You wouldn’t know it if he didn’t tell you, but walking the halls at Duncanville High School with hundreds of other students, is the new governor of Texas. Jaalen Robinson, a junior, was elected to the prestigious post earlier this year as Youth and Government (YAG) held its annual state conference.
Youth and Government is a national program created by the YMCA. Its goals include helping teenagers become responsible citizens and future leaders. The program in Texas dates back to 1946.
In recent years, Duncanville High School has dominated the Texas delegation. This election cycle, students from Duncanville were elected to half of the state officer positions, including the role of governor for the second time in the past four years. To be elected to that position, a student must successfully persuade the majority of around 1,500 other participating students from hundreds of other schools to vote for them.
“What I’ve learned is you have to create a voice for yourself, believe what you say,” said Jaalen Robinson.
The race for the top office involved writing a political platform, giving speeches and networking with students from other districts through social media. This year’s state conference had an additional twist, instead of campaigning in person, everything was done virtually because of the pandemic.
“It was scary,” Jaalen said. “I didn’t think I was going to win.”
In the eight years Steven Cain has sponsored YAG in Duncanville ISD, the program has grown from 16 students to around 100 and instead of one club at Kennemer Middle School, there are now programs at Daniel Intermediate School and Duncanville High School as well.
The high school club, in addition to its individual members’ achievements, has received ‘Premier Delegation’ status at the state conference for six consecutive years. That means Duncanville represents the top 10 percent of participating schools in Texas.
In the past five years, 18 students have advanced to YAG’s national competition. Sharif Long, in 2018, won the organization’s highest national award after presenting a proposal on how to remedy sex trafficking. Also in 2018, a team of Sebastiane Caballes and Kennedy Onic successfully argued a legal case through multiple rounds of mock court trials to place second in YAG’s national judicial competition. It’s something no other Texas high school team has accomplished.
Mr. Cain credits a large part of his students’ success to the encouraging environment he and fellow sponsor Stephanie Lee have created within their club.
“I think that’s what we pride ourselves most on is that we’re family,” Mr. Cain said.
Ms. Lee pointed to all the hard work students invest to excel at the state and national levels.
“They give up a lot to be in YAG,” said Ms. Lee. “They do it because they know we want them to be successful.”
Jamie Bowers, who was recently elected as the state’s print editor in chief, said the support from her sponsors and peers helped her stretch to explore journalism and run for state office.
“If you don’t think you’re good enough for something, there’s someone there to push you to do it,” Jamie said.
The YAG program’s success at Duncanville High School has had a real-life impact on its students. In six years, 52 YAG students have graduated from Duncanville High School and all of them have gone to college. Many have received scholarships to top tier 1 universities including Vanderbilt, Emory and the University of Pennsylvania. They’re fulfilling the Youth and Government Mission – becoming future leaders of America.
“Those kids are out there doing everything we’ve taught them since eighth grade,” said Mr. Cain. None of it is practice anymore – they’re doing it in real life, fighting for justice and using their voices”