Harvard Model Congress is a varsity sport for the brain. Hoboken High School has been participating in this extra curricular activity since 2006. Recently, a dozen HHS students journeyed to San Francisco to participate with other high schools in the mock version of the U.S. legislature.
The students acted as members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and other appointed special roles in a four-day simulation of the real thing. Each day represented a quarter of a year in Congress.
If that’s not enough pressure, the event was run by Harvard students.
HHS student Jazmin Vergara described the trip as, “An exhilarating and educational escapade into mock debate that involves hard work, fantastic rewards, San Francisco, and a chill session with Harvard students.”
The organizers of the trip were 2013 Teacher of the Year Erin Kubach, who teaches art, and Steve D’Bernado, who teaches history. They started their selection process with about 30 students in the beginning of January. The 12 picked to take the trip included : Alexandra Richardson, Danielly Colon, Eimee Mendez, Eileen Mendez, Jazmin Vergara, Jaemison Yoon-Hendricks, Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, Leslie Markevitch, Willie Allen, John Aviles, and Alfredo Veloce.
“Being given the opportunity to travel across the country and meet intelligent students from around the world to discuss real world issues is amazing.” – Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks
Kubak said, “It is a lot of work and you have to prove that you are committed.”
Until mid-December, the students practiced using a similar structure as the four-day conference.
“I give them examples of bills and they have to create a bill and also ‘sell’ their bill,” said D’Bernado. “Every week I give them a new issue. By this point we can see who is really shy and who has improved.”
The students chosen to go to San Franscisco are given briefing packets and are expected to read and master them by the trip in early January, which falls in their holiday vacation. Each student is assigned to be a real politician, taking on that person’s identity and political views. Students assemble binders of information that they can use while they participate.
“I encourage them to over-prepare,” said D’Bernado.
Finally, the conference
The conference in San Francisco generally involves about 600 students. The students
came from all over, including from Singapore this year.
Kubach and D’Barnado said that the trip humbles the children.
“They may think they are above all else here, but then they go there and they are just like
everyone else. They come back and want to do so much better,” said Kubach.
The students are in session the majority of the time, most nights until 10 p.m.
“The students are all dressed up in suits. They also have to speak in the congressionally structured way,” said D’Bernado.
They have one “San Francisco Day” to enjoy sites including Alcatraz prison.
During the trip, the students are also woken up in the middle of the night one night to a “big national emergency.” During that time, the committees need to meet and react, including a Press Committee that has to respond.
The teachers and students have a group dinner each night trying different cuisines and team-building exercises. When it’s all over, an Inaugural Ball closes out the conference.
While no awards were given out to HHS this year, student Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks has taken them home in previous years, including her freshman year.
“Harvard Model Congress has been one of my favorite experiences at Hoboken High School,” she said. “Being given the opportunity to travel across the country and meet intelligent students from around the world to discuss real world issues is amazing. Plus, free food.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.