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Mamaroneck Teens Tackle Tough Issues At Model Congress

Mamaroneck High School's Model Congress votes on a bill Thursday.
Mamaroneck High School's Model Congress votes on a bill Thursday. Photo Credit: Chaya Babu

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Three students from Mamaroneck High School were named Best and Outstanding Delegates in the 2013 Penn Model Congress Conference held Feb. 7 to 10 at the University of Pennsylvania.

A contingent from Mamaroneck competed against more than 700 students from 35 schools from across the country.

Joby Bernstein earned both Best and Outstanding honors, while Sam Segan earned a Best Delegate awards. Nick Vanderpool brought home an Outstanding Delegate honor.

Mamaroneck students also earned six Honorable Mention awards.

"You get to debate on your morals, and people get really into it and passionate about every topic; it’s exciting," said Joby, a senior and one of the co-presidents of the Model Congress club. “I learn more in four days of this conference than I'm going to learn otherwise in three weeks. You can’t simulate it in a classroom.”

The school's club meets weekly at lunchtime, and the 40 members come together to debate a different bill each week. Gun control, abortion rights and laws about drugs have all been hotly contested issues, but topics like allowing low-emission vehicles into highway HOV lanes, which was debated at Thursday's meeting, also come up.

“We do a lot of things that are very current or pressing in national politics, so the big things there are big with us too," said Jenn Gottfried, a junior.

Ryan Solomon, a senior and the other co-president, said, “Learning to argue these political issues here almost became the way I understood news and things going on in the world. I started to feel like I could hold my own when people were talking about major events.”

All the students expressed a shared sentiment that their involvement in Model Congress has had a deeper impact on them outside of the club, that it has built their confidence in terms of public speaking and critical thinking. They have developed a sense of self-assuredness in what they think and value.

“When we go and debate topics, it’s our own personal feelings -- you’re not inheriting any feelings; you’re not assigned a stance; it’s just what you yourself believe in," Ryan said. "Like, if I’m vehemently against the death penalty, I can speak about that for four minutes and really make my voice heard on that.”

Sam, also on the club's board, mentioned his heated debate over selling organs. “It was pretty controversial and intense, but it passed in a session of 70 or 80 people," he said of arguing the bill at the Penn conference. 

"The debate itself is what interests me the most," Joby said. "We can talk about any single topic and it’s great to have such a variety of opinions and points just in this club alone. But you go there and it’s like a thousand people who love it. It’s amazing.” 

Where adolescent life frequently revolves around test scores, extracurriculars and socializing, discussing national affairs pushes the students to think outside of their boundaries.

“It’s really fun to come here every Thursday from being in classes and debate things that you’re not always talking about with your school friends or even your family," said Aly Hirschhorn, a junior. "As a freshman, it was intimidating because everyone seems so smart and they know so much. You don’t know the whole process at first, but you learn.”

As for whether those in the club have aspirations to become members of the U.S. Congress one day, most haven't gotten that far yet.

“This club has made me become more interested in maybe pursuing a career in politics," Erin Ettenger said. "It’s definitely a possibility, but I know I’d like to kind of do something like this in college.”

The following students were recognized at the Penn Model Congress Conference for their work:

  • Joby Bernstein – Best Delegate Overall, Blue Senate Energy and Natural Resources; Outstanding Delegate, Full Session, Blue Senate Energy and Natural Resources
  • Sam Segan – Best Delegate, Green Senate
  • Nick Vanderpool – Outstanding Delegate, Full Session, Blue House Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Robert Riemer – Honorable Mention, Blue House Judiciary
  • Gideon Taffe – Honorable Mention, Blue Senate Ethics Commerce, Science and Transportation
  • Matt Lehman – Honorable Mention, Red House Ways and Means
  • Matt Donaghy – Honorable Mention, Red Senate Ethics
  • Charlotte Hoffman – Honorable Mention, White House Judiciary
  • Sara Nier –Honorable Mention, White House Judiciary

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