Students shadow politicians, city leaders on Youth in Government Day

By Isabella Ainsworth, Staff–

Twenty-five or so students donned suits and took their learning outside of the classroom through participation in the annual Youth in Government Day on Tuesday, March 15.

Senior School Board Representative Winston Tran is the Student Government member in charge of organizing the event.

“[Youth in Government] is a program where the City of Davis partners with Student Government to give students an opportunity to see how city government works,” Tran said.

To participate, students must fill out an application, which, depending on what government official the student wants to shadow, can require getting the signatures of other students. Using this application, Tran and others in Student Government try to partner that student with someone who they can learn from.

After the students shadow the official for a day, they participate in a mock meeting where they pretend to be the official they shadowed and discuss real issues affecting Davis, like night club ordinances, vaping and the future of hotels.

Senior Eric Smith was paired with School Board member Barbara Archer, and thought that the experience was great.

“It was wonderful. She had a great concept of what shadowing is about,” Smith said.

Archer is also a marketing manager for “Fresh Food to You,” a business that delivers fresh produce from the Capay Valley to people all over the surrounding area. From her, Smith learned how to multitask, which Archer must do on a daily basis to take care of both her day job and board member duties. Smith was also able to witness firsthand the benefits of good personal relations and compromise.

The experience helped Smith, who wants to go into either business marketing or political campaigning, learn a lot about those two subjects. Most importantly, however, Smith realized how to use these skills to influence the community for the better.

Junior Maya McHale followed around an aide for State Senator Lois Wolk.

First, she and other students got a talk from Assemblyman Bill Dodd. Then, they got a tour of the capitol, which included visiting both the State Assembly and the State Senate, and later were able to speak with Wolk herself.

Overall, McHale said, the experience was fun, but there were some things she’d like to change.

“It was a nice program but I wish I had spent more time [in Sacramento],” McHale said. McHale thought that other people who had shadowed officials might have had more time to interact and learn.

Wolk, a former Davis mayor, was instrumental in the creation of the program in 1995. Kevin Williams, who advised Student Government at the time, said that Lois Wolk approached him with the idea and was the main instigator of the program; he did the grunt work.

“I mean, she had it all laid out. I was the drone on campus making it happen,” Williams said.

At first, the program was only for seniors, but since then it has been expanded.

Mayor Dan Wolk, Lois Wolk’s son, was a senior at Davis High when the program first began; he shadowed then-mayor Dave Rosenberg. Dan Wolk said that there were three major differences about the program back then.

First, students had to be elected to get the shadowing position, which included speeches, campaigning and voting.

Williams noted that these elections, coupled with ASB elections at a similar time of year, would have meant a lot of class disruption–which could be the reason they were discontinued.

Second, in Dan Wolk’s time, there were fewer positions available. Only City Council seats and positions like Fire Chief and Police Chief were included.

Third, there was more interest. Back then, positions were competitive; now they are less so.

So did shadowing a city mayor spark Dan Wolk’s interest in politics?

Yes, and no. He says a love for politics and service was already in his DNA. However, shadowing Rosenberg and participating in the mock City Council meeting certainly cemented his love for it.

On Tuesday, Dan Wolk was followed by junior Sam Goidell.

“It felt surreal,” Dan Wolk said of being in the opposite position he was in about 20 years ago, “but also great.”

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