Engaging the Electorate Early
Political involvement is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. New voters keep the legislative process alive and vibrant. But how do we prepare new voters to exercise the “every vote counts” philosophy and extend knowledge of public policy to the next generation?
Giving students a day outside the classroom is one way. For the past six years, the US Government and Politics class at Terra Linda High School (TLHS) in Northern California has attended “Student Legislative Day” at the Capitol in Sacramento, CA. The program educates them on the political process by exposing them to government in action.
Students tour the Capitol, witness the legislature in session, and visit district legislative offices. The rewards of public service, value of a good education, and the history of government in California were among the topics the students discussed during a recent visit with State Senator Mike McGuire and State Assembly-members Marc Levine and Ken Cooley.
Sophie Leporte made three trips to the Capitol with the class. Now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Public Policy and Economics, the experience helped her better understand the connection between the two areas of study and led her to pursue those interests in college.
“Students should have at least some interest in the process that governs their future,” she says. “People should be curious about their government. What happens in government affects everyone!”
Over the years, approximately 250 students have taken part in the program. Many have been first generation Americans in the Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at TLHS and they have gone on to advocate in their communities.
Under the guidance of TLHS instructor Randy Baker and State Farm Agent Tim Long, and with the support of the Terra Linda Rotary Club, the students witness the political process in action and talk with lawmakers about how to shape the future of California.
Long was instrumental in establishing the program. He wanted to provide an opportunity for students to interact with local state legislators. Making the connection between the youth, the community and government, helps them see how the process works and makes it much more understandable.
“I have had an interest in public policy for many years. I want my community, especially the youth, to understand how they can be involved and provide an opportunity for their voices to be heard,” Long says.