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Youth & Government Gives Students Tools for Success

By Celeste Tijerina, Fox Tech High School

The 2022 YMCA Youth and Government District Conference officially commenced on Saturday, November 5, bringing together students from schools in San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi to Akins High School in South Austin.

The Youth and Government program was formed in 1946 to educate and empower young adults as they move into a world of democracy. Youth and Government, or YAG for short, offers students the opportunity to understand and partake in a democracy and the U.S. legal system. Of the several programs offered through YAG, one includes the media section, in which students can gain knowledge in journalism through immersive, hands-on activities.

From the Akins High School senior class, Alize Martinez chose to participate in YAG’s media section under the photojournalism subsection. In this subsection, students must create a collection of photos with a caption attached that tells a story. With the encouragement of her teacher, she joined the media program with the hope and goal of overcoming her fear of public speaking. The concept of photography is not a foreign one to Martinez, who had previously taken photography classes. “I do like the section on photojournalism,” she said. “I took photography classes in middle school, so it’s actually pretty fun.” Martinez believes that YAG offers students the ability to apply the real-world skills they learn in the program to their daily lives. She says, “If we want to use [what we learn] in our career paths later on, it’ll be easier and not so confusing.” This is Martinez’s first and only year participating in YAG, but she says that had she known about the opportunities the program offered, she would have joined sooner.

“I only get to experience it for a short time. If I had started earlier, I could’ve overcome my speaking problem earlier.”

Just as Martinez had felt about the district conference, she noticed other students in the trial court cases she observed seemed to be just as nervous. The students were tripping over their words, but ultimately, Martinez knew they were fully capable individuals. She offered words of encouragement to any students who need to hear them: “Don’t be nervous, and good luck!”

Akins High School student Alize Martinez works on her Photojournalism assignment.

YAG Makes Profound Impacts on Students

How Texas Youth and Government has changed the lives of those who attend

By Holland Beard, Austin High School

YMCA Youth and Government provides an environment for students to become more aware of issues surrounding them and gives them a chance to expand on their existing skills with an exclusive experience. The club has been active since 1946 and has strived to educate its members that “Democracy must be learned by each generation.” The program has affected many members, with some coming out of it with improved skills, new friendships, and a greater view of issues surrounding Texas.

“My favorite part of the club is by far the people,” says Annika Singh, a sophomore and long-time attendee of Youth and Government. Singh reminisces about her past experiences with the organization. “The club has changed my life; it has opened up so many new experiences for me and has caused me to meet people I’ll never forget.” As she walks down the halls of Akins High School, she begins again, “I just have never experienced something that has connected me with so many people and allowed me to really shine.”

Youth and Government has over 25,000 involved students across the state, their backgrounds varying all over Texas. The program has forged one of her longest-lasting friendships. “I’ve met so many friends who I never would’ve met,” she says. Youth and Government currently hosts 40 state programs, ranging all over Texas. According to the program’s website, www.ymcatexasyg.org, there are also 3,300 volunteers and advisors.

Youth and Government has helped in ways other than connecting like-minded students. It has had a massive impact on important lifelong skills such as public speaking. Sophomore Zoe Moreno says how much she has changed throughout her years at Youth and Government. “My public speaking has improved so much.” Public speaking is an essential part of all sections at Youth and Government. Those who took part came out of it with more experience in the art of public speaking, even those who were embarrassed or scared to speak.

“The purpose of Youth and Government is to educate its members on the political issues surrounding Texas,” says senior Lola Shmeis. Shmeis is the club leader at Austin High School and an advanced member of Youth and Government. Youth and Government’s purpose is to educate students on the importance of political understanding and to give them hands-on experience in that. The experience provides all attendees with new information learned both through conferences and research. The students hear about political issues that impact them, and how they can fix them. “I love bragging about how the red-on-right rule was made by Youth and Government,” says Shmeis, recounting how the law allowing for a legal right turn at a red light started as a Youth and Government proposal. The real-life impacts of the club are not lost on her, and she expresses pride in the program. “The impact of Youth and Government is important statewide. What we’re doing is making a difference,” Shmeis says.

Fashion Trends on Display at YAG District Conference

By Kaitlin Buck, Veterans Memorial High School

All around the world people have learned to grow and express themselves through fashion, and that was no different at the YMCA Youth and Government District Conference at Akins High School on Saturday. Fashion has become a big part of the newest generation and has grown as a whole within a short period of time. Due to the uprising sense of fashion we have adapted, people have grown to do more with it than just the usual.

An example of what’s been done these past couple of years that makes fashion so unique is that we have crafted multiple trends such as monochromatic, camo, neutral colors, and many more! Not only has fashion expanded within clothing, but it has also expanded within costumes that are now being put together as everyday pieces. At the rate the fashion industry is going, everyone will be trying to figure out and keep up with trends for the foreseeable future.

Many different fashion sources were on display at Akins. “I knew I had to dress formally today,” said Owen, a student at Dalacin Science Academy, “so I picked out the best suit in my closet. “Sadly, I didn’t have any formal shoes, so I went with Balenciagas.” He also stated that his favorite fashion trend was baggy pants, which is a very big trend in the fashion community at the moment.

Most young millennials these days get their fashion sense from Social Media. When they see  prominent people and celebrities such as Kylie Jenner or Justin Bieber, they are easily influenced by their style and want to follow along. People will see what they wear and will reflect and try to do the same. These people make big impacts in our community, when people see outfits they are wearing they always want to follow along. Kylie Jenner, a couple of months ago, started wearing baggy pants with Jordan Dunks. Now everyone does the same, and she is what they call a fashion trendsetter. All in all, what we’ve seen today has helped us gather evidence to support our claim on the fashion industry. Fashion has helped so many people in today’s world.

 

Veteran, First-Time YAG Students Bring Different Strengths, Perspectives

By Eleanor Thompson, Austin High School

Every year Akins High School welcomes old and new faces to the YMCA Texas Youth and Government (YAG) District Conference. Some come from a background of debate rooms, Model UN conferences, and years of practice participating in YAG. Others have zero experience in anything related to the club. Zoe Moreno and Holland Beard sit on opposite sides of this spectrum. Moreno on the experienced end, and Beard on the novice side. Does their experience in the club dictate how well they perform in their own respective sections? Here’s their opinion on it:

Zoe Moreno is a sophomore at Austin High School and has been in YAG since 6th grade. “The skills I’ve learned transfer into all of the academic involvements such as Model UN and Debate,” she says. “It helped my public speaking skills grow and aided my advancement in YAG.” She feels that her background gives her an advantage. “Practice makes perfect, and I have more knowledge in the field. If the person has years of debate or MUN under their belt, sure I’ll give them that,” she says, “but I still have more experience in YAG.They have skills in places that might boost them, but they still don’t have the understanding of YAG.”

Holland Beard is participating in her first year at the Media Department. Furthermore, she was in the Yearbook and Journalism Club throughout middle school and continues to write in her free time. “I understand this is my first year. However, I still think I can excel,” she says. “If I’m at a debate tournament and it’s my first time participating, and say I have five pre-existing years of debate, in my opinion, I’ll be better than the kid who participated for three years.” She shakes her head as if she said something wrong, “To be fair, it’s your perspective. I don’t think experience determines someone’s quality of work.”

Skill grows based on one’s own experience whether it is in YAG, Debate, Journalism Club, or MUN. As Beard says, it’s based on your perspective. Experience in YAG does not always determine how you perform. Background in other forms is the same. Experience, no matter whether it’s in Youth and Government, helps contribute to one’s success.

Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrates Immigrant Experience, Culture

By Frida Hernandez-Aguila, Veterans Memorial High School

During Hispanic Heritage Month many are reminded of the culture of their homes, the homes that many immigrants had to leave. Leaving home and making many sacrifices for a better life, to be able to reach for the “American dream.”

“About 12 years ago, my family made the tough decision to leave our only home that we knew, which had our family, language, and culture. This decision was made on the pure thought of having a better future,” said Miranda Revilla from Veterans Memorial High School in San Antonio. This is a story about the immigrants that come undocumented and the ones that do come here legally but don’t make it because they were blinded by the idea of the American dream. “As stated by my mother, the American dream is ’overrated,’. It does not mean that a person can’t achieve it. But means that it is too sugarcoated for the immigrants that hear it,” explains Revilla.

Not just because a person crossed that line at the border that divides the troubles of their country and the future does it mean that they have accomplished it. This is not the finish line for many immigrants. Many of these people leave their countries because of poverty or violence from the government or gangs, just to have to get two or even three jobs to be able to survive.

The money they earn is not kept but sent to their families back home. At this point, they only know how to survive, and their chances of living the life they dreamed about are limited.

Even the ones that come here with all the right documents still have to fight for many years against the culture shock and the new way of life. “When first arriving in America, the first house that we had was too big, our skin color was not the same shade as the rest, our language was exotic to them, and our food had a strange smell,” Revilla says. “We used to see ourselves as less than the Americans, and we had the idea that they saw themselves as more. Though it is the years that have taught us that we are not less or more but just people trying to live.”

The entertainment industry in recent years has worked to show the troubles that immigrants and people in Latin America go through. The 2014 movie, Llevate a Mis Amores, directed by Arturo Gonzalez, shows the journey of hundreds of immigrants from across Latin America that take the train known as, “La Bestia”, because it causes many deaths. The 2019 movie, Ya no Estoy Aquí, directed by Fernando Frias, shows how even after coming to the U.S., a young man running away from the cartel couldn’t make it. The 2021 movie, Noche de Fuego, directed by Tatiana Huezo, shows the violence experienced by many Mexicans on a daily basis from cartels. The song by Natalia Lafourcade, “Hasta La Raiz,” talks about how even living in America she will never forget her roots in Mexico. The song by Calle 13, “Latinoamerica”, sends a message about the injustice experienced in Latin countries. We show our culture and troubles through works of art to be able to get the message through to those that need to hear it, and we hope for them to see it.

Miranda Revilla, a first-generation U.S. citizen from Veterans Memorial High School, reflects on her family’s experience as immigrants.

A Look Inside an Appellate Trial

By Nora Kelly, Liberal Arts & Sciences Academy

Appellate trials are a faceoff between two teams of two: one arguing in support of the state’s decision, and one arguing that the previous trial was unjust and that decision should be appealed. Appellate team Jaxie Niles Arguello and Samantha Mason, seniors at LASA, are both first-timers in appellate but have three years of experience in mock trial.

Within the judicial section of YMCA’s Youth and Government program, there is both Mock Trial and Appellate court. The foundation of a trial is replicated in mock trial. In appellate, they are working to appeal a jury’s decision based on procedural errors in the case. Although the two have similar proceedings, there are large differences between mock trial and appeals court.

“In appellate, you are really only looking at procedure, preceding cases, and constitutional law,” Mason said, “While with mock trial, you have to provide some kind of emotional appeal, because you are the one defending the story with personal details and witness testimonies, not with the details of previous criminal procedures and trials.”

Similarly to mock trial, there are two sides in the appellate court room. In a criminal mock trial, it is the defendant versus the plaintiff. But in appellate, it is the appellee versus appellant.

“In an appellate trial, you are trying to argue whether or not the statement made previously in court should be appealed or confirmed,” Niles Arguello said. “The appellant tries to repeal the statement, while the appellee tries to argue that the decision made by the state should be confirmed.”

In order to run a smooth appellate trial, competitors spend months making sure they know the details. Not only do they have to know the case they’re arguing backwards and forwards, but also previous cases that are relevant to be prepared for the questions they are asked by the justices.

“My co-council and I wrote two briefs, one for the appellant and one for the appellee,” Mason said, “wherein we talked about the statement of facts, the two points of contention on trial, and we had to discuss the authorities and how they related to the trial we’re presenting today.”

Niles Arguello and Mason were looking for a new challenge this year in Youth and Government. Last year they were both in mock trial and had a team of eight, but this year they wanted to do something with just the two of them.

“We were looking for something where we didn’t need to be managing six witnesses along with ourselves,” Niles Argeullo said., “We wanted to be able to focus on ourselves and doing our best without being responsible for some of the outside pressure that comes with managing witnesses.”

With so many options to choose from within Youth and Government, Niles Aguello and Mason found appellate trial to be exciting as a new challenge. They combined their knowledge from the last three years in mock trial to have successful trials at the district competition.

Attorneys Samantha Mason and Jaxie Niles Arguello during their second trial of the day. Not only do they present their prepared materials, but they listen and take notes during the opposing sides arguments to use in their rebuttal.

The Sixth Amendment on Trial

By LeeAnn Partin, Hays High School

The quiet power from the Court of Appeals shines through in today’s YMCA Youth and Government District Conference, hosted this year by Akins High School. The Appellate counsel joins together today to address the case of Larry Bridges (Appellant) vs. State of Texas (Appellee). 

The Court of Appeals is joined by Ingrid Bautista and Evelyn Ortiz, delegates from Akins High School representing the State of Texas, with Kristoff Davela and Teotl Sfuentes, delegates from Del Valle High School, representing Larry Bridges. 

The appeal discusses the case Bridges v. Hutton, which ruled Bridges guilty for the attempted murder and assault of Thomas Hutton. Bridges seeks a reversal of his previous court case on the basis of a violation of the 6th amendment right to confrontation and the use of excited utterance hearsay. 

Davela, the first speaker, began by explaining the incident between Bridges and Hutton, taking place at the Shepard Correctional Complex’s D unit. Officer Johnson found Hutton panicked, quickly running out of the laundry room with red marks around his neck, accusing Bridges of attempting to murder him. The reviewed camera footage showed Bridges leaving the laundry room at 10:40 a.m. Hutton staggered out of the laundry room at 10:41 a.m. where he meets the officers. Davela recognized the excited utterance from Hutton as hearsay, believing it cannot be a statement used as a testimonial, considering it was taken from a place of distress. 

 

Following Devala and Sfuentes, Bautista presented the appellee’s defense as the first speaker, once again reviewing the incident between Bridges and Hutton, but in reference to the confrontation clause. 

“The 6th amendment of the United States deems every person the right to hear testimonies against them, but there are some exceptions,” Bautista sais as a start to her debate. 

The statement is seen as a valid testimony, considering when the subject of the crime is in distress, the truth comes out and is the most important at that point in time, using Zuliana v. State and Ricondo v. State to support her case. Ortiz, jumped in after Bautista’s end to explain the appellee’s second platform of defense. She supported Bautista, going into detail of the officer’s primary purpose to question Hutton was for an ongoing emergency and not as a testimony, allowing Hutton’s statements to be used without violating Bridges 6th amendment. Ortiz used the past case of Michigan v. Bryant to explain the use of statements from victims, despite them being seconds after the incident happened. 

The speakers ended their defense, with Ortiz making a final statement: “The court did not abuse this discretion.” 

The Judges, Sophia Snider and Foriella Salazar, dismissed to recess to consider the Appellee’s and Appellant’s defense and evidence, before arriving back in session to reveal the final decision. 

”Having considered the arguments of the counsel, this court finds the case in favor of the appellant, reversing the ruling.” decided by Snider as the last word. 

The court adjourned with the final decision being made, and the two sides met in friendliness to remark on a job well done. Devala and Sfuentes left the room with pride, successfully reversing Bridge’s case for trial. 


Evelyn Ortiz, an Akins High School delegate, reads her notes, presenting the second platform of defense against Bridge’s appeal for reversal of the ruling in Bridge v. Hutton.

Freshman Mock Trial Team Enjoys Their First Time at District

By Delia Rune, Liberal Arts & Sciences Academy

A new mock trial team from LASA High School is taking on the competition this year at the YMCA Youth and Government (YAG) District Conference. Composed of eight girls, team #209 is excited to experience a YAG trial for the first time. Lilia Marshall, a sophomore at LASA and a lawyer for her team, said the preparation for their first trial has been rigorous.

“We spent a lot of time getting the witnesses ready and coaching them on how to do it,” Marshall said. “We also did a run-through ahead of time, so we could see where the kinks were and adjust timing if we needed to.”

According to Marshall, the most difficult thing about participating in YAG’s judicial section is everything that comes in advance of the trial itself. She explained that not knowing what arguments or questions the other team will ask can be anxiety-provoking. But once the trial starts, things are usually more fun.

“I think the hardest part is getting over nerves,” Marshall said, “Once you’re in there, you’re ready to go… I really love the adrenaline you get during it, being able to argue against other people.”

In mock trial, each team has two lawyers and six witnesses. Sabrine Petusky, a junior at LASA and a witness for Marshall’s trial team, explained that being a witness has a specific set of challenges.

“From a witness standpoint, there’s a lot of memorization, and you have to say the facts in exactly the correct words,” Petusky said, “Often, I’ll have to piece things together in my mind and say how I best remember it.”

Marshall agrees that a lot of what mock trial teaches you is how to organize information in your mind and then deliver it succinctly to an audience. She feels that doing YAG has given her a lot of skills she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

“I think [YAG] has mainly taught me how to think on the spot,” Marshall said, “But also how to formulate arguments and shorten what I’m saying into a smaller timespan.”

But according to Petusky, mock trial is not only a learning experience, it’s a lot of fun, too. Getting to think in new ways and meet new people makes the YAG District Conference a very exciting event for first-time participants.

“I love this whole thing, it’s so fun,” Petusky said, “It’s really intellectually stimulating. My favorite part of the trial itself is cross-examination because I’m a witness, but, honestly, I just love everything about it.”

Petusky explained that the community created in judicial is part of what makes mock trial so special. No other sections get to work and prepare with a group of teammates.

“I definitely don’t know everyone, but we’re all talking about our case together, and we’re all communicating and collaborating. It’s just like a really fun community here… it feels like we are all working together as a team to make everything to function.”

Team 209 prepares for their second trial of the day. Grace O’Bryan and Lilia Marshall, the team’s two lawyers, sit in the front row looking over their oral arguments. 

Legislation Supports ‘Menstrual Rights’ in Texas Middle and High Schools

Written by Abby McAdams, Dripping Springs High School 

“Period poverty,” the lack of menstrual products and education, can become a particularly damaging issue in middle and high schools for students from low-income families, deprioritizing their accessibility, or simply placing a stigma on menstrual cycles. This toxicity is what inspired authors Sophia Apolinar, Desiree Calvio, and Terrycinia Pointer to propose an action to ensure adequate period products are administered in schools through donations and providing information to students.

The authors explained how period poverty impacts women and girls negatively throughout the U.S., even affecting students’ grades and attendance. According to them, “58% of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period.”

The proposal consists of four major actions: implementing menstrual product-providing Period Pantries in school restrooms; hosting donation drives for products; delivering said products to the restroom pantries; and creating school websites to give students menstrual health information.

Pro Speaker Rowan Dooldeniya clarified her support of the proposed action. She asserted that girls need “to be supported during their menstrual cycles,” and this action would not only provide assistance, but help to destigmatize periods and make the process more comfortable.

But the proposal did not receive the support of every delegate. The Con Speaker argued that school nurse offices already provide menstrual products for students, and that holding schools responsible for having these products at hand “adds burden to the administration” and stress to the school’s budget. In response, the authors claimed that nurse office products were usually in short supply and too general for students with varying ages and period types. The subject of the school’s responsibility for providing menstrual products, however, showed itself to be a prevailing issue, and was elaborated in the amendments.

Angela Mariotti, amendment author for the proposal, stated that schools should provide menstrual products “out of pocket.” In response, Con Speaker Dooldeniya countered that conclusion will strain their budgets, and instead suggested working “through charities which will already provide this service.” A consensus was reached that if donations were insufficient, the school was subsequently responsible for providing products.

The next amendment author, Zoe Moreno, counseled to implement school fundraisers for period products. This suggestion was unanimously supported by the delegates, who agreed it wouldn’t inflict too much stress on the school administration while still being able to support the students.

The proposal was passed unanimously by the committee.

An example of a “Period Pantry” as proposed in the legislation.

Gallego Fights for Justice with Police Brutality Bill

By Spandana Palyam, Liberal Arts & Sciences Academy

“Police should not be able to use excessive force while detaining or questioning suspects,” argues Nick Gallego. To try and address this issue, he proposed a bill today to his committee.

Bill number 12 sheds light on the public view of police brutality. “Police get a lot of leniency,” Gallego says, when it comes to showing unnecessary aggression to the public. This causes a lot of anger and a negative view of the very people that citizens should trust to keep them safe.

Gallego’s proposed bill intends to give a penalty for a peacekeeper being excessively violent. The bill states that if an officer is being overly hostile (unlawful search, over-intimidation, etc.), then they must give two percent of their monthly income to the victim’s family for the rest of their life. If the officer does not comply, then they will face the consequence of getting their peace officer license repealed. This way, the public will know that no one is above the law, and police will also be more careful of overstepping boundaries.

Gallego believes that this bill is a step in the right direction. “This bill will improve society, because if we can lower the amount of police brutality cases, we can help restore faith in the general population of the state of Texas,” he said. Texas ranks second among U.S. states for the number of police brutality killings, and it has only had eight days in all of 2022 without police violence occurring. This excludes the recent riots protesting police actions that have occurred all over the country, which have left Americans screaming and fighting for a change in the law.

Three other legislators in the committee profusely supported the bill. Grace Ford acknowledged that police brutality is a big problem in this country and officers should “face consequences for their actions.” She also said she has faith that this will convey to the public that police will be served justice as well as any other person.

While some say this bill would be helpful and win-win for both sides, others disagree. Committee member Gavin Firestone, a legislator who argued in opposition of the bill, claims that this will cloud an officer’s ability to do their job. In his closing statement, Gallego responded by saying, “The last thing on their mind is protecting their job [while they are on duty]”.

The committee ended with a majority vote towards recommending the bill for Senate action.

Legislative delegate Nick Gallego listens to debate over his proposed bill.

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