Kia Rhoden, of Uniondale High School, plays the role of president...

Kia Rhoden, of Uniondale High School, plays the role of president as her classmates from Uniondale and Oceanside High School reenact roles as members of the cabinet in a mock White House setting in Brookville on Dec. 20.  Credit: Dawn McCormick

All it takes is a little imagination … and poof, a group of students from Uniondale and Oceanside high schools are in the White House Oval Office, seated on its signature yellow couches, facing the famous presidential desk, dwarfed by an enormous portrait of white-haired George Washington.

A few minutes earlier, they’d gathered around the long, formal table of the White House Situation Room, meeting as the National Security Council. And after that, they entered the White House Press Briefing Room, where a booming voice announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the President of the United States.” Allen Webber, 17, a senior at Uniondale High School, approached the podium, acting as president for one scenario.

Allen Webber, of Uniondale High School, plays the president in a mock White House exercise in Brookville, with students from Uniondale and Oceanside High Schools on Dec. 20. Credit: Dawn McCormick

During this simulated exercise at The Roosevelt School of Long Island University in Brookville, an imposing white house has been turned into the White House, with replicas of crucial rooms where American policy unfolds. It is one of four such replicas in the United States; the others are in California, Texas and Virginia. High school students on field trips to The White House Experience on Long Island are tasked with resolving policy scenarios while taking on such rotating roles as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy in their quest to come to a decision.

“I feel like we just took a step into Washington,” says Oceanside High School sophomore Kevin Fernandez.


Meghan Jenkins, of Oceanside High School, portrays the President of the United States as she addresses the press in a mock White House Press Room setting in Brookville on Dec. 20. Credit: Dawn McCormick

On a recent field trip, the students face two mock scenarios.

For the first, they must decide whether the United States should pursue solar geo-engineering – measures such as injecting mists into clouds so they become a sort of global sunscreen, reflecting sunlight back into space and causing temperatures on Earth to drop.

“It’s such a drastic measure. It might send the world into a panic,” says Kia Rhoden, 17, a Uniondale senior playing the role of Secretary of State. After seeing how people reacted during the pandemic, frantically buying toilet paper and groceries, taking a measure like this could send people into a state of anxiety once again, she says.

President Webber agrees, saying that solar geo-engineering sounds to him like playing God. “I think we should be more relying on what we have. Solar power, wind energy, hydroelectric.”

Students then face the second dilemma: whether the United States should ban the Chinese-owned TikTok app due to foreign policy concerns.

“It shouldn’t be the government’s place to say what you can and cannot do on the internet,” argues Uniondale senior Irene Iraheta. After back-and-forth about alternatives such as a public service campaign warning people about sharing too much information online, the group ultimately agrees with Iraheta.


Allen Webber, of Uniondale High School, portrays the president as he addresses the press in a mock White House Press Room setting in Brookville on Dec. 20. Credit: Dawn McCormick

Students could have such conversations in their high school classrooms. But experiencing the scenarios in the White House environment makes the discussion seem more authentic, says Ali Mazzara, co-director of The Roosevelt School.

“It allows them to step in and feel part of the majesty and the awesomeness of the Oval Office. It gives them that real-life, hands-on experience of all the politics they see on TV and the beginning of a better understanding of what happens and how they can be involved,” Mazzara says. In addition, the house also includes a display of historical election artifacts in an exhibition called “Hail to the Chief! Electing the American President.”

The White House Experience fits into what the visiting Bridges group strives to do. The group is made up of students from Oceanside and Uniondale schools who participate in a program to bring together students from different backgrounds to foster understanding, says Joe La Torre, an Oceanside High School English teacher. The program emphasizes conflict resolution, leadership training and communication skills. “It’s a great stress test of these skills we’ve been building with these kids,” La Torre says.

“I’ve never been to the White House,” says Uniondale’s Iraheta. “Now we can visualize the dream of maybe being part of the White House and the government and maybe having an effect on society.”


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