When Xavier Social Studies teacher Jim Royce took over as moderator of the Model Congress club five years ago, he said he brought seven students to one conference and considered that a success.
"Now we attend two conferences each school year, Yale in the fall and Penn in the spring, and have to limit the number we bring to 16 for each event," Royce said.
Students who participate in Model Congress simulate the roles of the U.S. Congress. At Xavier, participants meet on a semi-weekly basis throughout the year. They prepare for a conference by choosing what committee they would like to serve on based on personal interests, Royce said. Students then work with Royce and other members of the group to draft a bill.
"We are at a point where there is a good mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen in the club at any given point, so the more experienced members help the less experienced," Royce said.
Xavier attended the Penn Model Congress in Philadelphia from March 28-31, and 14 of 16 students passed their bills through committee. The Yale Model Congress, which attracted about 800 students, was held in November.
"This year was a successful one," Royce said. "Most students had their bills passed at the committee level and some even had theirs passed through their full chamber and signed by the President of that Model Congress. Our biggest moment came at Yale last fall when freshman Benjamin Pitruzzello won the award for best legislation in his committee."
Pitruzzello was on the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Yale Model Congress and his bill was titled, "The Saudi Arabian and United Emirates Weapons and Armaments Embargo Act."
The bill contained seven sections, with the preamble starting, Whereas most countries would find it appalling and morally incoherent to sell weapons to a country committing war crimes, we as the United State Congress have failed to do this."
Pitruzzello became interested in Model Congress through his Big Falcon, Dave Radomski, a member of the club.
Pitruzzello had an interest in civics and history, and the club allows for "a deeper understanding of how government works, a more personal look at how it functions." Pitruzzello also said it hones your reasoning skills as well as the ability to formulate ideas and state your case.
Senior Carter Longley, the club president, went to the Yale trip as a freshman and that's what got him interested. He's written five bills, and they have all passed. The most recent one for the Penn Model Congress was titled "An Act To Protect The Privacy Of American Citizens," and dealt with a hot topic in recent times of access to private information.
Longley said Model Congress has helped his speaking skills. "As a freshman I was introverted and now I consider myself an extrovert and outgoing; it opened up social aspects of my life," he said.
Longley is headed to the University of Delaware in the fall where he will row; he didn't take up crew until the spring of his junior year.
Like any coach or moderator, Royce is thinking ahead already.
"With four senior members graduating this year, I have already begun talking with the members of our club who will be moving into positions of leadership next year about what they want to do next. Some ideas have included attending the Model Congress hosted by Harvard or Princeton instead of the two that we have been regularly attending for a few years now."
Beyond the competition, critical thinking and camaraderie, there are more benefits for a Model Congress member.
"Aside from the actual conference, Model Congress trips allow students a chance to explore the city that the hosting university is located in, and meet students from all around the country," Royce said.
Xavier is a private, Catholic all-boys high school in Middletown, CT.