With the approval of school officials, 14 students skipped classes at South Gate High School on Monday to spend the day at City Hall getting a close-up view of government.
The student leaders shadowed city officials during the day and acted out the roles of elected officials and administrative staff members at the regular City Council meeting that evening.
"It was stimulating. It broadened my understanding of our city," said Nori De La Cruz, a 16-year-old senior who was the acting mayor.
David Vergara, 17, student body president, who served as police chief, said he came away from the experience with a better understanding of police work. "I've always had a bad reputation with police because I have long hair. Police stop me on the streets all the time," said Vergara, who plans to major in architecture at USC.
After talking to Police Chief Ronald George, Vergara said he understands better the tough job that street cops face. Chief George told him that policemen must guard against stereotyping people, Vergara said.
During the council meeting, Vergara and De La Cruz were on opposite sides of a mock debate involving a real issue on the Nov. 8 ballot to place a tax on the monthly telephone bills of residents and businesses to pay for more police protection.
The controversial police tax initiative proposes a flat fee of $7 per month on all households and a $14-per-month charge for businesses. Senior citizens and handicapped people with yearly incomes under $20,000 would pay $2 per month.
In their mock vote, the students passed the measure 3 to 2. De La Cruz said she voted against the proposal because she believes the money to hire more police should be taken from the city's general budget. Vergara said he believed the tax was a fair method of raising the needed funds.
The 14 youths serve in student government and are part of the school leadership class.
"Student Government Day gives the students the experience of what it is like to be a city official," said Steven Rich, the school leadership adviser.