LANCASTER – More than two dozen local students Wednesday got some hands on experience on how city government works, thanks to Lancaster’s Youth in Government program. Now in its 22nd year, the program is much more than the typical shadow-a-government-official-for-the-day program.
“It really prepares our kids to be engaged in government, to be responsible residents and citizens and to understand how their local government works,” said Patricia Garibay, Recreation Supervisor for the Parks, Recreation and Arts Department.
For this year’s Youth in Government program, students representing different city department heads, combined into groups to go through the steps required to design and develop one of two different types of land projects — a mixed use land project that would be attractive to the entire city and a net-zero land project that would completely rely on solar energy.
Garibay said students were given a budget to work with, and then required to work with their city staff counterparts to determine the impact their projects would have on different city departments.
“We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible,” said Garibay.
She said a city consultant would help the student groups to combine their ideas into two complete concepts, one for the mixed-use land project and one for the net-zero project, and then the students would run a council meeting to determine which of the two projects would be best for the city.
“They do a mock council meeting where they are council members, staff members and concerned citizens,” said Garibay. “In the council meeting they will talk about the projects and they’ll determine which project is better for the residents and which project the residents will like the most, either mixed use or net-zero.”
Wednesday morning, students were still in the initial stages of their land project design.
Antelope Valley High School junior, Anthony Barros, was representing the role of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.
“I’ve always had a passion for politics,” said Barros, who is also chairman of the Youth Commission for the city. “When I heard about the city’s program for Youth in Government I was really excited, and when I applied I stated that I was really interested in mayor.”
Barros, as Mayor Parris, said his group was hard at work designing a net-zero school facility.
“We’re building a net-zero facility on the vacant fairgrounds site,” Barros said. “It would be teamed up with Cal State Bakersfield as another school facility, except since it’s net-zero it would use more alternative energy and green energy.”
In another student group, Paraclete High School senior Cameron Epps-Lee, was representing the role of a concerned citizen, giving his input on his group’s plans to develop a multi-use facility at the old AV Fairgrounds.
“We’re basically trying to combine residential, shops, and entertainment all into one area where you can walk to each place,” Epps-Lee said. “I’m the person who wants the project to go.”
Epps-Lee said his role as a concerned citizen for the Youth in Government project was not far off from what he does in real life.
“I’m very informed about the city, I read the newspaper everyday, I check news articles online and I was at the city council meeting yesterday,” he said. “So I’m very concerned about the city and I try to stay up on the issues.”
Garibay said students were selected for this year’s Youth and Government program based on a stringent nomination process.
“They’re all high achieving students, they are all in leadership positions at their schools, and they all have an interest in learning about government, so that’s why they were selected for the project,” she said.
Students participating in the Youth and Government program will hold their mock council meeting next Thursday. The program will have done its job, Garibay said, if the students remain engaged in local government.
“The whole point of the project is for students to understand how city government works on a local level and with that they become more engaged as citizens and hopefully when they are older, they will want to participate [in government] because they understand it a little bit better,” she said.
Students participating in this year’s Youth In Government program are from the following high schools: Bethel Christian, Desert Christian, Paraclete, Antelope Valley High, Eastside High, Lancaster High, Lancaster Baptiste, and Quartz Hill High.