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The Corridors of (Middle School) Power: Dowell’s Peyton Childs Serves as Governor at the YMCA Jr. Youth and Government State Conference, Davis Winn Secures Title for Next Year

Shane Mauldin|
Friday, April 20, 2018

McKinney, Texas – Wielding the power, title and responsibility of “governor” seems like a tall order for most middle schoolers—even in a student-led, model government.

But, Peyton Childs of Dowell Middle School dispatched her duties with aplomb, demonstrating leadership and political savvy well beyond her years.

After running a successful campaign at last year’s YMCA Jr. Youth and Government (JY&G) State Conference at the Capitol in Austin, the then seventh-grader was elected to the governor’s seat for the 2018 state conference held Feb. 23 – 25 where hundreds of students from Texas gathered to debate bills they had conceived, researched and drafted themselves. And, all of them hoped to maneuver their projects to Peyton’s desk.

Peyton and Davis standing in hall at Dowell Middle School

Dowell eighth grader Peyton Childs (left) and seventh grader Davis Winn (right). Peyton served as governor at the 2018 YMCA Jr. Youth and Government State Conference, and Davis won his campaign to serve as governor for the 2019 conference.

The Youth and Government program led in MISD by Dowell social studies teacher Judith Anderson-Bruess is a potent one; Peyton was the sixth MISD student to occupy the office of governor at the state conference in the past eight years. Next year, Dowell seventh-grader Davis Winn will follow in those footsteps. He won the election in Austin for the 2018-2019 governor seat.

They were both joined at this year’s conference by a sizable contingent of McKinney ISD students from Dowell, Cockrill Middle School and Faubion Middle School—each quite accomplished in his or her own right, having earned the distinction of qualifying for the state competition as well as additional titles and accolades.

YMCA Jr. Youth and Government State Conference Qualifiers and Recognitions
Alex Thomas (Dowell) – elected Speaker of the House and presided over House Chambers
Reid Salvador (Dowell) – elected Speaker of Duran Council
Matteo Greco (Dowell) – elected Speaker of Duran House

Outstanding Committee Debater Recognition:
Jax Schuck (Dowell), Jack Graman (Dowell), Asher Herring (Dowell), Alexandria Serratti (Dowell), Mitchell Heuvel (Dowell), Emma Balfay (Dowell), Alyssia Simmons (Faubion) and Kayley Barton (Cockrill)

Bills Signed by Governor Peyton:
HB120 Jax Schuck (Dowell), Kayley Barton (Cockrill), Camden Blackson (Cockrill) and DH014 Serkan Gomez and Adam Clark

Distinguished Delegate from State Affairs Forum:
Janie Gant (Dowell)
Highest Ranking Proposals in State Affairs Forum:
Proposal 11: Jayde Joseph and Allyson Burgess (Dowell)
Distinguished Delegate from Duran House:
Alexandria Serratti (Dowell)
Kayley Barton (Cockrill)
Distinguished Delegates from House:
Zach Puhala (Dowell), Alyssa Stromness (Dowell), Jax Schuck (Dowell)
Distinguished Delegates from the Senate:
Mitchell Heuvel (Dowell), Jonathan Masley (Dowell)
Outstanding Statesman:  Jack Graman (Dowell)
Outstanding Chair and Clerk:
Haylie Keller and Sydney Comnick (Dowell)

Peyton Childs (Dowell): Governor
 Davis Winn (Dowell): Governor-elect for 2018-2019

Davis at the podium with Peyton standing behind to his left

YMCA Jr. Youth and Government 2019 Governor-Elect Davis Winn speaks as 2018 Governor Peyton Childs (right) looks on.

One of Peyton’s first challenges as governor was to assemble a cabinet, a team of nine or ten delegates who would serve as advisors, messengers and intermediaries. Conventional wisdom would assume that she would simply pluck recruits from the ranks of familiar faces at her own school, but she cast a wide net, giving careful consideration to anyone interested in applying.

“As governor,” she said, “you’re supposed to be really open to everyone in the state because you’re representing everyone. So, I had three people from Dowell—and there were a few other people that wanted to be on my cabinet, but I said, ‘No.’ The only people who applied were from the Dallas area, but I tried to get [the applicant pool] as wide as possible. It’s really tough to kind of feel people out when you’ve never met them. I was very wary about that.”

A talented, motivated and like-minded cabinet would be crucial because the position didn’t exactly come with an owner’s manual. And, the job was far too big for one person to tackle alone.

“I didn’t really know what to expect this year because I had a general idea of what the governor does,” Peyton explained, “but they don’t really give you a paper that says, ‘This is what you’re going to be doing.’ You just kind of get there and hope you do it right.”

One thing she did know was that there would be certain bills that she would want to see on her desk, legislation that she wanted to support, so she spent as much of her preparation time as possible surrounded by cabinet members poring over a list of more than 100 pieces of legislation that would be vying for chamber votes and, ultimately, Peyton’s signature.

“You have to discuss with your cabinet why you agree or why you don’t, and you only have about five minutes for each bill, so you just have to go, go, go,” Peyton said. “Because then you have to push that towards other people.”

Once she decided which bills she would throw her support to, Peyton’s cabinet members filtered out into the various committee chambers gathering information and pushing for the governor’s favored legislation. They streamed in and out with a constant flow of information.

Meanwhile, Dowell seventh-grader Davis Winn was making his way around around the Capitol, shaking hands and meeting other JY&G participants in what would turn out to be a successful bid for the 2018-2019 governor seat.

“I thought campaigning was really cool because I just got to talk to people and got to know them,” Davis said. “So, I would get to know people, just have small talk, and so it will really help when I’m governor this year—knowing everyone, everyone knowing me and just making friends.

“My campaign,” he continued, “one part of it was to get more people involved in the community and to get more people to join the Youth and Government program…just to stretch the program out through the state. Dallas is a huge community, and we want [more from] Ft. Worth and Houston and even Austin … We want them to have more kids participating.”

Davis will get the opportunity to push that agenda further next year as governor. But, while he was at the state conference working on his campaign, Peyton was navigating tough negotiations over proposed legislation.

She learned quickly about checks and balances and that the title of governor could only take one so far. She would have to trust the judgment she exercised in selecting her cabinet members; they were the ones on the front lines, working to move bills forward, speaking on her behalf and helping her work through the negotiations.

“My cabinet was great about informing me with what was going on, so I knew what would be coming to my table,” Peyton said. “There were also a lot of bills that I was pushing not to get passed because they were completely against my agenda, and that worked out a lot better than the ones that I wanted to get passed.

“Some people were like, ‘Actually, I want this,’ and ‘You can have that, but we’re going to do this.’ It was a really interesting experience. It definitely takes a lot of skill because I had to trust other people. It’s just kind of weird to have to trust other people to say what you want them to say to convince someone else. But, my cabinet was amazing,” Peyton said.

In the end, Peyton vetoed one bill and signed 11 into law—about half of those signed were among the pet projects that she and her cabinet had pushed for. “They were all great this year, and it was funny because a lot of these bills were about the issues that are happening right now, and these kids wrote them like a year ago,” she said. “It’s crazy to think that our younger generation had come up with these ideas to face these issues.”

Which is one of the great things about the YMCA Youth and Government program; it’s preparing our students to lead, to face the challenges of an increasingly diverse and complex society—and to work out solutions for those problems.

Next year, Peyton will carry on with Youth and Government in high school, and Davis will have his turn in the governor’s seat in Austin. And, if the relatively brief history of the MISD Youth and Government program is any indication, yet more students will discover it, get involved and learn more about what it takes to lead.

And, that bodes well for all of us.

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