Local students learn the role of Congress by drafting bills in mock legislative session

Hayden Snyder speaking about a class written bill | Photo courtesy of Arik Durfee

IDAHO FALLS — Seniors at Compass Academy High School in Idaho Falls got an in-depth look into how Congress works over the past few weeks when the school director allowed them to draft bills for the school that could turn into Compass “law”.

Arik Durfee, a classroom facilitator, tells EastIdahoNews.com this project gave students — many who were just turning old enough to vote — insight and perspective into the world of politics during the Presidential election, impeachment hearing, the riot on the Capitol, and the inauguration of President Biden.

“I always tell the students, ‘We will not make any attempt to brainwash you politically but I will be totally open about the fact that I will try to brainwash you into being open-minded civil humans.’” Durfee says.

The “Gov-lish” class, which is a class that includes elements of Government and English, began the project by having students draft bills to make certain changes at school. Some of the bills students came up with include adding a foosball or air hockey table to having long extension cords in classrooms and replacing carpeted floors in areas that usually get a lot of spills.

Each student now has the opportunity to debate the bills in committees, similar to how it’d done in Congress. Those that pass the committee are advanced to the House of Representatives — the Monday/Wednesday students — and the Senate — the Tuesday/Thursday students.

Bills that pass through both floors land on the desk of the President, played by Shelley Smede, the director of the high school. She has the power to sign or veto a bill.

“Mock Congress is one of my favorite projects because students get to have the same conversations the adults have had regarding Compass processes,” Smede says. “There is a great deal of power in the bills that pass and I’m always excited to review and adopt those.”

Olivia Harris acting as Pro Tempore of the Senate | Photo courtesy of Arik Durfee

The project continues this week and Smede is still determining the outcome of the student’s bills.

Some of the bills she’s approved in the past include allowing a painted mural in the school and specific wording on how parking should be regulated for the students. Bills that promote time-wasting or water down the education Compass offers usually don’t make it to her desk, she says.

Olivia Harris, a student who acted as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, says the project really helped her understand the content. She sat at the head of the room while students would request time to speak and make motions just like it’s done in Washington.

“It has actually taught me how (Congress) works and it’s more understandable because I am able to be in part of it and see how it works in person,” she says. “I feel much more confident in researching, looking, and seeing what I personally believe and who I will vote for.”

Maria Aquino, a senior at Compass Academy, says she is impressed with the way students have been learning and handling the situation, despite the current political climate in Washington.

“A lot of students have been very respectful,” Maria explains. “It’s been nice to know how things work instead of just knowing who’s angry at who.”

The English side of the course focused on persuasive speech. Students were required to write a speech about one bill, along with giving a few impromptu speeches for others.

“I’m really proud of the work that they have done,” classroom facilitator Holly Dasher says. “They really like the fact that they have a chance to change things.”

Maria Aquino delivering an impromptu speech | Photo courtesy of Arik Durfee