Preparing Future Leaders

Young Senators at west steps with Senator Mendoza

In today’s public schools, it is easy to see how much importance has been placed in improving student academic achievement. A lesser focus has been placed on civic education and preparing our youth for democratic participation and citizenship. More youth today, than those in earlier generations, have a limited appreciation for our political process; hence, many young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are politically and civically disengaged. This is more the case for youth that come from communities that have not traditionally been strongly included in the election process.

Many high school extracurricular programs are promoted as necessary to become a better candidate for college, and focus mainly on academic achievement. Although it is true that participating in high school extracurricular activities can often improve your college admission chances by proving your commitment, time management skills, and leadership skills, there is a great need for programs that provide youth with the opportunity to work with each other and with policymakers to impact issues that affect them directly. Which is why today I am writing about Senator Mendoza’s Young Senators Leadership Program.

Senator Mendoza’s Young Senators Leadership Program is geared toward high school seniors who have an interest in government or public service, but is also open to those who would like to develop communication and leadership skills.  The program allows participants to learn about government services, the legislative process, and receive experiences that may enhance their decision to pursue a career in public service.

With about 50 participating seniors from the 32nd District, these high school students attended meetings with legislative staff, researched local issues, assisted constituents and committed to attend monthly three-hour sessions for nine months, along with 40 hours of civic engagement.

The highlight of the program is the visit to the State Capitol, where they have the opportunity to: meet legislators from both sides of the aisle; meet lobbyists from all over the private and public sector; and be paired with coaches that further prepare them to carryout mock policy committee hearings and a mock Senate floor session.

This year’s Young Senators class got the chance to meet with Senator Ben Allen, Senator Connie Leyva, Senator Mike Morell, Senator Jerry Hill, Senator Jim Nielsen, Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, and the chair of the Board of Equalization, Fiona Ma. They were able to ask questions and hear stories about how the members got involved with public service and the actions that propelled them to the positions they now hold.

In preparation for their mock policy hearings, the Young Senators were assigned to review senate bills that dealt with public health (SB 277-Vaccinations; SBX2-5-Electronic Cigarettes) and police transparency and accountability (SB 1286-Records of misconduct). Each student was assigned a role within the respective committee where each bill would be heard (committee chair, committee member, bill author, bill sponsor, opposition, committee consultant, etc.) and upon getting the bills out of committee, the Young Senators were given access to the Senate Chambers where they would proceed to vote on the measures being considered.

In addition, the participants had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Senator Mendoza, despite his busy schedule, as he joined them for lunch and dinner at the Mayahuel (Downtown Sacramento) and Rio City Café (Old Town Sacramento), respectively. They returned home after their two days in Sacramento to attend the Young Senator’s Leadership Program Graduation ceremony, where they were recognized for their great accomplishment.

Having been part of the staff that helped coordinate this program, I was beyond excited to see the many students of color that participated. It is important to note that many of these students, like myself, come from a low-income or disadvantaged community where opportunities like these don’t come by very often. Out of the group that attended, only six students had visited Sacramento before, the rest this being their first time. Seeing the joy reflected in their faces was priceless. Having had the chance to interact with many of them, I am sure that in that cohort there were many leaders learning about career paths critical to the future of our state. I am looking into the possibility of helping to coordinate the next incoming class, and continuing the efforts to preparing future leaders.