Justice Erika Tatum of the Texas Supreme Court meets Appellate Court attorneys Heather Barber and Chris Warne. What is strange about this scene? Miss Tatum, Miss Barber, and Mr. Warne are all homeschool students! As participants in the 49th Annual YMCA Youth and Government Conference, these students have come to compete in mock trials at the state level. It is a pleasant surprise for all parties involved to discover fellow homeschoolers among the nearly one thousand delegates from across the state of Texas.
Each year, this diverse group of teens converges upon Austin to participate in this "hands-on" approach to education. The events encompass learning opportunities in the Judicial division, Legislative division, and News Media training. The students must place at District level conferences in order to earn the privilege of competing at the State Conference.
As mentioned, homeschoolers turned up in the Judicial division of the competition. At the trial courts level, attorney team Michael Moore and Zac Trahan from Hill Country Home Scholars Club in Austin argued both sides of a case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act and an employee who had been allegedly fired because he had AIDS. Their performance distinguished them as an outstanding team among the many teams observed in the trial courts. Naomi Tatum, from the Christian Homeschool Association in Dayton, traveled with a group from the Baytown YMCA and participated as a bailiff in these trials. Her efforts put her in the "Showcase Round" for trial courts and she took home the First Place Award as the top bailiff in the state!
At the Supreme Court level, homeschool students stood out in several areas. Jennifer Russell, from Austin, campaigned for Chief Justice and also served as a Justice in the Supreme Court during competition rounds. When the election returns came in, Russell was on top! She will assume the duties of this office immediately with leadership training and board meetings in preparation for the '97 State Conference. Also serving as a Supreme Court Justice, Erika Tatum enjoyed donning a black robe and presiding over the mock trial which debated the issue of double jeopardy as it relates to the remedial and punitive purposes of D.W.I. sentences.
Both Russell and Tatum participated in the "Showcase Round" for the Supreme Court. Justice Tatum was honored in closing ceremonies by receiving the First Place award as a distinguished delegate and Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Making their appeal, attorney team Heather Barber and Chris Warne competently articulated their position before these distinguished Justices. They have come away from the conference with a new understanding of how our judicial system functions.
In the Legislative division of the Conference, homeschoolers from Austin - Brocket Davidson, Jeff Hunt, and David Nichols - worked hard together on a proposal as Executive Government Planners. These students composed a document which proposed a solution to alleviating the illegal immigration problem in Texas. They had the opportunity to debate and defend their ideas among the other participants from across the state. Their efforts were rewarded as their proposal worked its way through proper channels. These young men were presented with certificates in closing ceremonies honoring them as distinguished delegates in the program.
Training Future Leaders
The YMCA Youth and Government Program is an excellent training program offered in many states. It identifies and equips the leaders of our country for tomorrow. The Conference in Texas is held in the Texas Capitol and all events take place in the actual buildings where their "real life" counterparts do business every day. Governor George Bush took time from his busy schedule to address the students in a special session in the House. His message inspired and motivated delegates to take their influence on society seriously.
It is becoming evident that homeschoolers will be in the forefront in future leadership roles. Even now, in a statewide conference which attracts large numbers of students from among the "cream of the crop" in our society, homeschoolers stand out in the crowd. Undeniably, they are a cut above. Their countenances reflect a purity and brightness which escapes words. Their character speaks of determination and confidence. Finally, their skills excel even in such arenas of fierce competition, and there appears to be none lacking among their ranks.
As these students take their rightfully earned places among their peers, officials and professionals from all walks of life are beginning to sit up and take notice. Proverbs 22:29 says, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men." These humble young men and women have not sought to exalt their own name, but have merely taken on the challenge to pursue excellence in this adventure we call education. Their love for learning and their passion for biblical values will truly distinguish them as leaders in their day.
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