More than 3,500 high school students, including seven from the Santa Clarita Valley, traveled to Sacramento Thursday to participate in the California YMCA Youth and Government Model Legislature and Court (MLC) program.
The five-day event, from Feb. 16 to 20, brings together high school students from around the state to experience all three branches of the state government first-hand and participate in a mock democratic process together.
During the day’s events students play various roles in the model state legislature and court systems to discuss bills on the docket, participate in court cases and perform additional, regular actions of California legislators.
In its 69th year, the Model Legislature and Court emphasizes leadership and public speaking, encourages team work, promotes research and critical thinking, and teaches participants to become active and responsible citizens.
“As a senior, I’m really looking forward to making an impact on the program,” said Santa Clarita Valley Delegation President Sabrina Pin, a Hart High School senior who is acting as a lobbyist during the program. “I’d really like to get out of my shell to discuss and speak on topics without any regrets.”
Additional members of the Santa Clarita Valley Delegation include Saugus High School student Sean O’Connell, West Ranch High School student Haleigh Diaz, Valencia High School student Julianna Lozada, Hart High School student Kieran Wohlenberg, Valencia High School student Julia Runkle and Academy of the Canyons student Avinash Padmanaban.
They will each take on the roles of state senator, trail attorney, legislative committee chair, assistant legislative analyst, governor’s cabinet member and state treasurer, respectively.
Michael Henderson, executive director of Antelope Valley YMCA who is attending the MLC, said students involved in the program meet with their local delegations on a weekly basis and attend two conferences in Fresno before the formal MLC in Sacramento.
“They have their two training and election conferences,” he said. “During that time they get general training on public speaking, leadership and ethical decision-making, as well as electing their youth leadership.”
Students then return to their local delegations to train in their specific roles, execute team building exercises and prepare bills to submit to the legislature.
“Each group will submit between one and four bills… so they have a nice full docket of bills to debate on the floor,” Henderson said.
Students will also execute court cases, submit appeals and work within real legislative chambers.
This sort of values-based leadership and hands-on learning makes the students educated voters and motivates them to reapply themselves in the classroom.
“There are a lot of kids that might struggle in school but are extremely bright and motivated,” Henderson said. “In this different type of experimental learning they learn that they are smart, that they could be a lawyer or anything they want to be.”
Henderson said the students in the program learn more than just how the government works; they also learn how to compromise, listen to differing opinions 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.”
Youth and Government program students also learn to voice their own opinion among young people their age and accept individuals for who they are.
“You give your opinion and that’s OK,” Henderson said. “The acceptance of differing opinions or differing backgrounds is important.”
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