Members of the Rocky Mount Area Youth Council, from left, Kelly Harris, Reuben Cooper Blackwell, Alicia Whitaker, Jacobi Walston, Lyndsey Jones, Branden Sumner and Brandi Cordell attended the  Youth Legislative Assembly on March 15-17 in Raleigh.

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Members of the Rocky Mount Area Youth Council, from left, Kelly Harris, Reuben Cooper Blackwell, Alicia Whitaker, Jacobi Walston, Lyndsey Jones, Branden Sumner and Brandi Cordell attended the Youth Legislative Assembly on March 15-17 in Raleigh.

Students learn about legislature by passing bills

By Darla Slipke

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While many high school students learn about the legislative process through textbooks and class, Lyndsey Jones has had an opportunity to experience it firsthand by participating in the Youth Legislative Assembly.

The program is a mock legislative session that gives high school students throughout the state an opportunity to discuss and vote on issues concerning local, state and national government.

Students draft bills, engage in debate about a variety of issues and vote on mock legislation.

More than 200 high school students from 84 schools gathered this past weekend at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh for the 43rd annual Youth Legislative Assembly. The event is held by the N.C. Department of Administration’s Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office.

During the three-day session, students discussed bills involving a variety of topics, including fracking and immigration. Many of the issues students choose to debate involve issues with which the N.C. General Assembly is grappling, said Stephanie Nantz, executive director of the Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office.

“It’s a great opportunity for youth to learn the process of how laws are created and passed, and it’s a great opportunity for them to meet youth leaders from across the state,” Nantz said.

The program is open to all high school students in North Carolina who are in good standing.

Jones, a senior at Northern Nash High School, was part of a leadership team that met every month for approximately six months to prepare for the event.

As co-chairwoman of the Human Sexuality Committee, Jones and a fellow co-chairman proposed a bill that would require all ninth-graders in North Carolina to take a sexual education class.

They conducted research and worked to draft a bill to present to other delegates. Their efforts culminated this past weekend, when the bill passed in the Youth Legislative Assembly.

Seeing the bill pass was amazing, Jones said.

North Carolina has high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, Jones said. She said they wanted to propose a bill that would help educate teenagers about those risks.

Last year, Jones served as co-chairwoman of the Substance Abuse Committee. She and another co-chairman composed a bill to classify alcopops as spirits, which means they could only be sold in ABC stores. Alcopops are sweetened alcoholic beverages that typically are sold in single-serving cans or bottles.

Jones said the skills and knowledge she gained from the Youth Legislative Assembly will serve her well in the future. She plans to attend N.C. Central University in the fall, where she hopes to earn a degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology.

In addition to Jones, a number of local students who are members of the Rocky Mount Area Youth Council participated in this year’s Youth Legislative Assembly.

The Youth Council is composed of area high school students who seek to serve, listen to and represent local youth in matters of civic interest and need. The organization is sponsored by the city of Rocky Mount Human Relations Department and chartered through the N.C. Department of Administration’s Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office.

Other members of the Rocky Mount Area Youth Council who participated in the Youth Legislative Assembly include: Rocky Mount High School junior Kelly Harris, Rocky Mount High School senior and area Youth Council President Reuben Cooper Blackwell, Nash Central High School senior Alicia Whitaker, Rocky Mount High School sophomore Jacobi Walston, Rocky Mount High School senior Branden Sumner and Rocky Mount High School senior Brandi Cordell.

Several of the students were recognized with leadership awards.

Jones received the Richard White Leadership Award, which is for senior-ranking members of the Youth Legislative Assembly Leadership Team who demonstrate strong leadership and organizational skills. She also received the Jaime and Josh DeBottis Award of Service for students who have served at least three years in the Youth Legislative Assembly and the State Youth Council, and the Sud-Freemark Award of Service, which honors students who have participated in the Youth Legislative Assembly for four years, including three years on the leadership team.

Cordell and Blackwell were honored with the Jimmy Gibbs Award, which honors the delegate from each committee who contributes the most to the discussion by rewriting bills, asking questions, showing creativity and inspiring others. Cordell was recognized from the Education Committee, and Blackwell was recognized from the Health Affairs Committee.