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  • Naia Albert

Club Spotlight: Youth and Government Tries to Fix the City’s Problems

Walls seniors Amina Ford (second from left) and James Setty and junior Maya Maaloul at the D.C. Youth Summit in December / Credits: Amina Ford

It's a typical Thursday afternoon and the future politicians of Walls are gathered in room 330. During their bi-weekly meetings, the Youth and Government (YAG) members at Walls — led by seniors James Setty and Amina Ford — discuss current issues affecting youth in the D.C. area and brainstorm ideas for possible legislation, all while earning community service hours.

YAG is a Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) program with chapters around the country that teaches students to learn about the legislative process by drafting and debating original legislative proposals regarding issues in D.C.

Ms. Sylvia, the Walls chapter’s sponsor, says YAG makes “students aware of local government and [gets] them engaged in local issues by having students take on the roles themselves.”

This year, Setty says the team is drafting bills about “mental health days in schools, expanding Metro access, [increasing] frequency of trash cans, decreasing public dumping, and expanding SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]” to lessen the devastation of food deserts.

Bills drafted within the Walls chapter will eventually be debated by YAG members across the District, and the final legislation will be reviewed by the actual D.C. Council.

Throughout the school year, YAG members participate in two major district-wide events: the Youth Summit in the fall and the Legislative Weekend in the spring.

The Youth Summit is a one-day conference that takes place in D.C. where participants write and debate bills, and attend speeches by District elected officials.

During the Legislative Weekend, students campaign for office and vote for mock officials including a Youth Mayor, Youth Council Chair (currently Ford), and Youth Superintendent of Education (currently Setty). Setty, the current Youth Superintendent, explained that these elected officials oversee the debate of mock legislation and “work together to plan all the events and meetings for the citywide program throughout the year.”

Though the pandemic prevented the program from operating at full capacity, prior to the pandemic, legislation proposed by YAG, such as an expansion of the Kids Ride Free program in 2017, has been made into law.

School Without Walls has had much to do with that success, with four of the past six Youth Mayors being from Walls.

Many YAG leaders have gone on to careers in politics and government, such as Ward 4 council member and Walls alumna Janeese Lewis George, who was Youth Mayor from 2005-2006.

Youth and Government meets in room 330 every other Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

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