By: Amanda Hansen
On Friday, May 15 Attleboro High School’s (AHS) government and criminal law classes took a trip to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. The Institute opened on March 30, hosting a U.S. Senate meeting room replica at its center.
“We’re going to do a simulation where everyone is going to be senators. We’ll get tablets where we’re assigned a position and learn about their beliefs, then work in committees to create legislation. Today’s topic will be illegal immigration,” said AHS history teacher Mrs. Colleen Nestlen to her students.
After students took their seats, the process began. First, participants were sworn into office. They were asked to stand, raise their right hand, and repeat the same oath as U.S. Senators.
“I liked how real they made it. You really felt like you were making decisions in an actual senate meeting,” said AHS senior Alexa Holland.
Once everyone had taken their oath, it was time to set up the tablets. Participants were required to take a picture and were randomly assigned to a Democratic or Republican political party along with a U.S. state, which they represented.
“It would have been nice to choose the political position we were representing,” said AHS senior Tyler Larkin.
On their tablets, participants were given a summary of what their political party and state believed in, and what their goals were. This information was always accessible in a slide out left hand menu. This information would be taken into consideration during the voting process.
“I liked how we were assigned actual parties and states, like real senators in office now,” said AHS senior Sam Hindy.
The participant’s party, state, and personal views all come together to create the big political picture that the temporary senators are aiming for. Sometimes these views would conflict, just as they do in real world politics.
“I felt like a real senator,” said AHS senior Emma Giddens.
Participants then split into separate groups. Some of these smaller groups discussed amendments and policies for a new bill. Other groups were tasked with deciding whether or not a nominee for type of office should go to a full senate vote, or if it should stop there.
“We broke up into groups, then voted in pieces before coming together to decide as a full senate,” said Nestlen.
The nominee briefly told the group what he hoped to achieve while in office. The group then asked questions to discover the nominee’s position on topics such as regulation, education, jobs, and taxes. Participants then voted on whether or not the nominee should be reviewed by the senate.
“I liked the simulation because the workers got really into it,” said AHS senior Julia Paine.
Participants then met for caucuses. Each group was presented with either three policies or three amendments. It was their job to decide which policy or amendment they would push for in the senate meeting.
“I liked being able to debate about the specifics of the bill,” said AHS senior Olivia Letourneau.
Nearing the end of the simulation, it was time to reunite as a full senate. Participants were brought back into the senate chamber to review what the smaller groups voted on, present arguments and counter arguments, and vote on nominees as well as what would be a part of the final bill.
“I thought it would be boring but it was actually a lot of fun and more interactive than I thought,” said AHS senior Emma Nelson.
Each participant was called on one-by-one to vote on each proposed aspect for the new bill. When called, the participant was required to stand, and give their vote of “Aye” or “No.” Once the votes were counted, the proposed bill was finalized and went to a full senate vote.
“I expected a lecture on how the senate works, but it was a real hands-on experience,” said AHS senior Brenden Massey.
After the final votes were in, the final decisions were reviewed. By the end of the simulation, hundreds of votes had been cast, one bill was approved, and two nominees were rejected for their proposed positions.
Overall, students thought the simulation was both fun and educational. Many students would even do it again if they got the chance.
“I love this field trip. I would definitely go again and I would recommend others to go because you learn from it and it’s fun,” said Holland.
“I loved this trip. I would definitely do it again. I had fun and still learned in the way that I naturally learn — hands-on,” said Hindy.
“I would totally do it again. I had a great experience,” said Larkin.