Federal and State Government Update

Davis, California's Youth in Government Day

Youth in Government Logo

Through an innovative program, high school students in Davis, California, get a first-hand look at how city government works. For the past few years, the city of Davis, Davis High School, and the Davis Chamber of Commerce have worked together to sponsor an annual Youth in Government day (PDF). The program is designed to get students involved in government on a local level and to show them how they can make a difference in the way the lawmaking process of their city works.

To participate in the Davis Youth in Government day, students run for election for one of five Student City Council positions. The available positions are Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, and three Councilmember slots, and are determined according to the number of votes won by the candidates. In order to be elected to these positions, the students must launch and run their own political campaigns. This process can include enlisting a campaign manager, putting up posters, and giving speeches. The candidates are held to a set of guidelines (PDF) and can be disqualified if they break the rules, as in a real election. A total of fifteen to twenty students usually run for these five positions.

After the election has been held, the Student City Council members and their faculty advisor work together to appoint other council positions based on student applications. There are approximately 25 appointed positions (PDF), including City Manager, City Engineer, Police Chief, and Public Works Director, among others.

Once the elections and appointments are completed (PDF), the students are allowed to sit in on a Davis City Council meeting and a Davis Joint Unified School Board meeting in order to observe the proceedings. The students also spend a day shadowing their governmental counterparts and learning about their responsibilities. After the students have observed the two meetings and spent a day with their counterparts, control of the City Council meeting is turned over to them for a day.

In a televised City Council meeting, the Student City Council members participate in discussion of the issues and are called upon to answer questions put to their counterparts. Although the students cannot pass any city legislation, the contributions that they make in the Council meeting can greatly influence city politics. In the past, for example, a student-police task force was set up directly as a result of the Youth in Government day discussions.

Similar programs are also running in other places. The YMCA Youth in Government program works in much the same way, except the students are elected to statewide shadow positions. Harvard University runs a Model Congress for high school students. The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary run programs called Boys' State and Girls' State that also work to get high school students involved in local and state government. The Close Up Foundation works to educate young people and adults about citizenship and the democratic process.