At San Luis Obispo High School, there are a million and one ways to get involved. From auto shop to playing sports to putting on drama productions, every student has the opportunity to participate in a number of incredible programs. SLO FFA prides itself on bringing together high schoolers involved in a variety of these activities.

A prime example of this occurred just this weekend, when several SLO FFA members attended a Harvard Model Congress conference in San Francisco. Harvard Model Congress, or HMC, is an organization that focuses on the inner workings of the United States government and puts on mock legislative sessions across the world. Each conference is run by current Harvard students, with each high school participant assigned to a particular role – such as a senator, cabinet member, or Supreme Court justice. They then use their knowledge of the current problems plaguing our nation to draft bills, give speeches, and vote on potential laws, all the while representing their character. For example, J’aime Radding, our SLO FFA Historian, was assigned the role of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, our secretary of Health and Human Services. As Ms. Burwell, J’aime drafted a bill to increase the amount of mental health services provided to inmates and dealt with a deadly disease that imposed a quarantine on Southern Florida. Other members debated voting laws, the constitutionality of bills, and how to handle the climate change refugee crisis. “At a time when our country feels more divided than ever, Harvard Model Congress brings together students from all over the US to debate policy issues, share their perspectives, and most importantly, interact with a diverse pool of civically engaged peers,” said Caitlin Lewis, SLOHS alumna and conference organizer. “Students involved in the FFA bring a particularly valuable lens to their committee discussions, one that is often left out of urban policy conversations. Having San Luis Obispo High School at the conference allowed for this rich exchange, and it’s no surprise that they continue to rake in the awards year after year.”

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J’aime Radding presents her bill as Secretary of Health and Human Services

The invaluable experience of Harvard Model Congress has not always been available to the students of SLOHS; in fact, HMC at the high school is fairly new. It began with Caitlin Lewis, then a Harvard College student, proposing the addition of an HMC conference in California. It was then due to the initiative of Benjamin Peterson and Joelle Lewis – two former FFA members and SLO High students – that a small group of students from our high school attended the first meeting of HMC San Francisco. “San Luis Obispo High School sent its first delegation to HMC in 2013.” Benjamin Peterson says, “That year, 18 students went on the trip… [and the] delegation has only grown since. In 2014, our delegation doubled in size to 36 students. This year, SLO High sent over 40 students to the annual conference in San Francisco where they personally engaged with and experienced how the U.S. government operates. From the National Security Council that deals with intelligence issues to various Senate and House committees that work to craft and pass legislation, students that attend HMC utilize their critical thinking, public speaking, and negotiation skills by working with others in order to address political problems that face our nation.”

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Students from SLOHS pose with their fellow National Economic Council members.

As the conference quickly gained status and popularity in California, the club at SLOHS changed likewise. “Beginning in 2013, I attended the conference for three years, and each year I saw a change in the conference staff and the attendees.” Recalled Amber Bjerre, former SLO FFA Vice President. “As it grew on campus, the individuals involved from SLOHS also became more respected because of what they gained from the conference, which staff and peers saw in the way the attendees acted. Personally, it allowed me to grow in a completely different way than any other club I was involved in, providing me with immense knowledge in how government works, while simultaneously allowing me to meet and collaborate with individuals from all across the United States. Ultimately, I am grateful for my involvement in HMC, as it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I am joyous that HMC continues to have a presence on the SLOHS campus, and am confident that this will continue for years to come.”

Written by: Maggie Van Scoy