Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
Rockville, MD
The student news site of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

The Lion's Tale

The student news site of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

The Lion's Tale

The student news site of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

The Lion's Tale

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Eighth grade students hold model congress

Students+present+bills+to+the+floor+before+they+are+voted+on.+Photo+by+Eliana+Abrams.
Students present bills to the floor before they are voted on. Photo by Eliana Abrams.

After three months of preparation for this moment, eighth grader Ayla Gerstenblith took one last glance at her bill and made her way up to the podium to present her bill on disability accommodation in the workforce to the crowd. Following the pro and con speeches from her peers, questions were fired at her from fellow representatives, and after much back and forth from representatives, her bill was voted to pass. 

On Mar. 11 and 12, eighth grade students participated in a model congress, where they simulated the U.S. House of Representatives and debated on various bills written by the students. During this simulation, participants presented bills to the floor where they were debated and ultimately voted on.

“As I was writing, I realized that I was actually passionate about my topic,” Gerstenblith said. “I’ve learned how to do good research, how to work together with someone… and how to write a bill.”

During the two days of model congress, sponsors gave speeches promoting the bills whereas opposing officers who negated the bill gave speeches against them. Afterwards, there was open debate for any representative to stand up and ask questions about the bill. Once questions were addressed, the voting commenced where students voiced their opinions aloud, screaming  “yay,” or “nay” to vote either for or against the bill.

When first beginning this project in January, eighth grade students drafted an issue paper based on assigned agencies. Each agency is a different department of government such as infrastructure, agriculture or security. Through these papers, students identified a specific focus for their bill, crafting proposals similar to existing bills and presenting them to their class. Their classmates, acting as representatives, researched the bills and asked questions to the presenters.

“It’s an incredible project that teaches the students a really good understanding of the process of our American democracy and how that is supposed to work,” Zansler said. 

Seven bills were chosen by Zansler and middle school social studies teacher Matthew Jacobson to be presented to the Model Congress floor in front of the entire grade. On the floor, sponsors gave speeches about their bills, and chief opposition officers followed, negating the bill. Afterwards, the floor was open for questions and debate and ended in a vote to move the bill forward or not. 

Three years ago, middle school social studies teacher Heidi Zansler changed the project by appointing a student as the presiding officer, who runs the floor, instead of a teacher. This change gave the students more freedom over the project. 

“I like the independence that it gives the students and lets them just shine and be the best version of themselves…” Zansler said. “It’s fun for them to build alliances, to have people support their bill and to negotiate and make a compromise. I think it’s one of the most memorable experiences of eighth grade.”

The project aims to prepare students for high school and provide them with a hands-on representation of the government. According to Zansler, this project requires students to apply fundamental skills such as public speaking, external research, critical thinking, active listening and analytical writing. 

“Every American citizen should know how our government works,” eighth grader Nathan Yoskowitz said. “It’s important for everyone to understand what they’re voting for, and what kind of bills they want.”

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Eliana Abrams
Eliana Abrams, Reporter

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