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Fall 2002 l Capital University Journal
Capital Classroom: Legischool offers teens a backstage pass to politics
story by Frank Whitlatch
photos by Sherry Mark

Omair Nasim was pretty sure he wanted to work in politics someday. Then he got an insider’s view of the State Legislature’s intense budget debates over the summer.

Photo of LegiSchool interns Elizabeth Thomas , Omair Nasim with Fellow Sarah Harsh by Sherry MarkNow the Laguna Creek High School student is sure. Politics calls.

“Budget debates are absolutely the best,” he says. “They’re so action-packed and fun. The legislators take it very personally.”

That’s just the sort of enthusiasm LegiSchool–a joint program of Sac State and the State Legislature, administered by the Center for California Studies–has inspired in high school students for nearly a decade. Nasim was part of LegiSchool’s newest effort, the “Real World Civics Summer Internship.”

For the last three summers, Real World Civics has brought a group of high school students to work at the State Capitol for a month. The students meet with legislative staffers and leaders of citizen groups. They also spend three weeks individually paired with Sac State graduate students
from the Capital Fellows Programs, highly competitive programs that place more than 60 students in one-year paid positions in California government.

"LegiSchool offers these students an opportunity to learn firsthand how state government works," says Kolleen Ostgaard, LegiSchool coordinator. "That's what we're all about—getting young people connected to government. Ultimately, we hope they'll be more engaged citizens and participate in the political process."

LegiSchool also has a statewide essay contest, in which winners are invited to Sacramento for a daylong conference.

The project's focus, though, has been on town hall-style meetings between policymakers and large groups of high school students.

There are five or six of the town hall meetings each year. They feature busloads of high school students, surprisingly dressed-up and clearly nervous in the ornate legislative hearing room. A panel made up of state leaders and students tackle an issue of interest to high school students. Those in the audience are given time to ask questions.

Paula Gardner, a Sac State education professor, moderates the meetings, holding the students' attention by coming across like a daytime talk show host.

Meeting topics have included gun control, the increasing weight of school backpacks, trying minors as adults, advertising at schools and the high school exit exam. LegiSchool reaches about 10,000 students each year by broadcasting the meetings statewide on the California Channel and distributing them on videotape along with free curriculum materials.

Jack Pratt of Salisbury Continuation High School has taken classes to the town hall meetings numerous times. "LegiSchool gives my students a hands-on perspective of government in action, something books lack," he says. "This program takes education to the next level, making the students' studies relevant to their lives."

Details: (916) 278-6906.

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