The future of the state of Washington is in good hands. In May, three Bellingham Public Schools juniors campaigned for and won high-level leadership positions in a YMCA program called Youth and Government. In this program, students learn how to run a state government in hands-on simulation, culminating in an annual four–day mock-Congressional session held in Olympia at the State Capitol.
Sehome’s Thomas Cassella was elected Secretary of State, Squalicum’s Caden Stoane was elected Speaker of the House, and Bellingham High’s Madeline (Maddie) Ellis is the new governor of the state of Washington. In addition, their Youth and Government peers voted our local group “outstanding delegation.” Pretty good for a group of around a dozen among 350 total participants from across the state.
Our local chapter of this national program is open to all students grades 8 and up who live in the area served by the Whatcom Family YMCA. YMCA program director and local adviser Lynda Purdie has been involved in Youth and Government since she was a WWU student in the 1990s.
“Youth and Government is an amazing opportunity to teach kids about being civically involved,” Purdie said. “It’s really encouraging to see and hear what the youth believe in—it restores your faith in the governmental process.”
All three students agreed that a highlight for them has been learning about politics and government in a hands-on, positive way, and would encourage their peers to consider participating in the program’s weekly meetings. There is no party system in Youth and Government. Instead, delegations choose ideas they are interested in, research and put together bills, and then work to shepherd those bills through the mock-Congress in May.
Along the way, the delegates develop leadership and campaigning skills and learn the steps of our state-level political system. “It grounds politics in reality,” Stoane said.
Governor-elect Ellis values the way all delegates are able to respectfully debate, find solutions and respect each other as human beings. She modeled her gubernatorial campaign on the ideals of friendship and inclusion, inspired by a recent documentary about the life of Fred Rogers. She didn’t want a campaign slogan that was “overly cheesy,” but found her inspiration in Rogers because he “is the most inclusive person you can be,” Ellis said.
As governor, Ellis will serve as the student representative on the state YMCA’s Youth and Government board, will organize much of next May’s legislative session and will represent Washington at the national assembly. After high school, Maddie plans to study law or political science, with an ultimate goal of law school and public service.
Caden Stoane, Squalicum junior, whose campaign slogan was “Steady as a Stoane,” finds the program to be “low pressure, but not low commitment.” He values the speaking and critical thinking skills he’s acquired, and credits the program, which he joined in eighth grade, in helping him overcome some social anxiety. Stoane has researched bills on self-driving cars and a survival class for civilians in case of danger to the United States. He hopes to go into law, acting or politics.
Sehome’s Thomas Cassella joined Youth and Government as a freshman after enjoying Kulshan Middle School’s mock congress as an eighth grader. As secretary of state, his job will be to keep the Congress running smoothly behind the scenes, so his campaign slogan was “take it easy.” “I wanted everyone to know, don’t stress—I got it,” Cassella said. Cassella enjoys learning about the civic process and the political system, while continuing to practice good communication skills, which he puts to use in student government, debate and DECA as well.
The other Bellingham Public Schools students attending the event and serving as senators, representatives and pages were: eighth graders Sara Jackson from Kulshan Middle School, Jack Kelly and Avery Horton from Whatcom Middle School, Addison Getz and Seneca Maris from Fairhaven Middle School; juniors Elliot Shaughnessy-Lively from Sehome High School and Will Story from Bellingham High School.
If you are interested in more information about this local club, contact Lynda Purdie at the Whatcom Family YMCA by email or at 360-255-0632. There will be an informational open house on October 7 at the Bellingham YMCA.