MARQUETTE - While most of the students in Ishpeming High School last week were spending their school days studying algebra and Shakespeare, four of their fellow students were in Lansing, drafting and voting on legislation.
Sophomores Cora Bleau, Cole Seelen, Austin Wilkins and Noah Stetson spent March 14-18 in the Michigan Capitol, doing the job of the state's elected representatives.
The students, accompanied by their adviser, band teacher Dennie Korpi, and alumni adviser Jonathan Korpi, were learning what it takes to govern a state.
Above, from left, Ishpeming High School Youth in Government Adviser Dennie Korpi and IHS sophomores Cole Seelen, Noah Stetson, Cora Bleau and Austin Wilkins pose for a photo inside their school. The group spent five days in Lansing working as Michigan legislators. Top, the Michigan Capitol is seen. (Journal photo)
"We talked about health care, censorship, same-sex couples' rights, everything and anything a student would be interested in," said Stetson.
The group, along with more than 900 other students from more than 150 schools across the state, was part of the 64th annual Michigan Youth in Government State Leadership conference.
Each year, students attending the conference draft legislation and try to lobby their positions on issues of their choosing. Some of that legislation is then passed on to the actual politicians.
Last year saw anti-bullying legislation drafted by students from MYIG that made it all the way to Gov. Rick Snyder's office, where he signed it into law.
As a result of "Matt's Safe School Law," school districts across the state were required to reexamine their anti-bullying policies, bringing them to a new state standard.
The four Ishpeming students drafted legislation that spans the political spectrum, from Stetson's joint resolution calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage to Seelen's draft of a bill that would allow ATVs to ride the roadways.
Stetson said he chose to focus on gay marriage because he felt all residents, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the same legal rights.
"I think that same-sex couples shouldn't be denied the right of marriage," Stetson said. "It's a basic right in this country and in a lot of other countries."
Bleau wrote legislation that would ease math requirements for high school graduation while Wilkins saw a need for legislation that would cap the salaries of superintendents for Michigan schools, saying that teachers are being cut because the school can't afford to pay them.
"Superintendents are way overpaid," Wilkins said. "Capping salaries will make more money available for supplies and teachers."
Bleau also cited funding cuts as the reason behind her legislation.
"I don't think we need to have 30 students forced to take a class when only five or six are actually interested in that class," she said, adding that most students will move into careers where high-level math skills won't be necessary.
Stetson's joint-resolution made it through the student legislature, so it will be passed on for consideration by the actual senators and representatives that comprise Michigan's government.
All four students said they learned something valuable from the conference, agreeing that becoming an informed voter is an important part of the governing process.
Bleau said working through the process empowered her as a future-voter.
"It (the conference) gives you hope that you have a say," she said, adding that she learned a lot about politicians, having gotten the chance to sit down with a few legislators during the conference. "You ask them a question, they don't completely answer it. They just kind of talk."
Seelen said the conference helped him participate in activities he may not have otherwise.
"You meet a lot of new people," Seelen said. "It took me out of my comfort zone. You had to get up and debate in front of everybody."
Stetson said the conference served as a venue that connected the issues of the Upper Peninsula with those of downstate.
"You learn more about what people in other areas of the state think," he said. "A lot of issues we're facing, they're something that might not be exactly the same issues downstate."
Wilkins said the conference has helped become more outgoing, gaining confidence in his speaking skills.
"Being forced to debate in front of other people, you have to step our of your comfort zone," he said.
All four students said they'd like to return to the conference next year, though they hope to not have to choose a political party.
Political parties, they said, don't seem to serve a positive purpose.
Bleau felt the sting of rejection from her party after she decided to vote against party lines on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state.
"I'd encourage people not to get caught up in your political party," Bleau said. "I went against my party at one point, about cannabis. They didn't think I should have done that."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.