Students Learn the Ropes at Statehouse

By Tara Jayakar, Cape Cod Times

BOSTON — During heated testimony over a Senate bill that would deny a driver’s license to a truant student, Joe Sherlock — aka state Sen. Stephen Baddour, D-Methuen — argued that education level and driving aren’t connected.

“Because you can pass calculus does not mean you (wouldn’t) barrel down the 495,” he said.

Sherlock knows what he was talking about — the Haverhill High School senior is acquainted with both high school math and driving. The legislative process is newer to him.

But that was the purpose of Friday’s 65th annual Student Government Day at the Statehouse, which saw students learning about the finer details of debate, compromise and power politics. For Sherlock, it meant taking on the role of a state senator, but expressing his own opinions.

Five hundred high school juniors and seniors participated in this year’s simulated committee hearing, joint convention and Senate and House sessions on Beacon Hill. Each student and an alternate played the role of a representative, senator, constitutional officer or judge.

The bills the students discussed, including the truancy proposal, are real and currently in the Legislature.

But for Barnstable High School senior Seth Etienne, 18, the specific bills under debate weren’t top priority.

“My questions will hopefully be answered about the political process and how bills and laws are made and get passed,” Etienne said. “(The process) seems extremely inefficient to me right now.”

Etienne was serving as the alternate to the surrogate for Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable.To get to the Statehouse, Etienne had to compete with four other students in an election and give a speech over the school’s broadcast system.

Friday morning, he was particularly moved by Gov. Deval Patrick’s comments to the students on considering the impact bills have on people’s lives.

“Patrick was talking about the importance of always thinking about the effect it’s going to have on the people,” Etienne said. “But as a senior who has participated in many senior skip days, and as a truant, there’s no way that getting my license revoked is going to keep me from not going to school,” he laughed.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray spoke to the students about the importance of youth activists, referencing his time working on a library board in Worcester.

“Local government is the level of government closest to the people,” said Murray. “There are tangible things you can do in areas you care about.”

For Harwich High School senior Luz Arregoces, 17, who grew up outside of Boston, the experience Friday was important.

“Being able to come up to the city and see the Statehouse and seeing how the process really works I thought was really interesting,” he said.

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