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Students model Congress
By Gwen H. Jader | Daily Herald Correspondent

High school students participate in a model Congress and assume the roles of actual members of the U.S. Congress. Congressman Mark Kirk, right, swears the students in before their debate on Sudan and stem-cell policy.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Stevenson High School student Martha VanLieshout, left, acts as chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs committee and oversees a discussion about Sudan with Glenbrook North student Aaron Goldstein.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/6/2008 1:30 AM

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High school students from across Lake County took over Congress Saturday.

A Model Congress, that is.

About 70 students took on the roles of actual congressmen and debated two proposed laws, as part of the Tenth District Model Congress held Saturday and again today at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

Libertyville junior Emily Buehler was excited to attend.

"I attended last year and thought it was worthwhile. This year, I really care about the subjects of the two bills which are being considered, so I'm personally interested, as well," she said.

The students, outfitted in business attire or dresses or suits and ties, participated in congressional hearings, "mark up" legislative sessions and heated debates about potential laws.

The proposed laws included one to establish U.S. policy toward peace and security of the Darfur region of Sudan, and another to establish policy on stem cell research.

Since students had to represent actual Congress members, it encouraged them to look at the issue from a point of view that may differ from their own, Buehler said.

At times, the students stepped out of their roles. After all, it was politics, said Will McGauran, a senior at New Trier High School who was attending for the second year.

This year he portrayed House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democratic representative from Maryland, while last year he portrayed the Minority Leader, Republican John Boehner of Ohio.

"Compromise is huge. Last year, we had to have some backroom meetings, and it was frustrating not always being able to win," McGauran said.

The Model Congress gives students a good idea of how the actual Congress works, said Congressman Mark Kirk, a Republican from Highland Park who started the event last year.

In order to develop a broader understanding of Darfur, students heard testimony from keynote speaker Ambassador Rich Williamson, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan. Cardiologist Jay Alexander provided input on stem cell research.

"It is highly likely that future members of Congress are sitting here in this room, and this will give them a jump start on the process," Kirk said.

Kirk and congressional staff were on hand to guide the students through realistic committee hearings and floor proceedings. Students represented high schools including Stevenson, Buffalo Grove, Deerfield, Glenbrook North and South, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Loyola Academy, Mundelein, Vernon Hills and Waukegan.