More than 3,500 high school students, including six from the Santa Clarita Valley, traveled to Sacramento this month to participate in the 70th annual California YMCA Youth and Government Model Legislature and Court (MLC) program.
The five-day event brought together 90 YMCA delegations from around the state to experience all three branches of the government first-hand and participate in a mock democratic process together.
“There is so much that goes into a program that is at the statewide level,” said Erin Weiss, program director and lead adviser to the Santa Clarita Valley YMCA’s Youth and Government program. “As the lead adviser, I made sure my delegates were prepared for their program areas, as well as well-versed on the current issues of today… It is a group effort to prepare for a conference that has about 4,000 people in attendance.”
Throughout the conference, students took on various roles in the model state legislature and court systems in order to discuss bills on the docket, participate in court cases and perform additional, regular actions of California legislators.
These students act as state senators, trial attorneys, legislative committee chairs, legislative analysts, Supreme Court justices, broadcast and print media reporters, lobbyists and heads of political parties, among others.
Along with students across the state, the Santa Clarita Valley YMCA’s Youth and Government MLC Delegation discussed current issues and debating on ways to solve problems facing the state, all while working in the California Capitol.
“It’s a real honor to be surrounded by so much history—particularly because that opportunity is unique to the MLC program,” said Santa Clarita Valley YMCA Delegation President Sean O’Connell, a student at Saugus High School. “Using the senate floor adds weight to arguments and encourages greater respect for the legislative process.”
This process of learning and working in the state Capitol and in the offices of Senators and Assembly Members was a highlight for all of the delegates from the Santa Clarita Valley because it made them feel as though they were creating real change within the state.
“Learning and working in the state capital was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget,” Delegation Historian and Saugus High School student Olivia Hurst said. “It was nice to take a little trip outside of Santa Clarita for once and actually feel like you’re present and involved in the government.”
The students involved in the MLC program also enjoyed participating in lively debates with their fellow students and sharing perspectives about issues throughout California.
“Everyone at the conferences is knowledgeable about the world around them, and it is always interesting to meet people who are as passionate as you are about coming up with solutions and working to create a better state,” Delegation Vice President and Valencia High School student Julia Runkle said.
O’Connell noted that the model legislative process was “exhilarating” and that it was exciting to hear a wide range of bills and proposals from delegations of students throughout the state.
“Listening to these proposals gives me hope for the future of civic service and also emphasizes the diverse opinions and policy goals of students across the state,” he said.
The MLC’s overall goal is to encourage students to find their voices, speak in front of large audiences, share their own views and become involved in the political process.
“This program is focused on promoting each delegate’s voice and opinion,” Weiss said. “Even as adults, it takes us far too long in life to discover that our opinion matters, that our voice can create change. With this program delegates are learning to speak up for what matters to them, to be the change and express their opinions despite the fear of rejection.”
To prepare for the annual conference in Sacramento, delegates attend weekly meetings throughout the year and two conferences in Fresno.
Students in the Santa Clarita Valley YMCA Delegation also wrote a bill to fight for and pass through the model legislature while in Sacramento.
“Much of the delegation time was taken up in drafting, revising and researching an original piece of legislation regarding private detainment facility reform in California,” O’Connell said.
Students also sharpened their parliamentary procedure skills, studied debate etiquette and strategy and prepared speeches and conducted research specific to their program area, which included Legislative Houses, Issues and Activism, Media and Constitutional Convention.
“I made sure I was well-informed on current events, Trump’s most recent decisions and our current state legislation,” said Delegation Chaplin and Valencia High School student Julianna Lozada, who was in the Issues and Activism program area. “I hoped to learn more about our economy by reading and endorsing Budget Proposals, as well as hearing all the ideas for drafting a new California Constitution.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_