At the State Capitol on Friday, seven Santa Clarita high school students lobbied for causes, debated with legislators and worked to pass bills.
The proceedings of the day’s events had no influence on actual California laws and regulations; however, they did have a real impact on the 3,500 students participating in the YMCA’s Youth and Government Model Legislature and Court (MLC) program.
“It has been a wonderful experience for myself and it drives the passion and motivation to see our youth growing to better change the world and really try to make an impact here locally in our own government,” said Cynthia Bryan, senior program director for Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley YMCAs and lead advisor to the Santa Clarita Valley delegation.
The five-day event, from Feb. 16 to 20, brings together local delegations of YMCA students from across the state to experience all three branches of the state government first-hand and participate in a model democratic process.
During the day’s events, students take on various roles in the legislature and court system to learn about more than just the inner workings of the government.
Members of the 2017 Santa Clarita Valley delegation included Sabrina Pin, Sean O’Connell, Haleigh Diaz, Julianna Lozada, Kieran Wohlenberg, Julia Runkle and Avinash Padmanaban.
They each took on the roles of lobbyist, state senator, trial attorney, legislative committee chair, assistant legislative analyst, governor’s cabinet member and state treasurer, respectively.
Michael Henderson, executive director of the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita Valley YMCAs, said that, through the program, students learn how to compromise, listen to differing opinions, respect one another and act responsibly on their own.
“There are so many aspects of the learning that has nothing to do with government,” Henderson said. “There are a whole slew of life skills that they learn.”
The youth-run, youth-led MLC also promotes leadership, public speaking, team work, critical thinking and civic engagement throughout the six month program, where individuals meet weekly as a delegation to train for their specific roles and discuss democratic issues.
At the MLC program Friday, students heard from 44th District Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin and 27th District State Senator Henry Stern, before branching off into meetings for forum committees, legislative committees, the assembly and the senate.
“My favorite part of today was probably doing our bill presentation,” Saugus High School student O’Connell said. “I’m the bill sponsor, which means that I take that bill that we’ve worked on for several months in our own Santa Clarita Delegation and then I propose it to the rest of the kids in Youth and Government.”
Academy of the Canyons student and elected state treasurer Padmanaban said that the most rewarding part of the program thus far was seeing the direct impact of his hard work and dedication.
“With many of the students I’ve been working with and the delegates, you see that the amount of work they put in over the last few days is really going to pay off,” he said. “To see the satisfaction in their eyes, and in my own eyes as well, is something I can truly appreciate.”
Bryan noted that she has seen the students grow in confidence and come out of their shells since they first began the program.
“The most impactful thing that has come up for me this weekend is seeing the amazing growth of these individual delegates,” she said.
The students will remain in Sacramento until Monday, as they continue to act as legislators, share their viewpoints and develop leadership skills.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_