"By popular acclaim, Mock Congress 2017 was a great success, one of Harmon's enduring eighth-grade traditions, along with the Washington D.C. trip in October," said Frankmann.