SACRAMENTO — Christina Rivera says she's a bit on edge as she prepares to jump into the world of Capitol politics.
Along with about 30 other eighth-graders from Walnut's Suzanne Middle School, Rivera will fly to Sacramento next week to lobby for a Senate resolution her class thought up to conserve water and save taxpayers money.
"I can't wait," said the 13-year-old, one of four students selected to testify in support of the legislation before the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on April 12. But, she admitted, "I'm sort of nervous because . . . I have to make a speech in front of the committee."
The resolution, which urges the state Department of General Services to utilize drought-resistant plants for landscaping new state buildings, has been introduced by Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights).
The class also has mounted a letter-writing campaign to drum up support for the resolution. They raised $4,000 through candy and bake sales to pay for the trip to Sacramento. Even last week--during their spring break holiday--the students were organizing for a news conference scheduled for Monday.
Their proposal has attracted a wide range of supporters, including the mayor of Carlsbad, the Metropolitan Water District and the Assn. of California Water Agencies.
The support shows the students "they can make a difference," said Alan Haskvitz, their teacher.
Haskvitz, 46, a Canadian, has taught for 15 years--the last three at Suzanne Middle School in the Walnut Valley Unified School District. Haskvitz said his aim is for students to apply social studies to their everyday lives.
Carol Pae, 13, one of his students, said Haskvitz is "not the type of teacher who goes by the books." She said Haskvitz wants students to gain their lessons from real life, "not only the things inside a history book."
The lobbying campaign is the latest effort by Haskvitz to involve his social studies classes in community affairs. In 1987, the Walnut City Council appointed one of his classes as the city's official historians. They set aside one class period a week to gather facts about their community of 25,000. In addition to videotaping interviews, the class identified items chronicling the city's history for ultimate storage at the Walnut branch of the Los Angeles County Library.
When school began last fall, Haskvitz's third-period class project was to plant a small garden at the school with 15 varieties of plants that require only rainwater to survive. Out of the garden grew the idea for his fourth-period class to encourage the state to landscape buildings with drought-resistant plants. The proposal comes as California is suffering its second straight critically dry year.
The resolution spells out that "droughts can severely limit the availability of water in the state" and says the use of drought-resistant plants around new state buildings would conserve water.
Haskvitz enlisted the help of professional lobbyist Hy Weitzman of San Bernardino to teach his fourth-period students how to persuade lawmakers to support their proposal. Jeff Ellsworth, 13, said Weitzman "gave us some tips on what to do up there. How to be smart. How not to act stupid."
Among other things, Weitzman said he urged the students to write letters to legislators. Weitzman recalls telling them that the water conservation resolution "was probably something nobody would be against."
Meantime, Haskvitz said, an article in the Los Angeles Times provided the class with enough facts and figures on water conservation to persuade Campbell to introduce the proposal. From figures supplied by water agencies and a private firm, Haskvitz said he estimates that the use of drought-resistant plants could save as much as $16 on a $100 water bill.
Haskvitz said that the class is seeking a non-binding resolution--instead of a law--because the students could not think up a proper punishment for violators.
Eric Carleson, an aide to Campbell, also said that as a first step the senator did not want to require state officials to landscape with the plants.
"A bill might be the next step," Carleson said.