American Government simulation back in session at WEGO


Photo by Tim Sigidin

Committee hearings on November 15.

By Anthony Barrera, Reporter

On November 15,  American Government students at West Chicago Community High School partook in a simulated governmental committee hearing, and on December 6, they will start a mock House of Representatives session with topics like gun control, banning single use plastic, and Medicare – just to name a few.

Seniors have been busy preparing for the government simulations, unique learning opportunities that originated at West Chicago Community High School more than 20 years ago.

Seniors Brandon Contreras, Luke Hoffman, Mikhail Herrea, and Natalia Macias prepare for committee meetings. (Photo by Tim Sigidin)

American Government, taught by Social Studies teachers Candice Fikis, John Chisholm, and Bobbi Felfle, gives senior students the opportunity to participate in sessions which simulate how a real government session would function. Last year, government classes could not engage in their regular session since everyone was participating in e-learning. This year, however, the teachers returned to normal, in-person sessions and committee hearings – with masks, of course. 

Each year, the sessions allow students the opportunity to serve as leaders, running for such positions as Speaker of the House.

According to Chisholm, “We have noticed that we do not have as many seniors as we’d like to step up and assume various leadership roles. In our classes, we will debate and critically analyze a number of issues prior to our simulation. We try to allow students to run these discussions to give them experience and confidence for potential leadership roles in our simulation. I think as kids come back to school and get used to the ‘new normal’ of what school is now, I think that more students will step up and take on leadership roles.”

The only change to today’s committee hearings and the upcoming full session sessions was the location: in previous years, the event was held in the auditorium, but this year’s students made use of the new Learning Resource Center and surrounding English classrooms.

Senior Leo Gonzalez speaks to the committee.

Students had the chance to pick their bill on “Pick Day”, also known as “Political Issue Group Day”. The bills were awarded on a first come, first serve basis, and with just one bill topic per group, many students arrived at the school before 7:00 a.m. in order to get their bill of choice.

Senior Briceyda Vivaldo said, “I got up at 4:00 in the morning to get the bill that I wanted, but I didn’t get it. We ended up getting [the] removing the citizenship test bill.”

A legislative aide made sure they did not cover the same topics. If the student did not receive their chosen bill, they were still able to participate as a legislator, voting on the other bills.

The convoluted committee hearings on November 15 started at 10:00 a.m. and covered forty-two different bills; students studied and researched the topic prior to presenting in order to make the committee aware of their position in the simulation. The students also created websites for their bills, which had to be previously observed by twenty-five students before they heard from the spokesperson behind each during today’s session.

During the committee meeting, other students could question the spokesperson, then debate whether or not to support the bill. If the bill passed, it moves to the full session, which will take place on December 6, but if not, then the bill is dead.

Eight different committee groups looked at five or six distinct bills assigned to their group during today’s session.

In advance of the committee hearings today, Vivaldo emphasized, “I’m excited. I get to dress up and play government for a few hours, get the feeling how it works in real life.”

Students debate bills in committee hearings on November 15. (Photo by Tim Sigidin)

The sessions are graded as three different parts: students are assessed for bill work, participation, and how cooperative they are in the committee hearings.

In the perspective of senior Charlene Bahnfleth, “I’m looking forward to the simulation to go smoothly and quickly.”

West Chicago Community High School is not the only school that does these serious simulations, but was the school to do so. The American Government classes have been simulating governmental processes for twenty-eight years. The program was recognized by CBS News in 2018; the broadcaster profiled the simulation with a report that ended up in magazines and on the evening news.

Overall, an astounding two hundred students – half of the senior class – participated in today’s hearings. Now, these students look forward to the upcoming House of Representations simulation. The rest of the senior class will take their turn next semester.