Nearly 600 students from around the state traveled to the capital Thursday for the YMCA Missouri Youth and Government Lewis State Convention.
The program allows students to participate in a three-day mock-government event breaking out in legislative, judicial and media groups.
Students have a unique opportunity to become civically engaged, said Ken Hussey, Jefferson City Ward 3 councilman and MOYAG state director.
"They're much more engaged on current issues," Hussey said. "While we are more of a mock government program, a lot of these students are involved in real-world issues and politics and advocacy as well."
Student delegations are organized by school district or local YMCA.
"I think it's a chance for them to find a place to express their opinions and find their voice," Hussey said. "I think it gives them a chance to find other students who care about current issues and politics and government and connect with them."
The best way for students to learn is to get involved, program manager Jacob Lauer said. "It's very eye-opening for people who have not been a part of it before," he said.
The students will rotate between the Capitol and Capitol Plaza Hotel for speeches, program sessions and elections until Saturday. The program has grown to include two senates, two houses and one media group staffed with student roles for presiding officers, floor leaders, reporters and attorneys.
A delegate cap of 60 members is bursting, Mexico adviser Brendan Webber said.
Their YMCA group typically joins the legislative session, which works to create mock bills.
On Thursday night, members of the mock senate practiced presenting their bills on the senate floor at the Capitol.
St. Louis University High School student Komlavi Adissem will present Bill 112 on ratifying the equal rights amendment.
After four years of attending the conference, Mexico resident Andrew Stephens has learned to open his mind.
"Where I'm from, everybody thought the same," Stephens said. "So when you come here, everybody has wildly different thoughts. I really like debating with people, so legislative is the most fun."
Today, Stephens and his partner will debate a bill on punishments for false rape accusations, he said.
Media students will prepare digital and print publications each day of the conference, presiding commissioner Campbell Tiffin said.
"It's awesome just to see how they're taking their creativity and passion for Missouri government and sharing it through the lens of media," Tiffin said.