Hundreds of students throughout Minnesota head to the state Capitol each year to test their governmental prowess at the YMCA's Youth in Government Model Assembly.

Each year, Hastings students are among the largest delegations to hone their skills as lawmakers, lobbyists and judges in a simulated state government.

But for the first time, a Hastings High School student led the program's Executive Branch.

Student delegates elected Hayden Schutt as youth governor in January 2017. He oversaw YIG 2018 held Jan. 4-7.

"We knew it was going to happen eventually," said Hastings YMCA Director Derrick Jaeger, adding the program has been a "long-standing tradition" in the community thanks to support from the schools.

Schutt joined nearly 1,500 students in grades 8-12 from across the state to participate at varying levels of government, writing their own bills and arguing model court cases.

Students also work as lobbyists for various issues, as well as members of the media, producing radio shows, blogs and news for TV and print.

Schutt said he spent his first few years learning about court processes in the program's judicial branch, but hadn't really considered a race for an elected position.

"I thought, 'That's not me, there's no way I could do that' because of bad anxiety," he said.

His hesitation about running dissipated the more he talked to Youth in Government peers, and the anxiety he felt inspired the focus of one of his major platforms: adolescent mental health.

Although the YIG deals with model court cases and bills, the issues they address are very real.

Rigel Bloome, who leads Woodbury YMCA contingent, said his students' bills tackled topics ranging from special education funding to immigration.

One of the 17 Woodbury students addressed Minnesota's opioid crisis with a bill that focused on medical training and improved resources for Native American communities.

"So far I've really seen a great engagement with the issues," Bloome said. "In the past, I've had several state senators check out what's going on and what's being debated because they're in the space where the offices are."

Cayanne Korder, a junior at Red Wing High School, identified environmental issues as a major concern.

As a junior cabinet member with Schutt's office, Korder advocates for bills the YIG governor supports, including one that creates a tax on plastic shopping bags.

The experience, she said, has been "life changing."

"You learn to be able to disagree, but talk about things that are hard to talk about," she said.

"You really don't get that experience in school. It's really just opened my eyes to new relationships."

The Red Wing contingent sent 100 students this year.

The event lasts about four days, during which students are responsible for getting up on time, dressing professionally and attending meetings.

Red Wing delegation director Tori Miller said students gain not only a sense of dependence and life skills, but lasting friendships as well.

Miller, now in her second year as director, remembers crying at the first night of assembly at the Capitol as a ninth-grader. She stuck with the program throughout high school, however, and said she gained a confidence that led to her current position.

"(Youth in Government) affects every part of my life," She said. "I have friends from all over the state - four days formed these friendships that will be around forever."