Model General Assembly Club Earns Statesman Award

MGA ClubCongratulations to the members of the Model General Assembly (MGA) Club who represented Bishop O'Connell so well at the 2019 Model General Assembly held in Richmond March 21-23. The club came home not only with a great experience under their belts, but with the "Statesman Award," which recognized the club's activities throughout the school year.

Model General Assembly is a YMCA-sponsored program designed to introduce high school students to the legislative process of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Each year, approximately 500 students from across the state travel to Richmond to take over the Senate and House of Delegates chambers for the three-day serving as elected officials, lobbyists and media.

This year, eight O'Connell students took part in the program. Two were senators, two were delegates, two were lobbyists, one was a reporter and one served as the Youth Governor.

Yes, Governor! Senior Tommy Dannenfelser was elected the 2019 Governor at the conclusion of the 2018 MGA program. In his role as Governor, he opened the program with a bang, declaring a state of emergency in Virginia to deal with the opioid crisis and overcrowding of schools. He also worked with his hand-picked staff (made up of students from around the state) to review and research positions on bills before "signing" approximately 30 of them into law.

 "He and his small staff produce over a 100 pages of research on all the bills," said O'Connell MGA moderator and social studies teacher, Mr. Greg Haas. "Tommy explained his thought process well during a press conference, and even explained why he vetoed certain bills during his closing speech." 

At the same time, his fellow club members were busy presenting and lobbying for the two bills they prepared the this event. The first bill made Election Day a state holiday to help more people get to the voting booths. The second bill created a renewed emphasis on recycling throughout the state.

Senior Schuyler Workmaster presented the Election Day bill on the Senate floor, and although it passed through that chamber, it was ultimately defeated in the House committee. "This was my first year," she said. "I enjoyed the whole process even more than I ever expected...hearing other people's ideas and having the opportunity to debate on the floor of the Senate." "We had such a great group of team players," she added. "Everyone had a role and was involved in the process."

Students behind the scenes also played important roles in the weekend's events. O'Connell senior Paul Bean, who served as a reporter, was recognized by the state organization with the "Most Ambitious Reporter" award. Paul was persistent in interviewing bill sponsors and writing articles that caught the attention of the young lawmakers. "I wasn't sure what to expect in my first year at MGA," he said. "In the end, I loved the experience! My role as a reporter not only allowed me to hone my writing skills, but it gave me the opportunity to engage with a lot of different people who are still my friends today."

"I am so proud of my fellow club members...the whole team!" said Tommy Dannenfelser. He used the words "fantastic," "energizing," and "motivating" to describe this year's MGA. "Seeing all the students debating real-life issues like immigration, gun laws and much more was incredible."

"This was my first trip to Richmond with MGA," said religion teacher, Allison Lattie. "I was impressed with the level of dedication the Bishop O'Connell students and students from around the state put into their roles. I'm so proud of our students in the way that they presented and lobbied their self-written bills and amendments. Their enthusiasm in politics and sincere concern in the issues created an engaging weekend of committee hearings, congressional sessions, and a press conference with our very own student governor."