Although some of them aren't old enough to vote, some D.C. students want to define their future by gaining a better understanding of how government works.
More than 100 D.C.high school students gathered at a youth summit sponsored by the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington this month to discuss their concerns and learn about careers in public service at the former D.C. Council chamber at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St. NW.
"I just want you all to speak out. Let your voices be heard," said William Lovett, a junior at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Capitol Hill Campus who serves as youth mayor for the YMCA D.C. Youth and Government Program.
The program, which began in 2001, provides students an opportunity to learn what it's like to serve as an elected official and how government works.
The students received hands-on instruction from volunteers, who explained campaigning for public office, parliamentary procedures for legislative meetings, policymaking and writing and researching bills for elected officials.
Students were divided into four groups and debated a variety of issues that related to them. Among the top concerns from participants were teen pregnancy and bullying.
Several students peppered council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) with questions related to those concerns. Thomas said city officials are not taking them lightly.
According to a recent report by the D.C. Department of Health, the teenage pregnancy rate for ages 15 to 19 has increased by almost 5 percent from 2007 to 2008.
Last month, the D.C. Council held a public hearing on pending legislation regarding bullying and harassment in public schools.
Bobby King, a junior at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington, said young people could provide a unique perspective on many issues when given the opportunity to participate in the legislative process.
"Young people have very interesting views on everything. Sometimes they are views I agree with, [and] sometimes I don't. But nevertheless, they are all interesting to hear," he said.
In March, students will participate in a two-day simulation of the government's legislative process, with an opportunity to play the part of government officials. Elections are held for youth mayor, council chairman and other council positions during the two-day event.
King said that actual city officials, namely Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) and council Chairman-elect Kwame R. Brown (D), could give more attention to the economic and educational needs of its youngest residents.
"Keep a close ear to the needs of young people," he said. "You get what you put in with anything in life. If you do a bad job on something, you get bad results."