West Rutland students are senators-for-a-day

Eli Petit, one of the West Rutland students who participated in the trip to the Kennedy Institute, listens to a live stream address from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

West Rutland was one of four Vermont high schools that traveled to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston a week ago Tuesday to take part in “Vermont Day,” an event organized by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. This is the fourth time Vermont students have participated in the non-partisan Kennedy Institute’s innovative programming on democracy, civics and the legislative process.

“My office organizes these twice yearly trips to help teach Vermont students how our government works,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee, in a press release. “These trips are a wonderful opportunity for high school students to learn how to be critical thinkers, work together and debate big issues in a respectful and civil manner.”

Over 100 students from Poultney High School, Randolph Union High School, Spaulding High School and West Rutland High School took on the role of Senator-for-a-day in a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber. The experience included researching, introducing and debating legislation to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs and to revitalize rural communities. Sanders addressed the Vermont students in live-streamed remarks from his Senate office in Washington.

Eli Petit, a 17-year-old West Rutland senior, took part in the trip and said it was enlightening.

Petit said they saw the way bills were written and passed and learned how the whole process works.

“We got to see how people influence a bill and how important the people we elect are to the process,” Petit said.

The group were all assigned to be random senators and given a side to debate from as they worked through bills covering the high cost of pharmaceuticals and the Farm Act, which would help subsidize small farms.

Petit said the hardest part of the whole process was getting his fellow mock senators to work together.

“It was difficult, getting people to collaborate,” Petit said. “Trying to make compromises in what to include in the bill and what couldn’t be included.”

Later in the day, the group listened to Sen. Sanders on a video feed as he explained the difficult process of his work, a process of which they now had a much better understanding.

“There are plenty of opportunities to get involved,” Petit said. “One of the big takeaways I got from this was that you, as a citizen, have more of an impact on what happens in our country than I ever thought.”

Petit said politics are not something he plans to pursue in his future, but he does have much more interest in it now than he did before his trip to the Kennedy Institute.

“The Kennedy Institute is helping prepare the youth of today to tackle the challenges of tomorrow,” Sanders said. “After all, representative democracy only works if we have an informed and engaged citizenry.”

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