Woodbridge High's Stephanie Genovese views it this way: "I really think the atmosphere of teen-agers is changing."
"Kids have a lot of social concern," said the 18-year-old senior. "A lot of it was triggered by distress over the environment. All of us were recycling before it was mandatory in Irvine. But what also triggered it was not the hardship of our planet, but the hardship of people. We started recognizing that there are a lot of charities that need help."
As founder and president of the Irvine Teen Community Coalition, a 120-member student group representing various campus organizations, Genovese spearheaded two citywide food drives during the school year to benefit Irvine Temporary Housing.
"Something that a lot of adults tend to overlook and something I think teen-agers can see is that it's hard for us to make an impact--to do things--because we are under guidelines from our teachers, from our parents, from our community," Genovese said. "However, rather than doing things separately, one thing we can do is join together to make a greater impact."
The following are examples of other Orange County high school students who also are making an impact:
The sun poked through high clouds, creating a picture-postcard view of Upper Newport Bay, but the dozen Newport Harbor High School students tramping through the state ecological reserve on this warm Sunday morning kept their eyes to the ground.
"Oooh, no wonder McDonald's stopped using Styrofoam," said Laurie Firestone, picking a chunk of the white stuff out of the mud. "It's disgusting what you find. The last time I was down here I found so much packing Styrofoam."
"It just gets embedded in here," said club president Laura Cazier, 17, prying more Styrofoam from a clump of dried reeds.
"You guys, it's worse over here," cried out another girl closer to the water's edge.
The students--members of Green Cross, an environmental-management club at Newport Harbor High--were participating in a Back Bay cleanup the day before Earth Day in April.
Cazier and fellow senior Rachel Accord founded Green Cross in February.
"I know a lot of people are getting into the environment," Cazier said. "We just needed somebody to care at the school. I'm not a leadership-type person, but somebody had to get these people together and organize."
The goal of the 20-member club was to initiate a campus recycling program.
"It's been done a couple of times, but they never lasted," Cazier said. "We're also trying to emphasize education about the environment and get articles in the school paper."
Individual club members have done other Back Bay cleanups on their own, and two weeks ago a group of students hiked up Modjeska Canyon to pick up beer cans and other litter.
Club members also have circulated a petition opposing the Irvine Co.'s plans to develop the Upper Bay front above Coast Highway. Cazier and six other students even met recently with an Irvine Co. representative, but nobody's mind was changed.
"We still don't want it to be developed; we think it's environmentally valuable as a wildlife refuge," said Cazier, who plans to major in biological science in college.
Walking along the bay front, Cazier ran through a shopping list of changes she'd like to see enacted to improve the environment, including increasing mass transit, recycling, and modifying cars so they emit fewer pollutants.
Helping keep the Upper Bay clean is a club priority. On cleanups, members pick up cans, bottles, food wrappers, car tires and car parts. One student said she even found 13 syringes embedded in the mud. And, of course, there's the ubiquitous Styrofoam.
"I like seeing the Back Bay beautiful," said senior Fabian Rousset, 17, a club member who admits to having occasionally littered himself. "Everybody has. I think the best thing is for the public to know more, to come out here and see what happens."
Indeed, after only half an hour, half a dozen large garbage bags were already bulging with litter. But the students hadn't even made a dent.
"It's frustrating, especially when you look at how little area we've covered," Cazier said. "There's so much Styrofoam left."
Standing outside the Royale Convalescent Hospital in Santa Ana, 17-year-old Zulkiflee Lep was waiting for another carload of fellow Century High School students to arrive.
Lep and two dozen members of the school's community service club, Santa Ana Volunteer Youth (SAVVY), were making their monthly visit to the convalescent facility a few miles from school.
Smiling shyly, the soft-spoken Cambodian refugee said, "Doing this makes me feel great because some of them are so lonely and they don't have family. We want them to know they're not going to be forgotten and they're always going to be with us."