My first NCFCA Event – The shriek caught me off guard!
By Dave Racer, MLitt
Governor of Student Senate
A loud shriek startled me on the day several years ago when I entered the lobby of a community activities building. I had come to be a volunteer community judge at an NCFCA event – my first time. Never having done this before, I did not know what to expect, other than meeting some incredible young people who would be competing with each other.
The shriek, however, caught me off guard. It came from a room at the end of the hallway and it had made me jump.
What?!! I couldn’t imagine anything like that at a home school, high school speech and debate competition. Seeing that no one else near me overreacted as I did, I calmed myself and sauntered down the hall to peek into the room from which that scream had emanated.
Peering cautiously into the room I saw Student Senator Mary Blade* (that’s how I knew her), moving and speaking dramatically in front of a panel of adults and a few spectators. The adults sat at tables right in front of her, and I saw how they carefully studied her, and listened intently.
Mary spoke with power and her movements gave life to her words. I had never before seen or heard anything like that. Soon I learned that Mary was competing in a dramatic speech competition category.
Student Senator Blade, a high-school junior, had distinguished herself at each of our weekly Senate sessions that year. During the semester I had watched Senator Blade as she grew from a quiet, thoughtful, insightful and engaged Senate member, to one more vocal and assertive.
To this day, I don’t know if Sen. Blade’s NCFCA experience or her Student Senate experience accounted for her personal growth that semester. Likely both – they both produce similar outcomes.
Becoming a community judge
The mother of one of my Student Senator leaders, had invited me to judge at that NCFCA event. I’ve been back dozens of times since – local, regional, and national competitions. At the time, her daughter was a second-year Student Senator, and an Assistant Majority Leader. She, too, competed in NCFCA events.
Later, when many other Student Senators – a President, Majority Leader, Committee Chairs, and various Members – joined and competed in NCFCA, it became obvious to me. The incredible students competing at NCFCA and my Student Senators were a perfect fit. Each venue helped them practice many of the same skills.
What is this Student Senate?
Student Senate, beginning its Twenty-First session in 2022 (Minnesota, Twin Cities), is an interactive, student-led legislative experience, distinguished by the wide agency given to students to determine their own course of study. Generally offered during a 15-week semester meeting once each week, the curriculum requires students to choose four critical, contemporary issues they wish to explore. Committees organize the studies and supplement their learning by calling witnesses.
Witnesses standing before a Student Senate are surprised and hugely impressed by the quality and depth of questions asked by these high-school-aged “lawmakers.” Over the years these witnesses have included members and former Members of Congress, state legislators, local elected officials, judges, attorneys, prosecutors, professors, pastors and priests, activists, and “civilians” – exactly as it happens in a real Senate committee room.
“Thank you for your time and testimony,” the President will say in dismissing a witness. “Wow, every student should do this,” is the common witness response. I agree.
Next, committees present their findings to the Senate, and each Senator writes a bill. The session culminates with each Senator moving adoption of their own bill and convincing their peers to vote for it.
Process does not define Student Senate
The process is formal, organized, dignified, and a ton of fun – but this is not what defines Student Senate.
What defines Student Senate is the development of several skills. Critical thinking. Research. Persuasion. Dialogue. Teamwork. Written and verbal communication skills. Leadership. Coaching. These pair seamlessly with the skills necessary in speech, debate, and moot court.
In other words, Student Senators and NCFCA contestants are well-matched.
Maybe in your town
More than 500 Student Senators have completed our curriculum here in Minnesota. Many attest that Student Senate participation and especially, leadership positions have helped open college doors and scholarships.
Each session, the Senators, their parents and peers, see the growth in their lives, and they use the last day to celebrate a great experience. (Some come back as leaders the following year).
In 2022, we have begun a journey to take this curriculum across the country, training tomorrow’s leaders today. We see local Student Senates functioning in every state, as a place to train up leaders, giving them a chance to practice and then excel in leadership skills.
We also see Student Senators becoming competitors at NCFCA.
Let’s talk about a Student Senate in your town. We are looking for 5-10 Beta sites. More information is available at https://studentsenatesaa.com or by emailing Dave racer at Govracer@studentsenatesaa.com.