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EAST LOS ANGELES : Civics Becomes a Capital Project

February 14, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

Legislators have struggled for years to revamp the Social Security system, but 15-year-old Richard Aparicio and eight of his high school peers say they have the answer.

As participants in a YMCA-affiliated program, the nine students from Roosevelt and Sacred Heart of Jesus high schools have authored a bill that would lower eligibility for Social Security benefits to age 60. The teen-agers are the first students from East Los Angeles schools to join the statewide California YMCA Model Legislature/Court Program, and they will debate their bill before a mock Legislature in Sacramento later this month.

The group will join about 1,100 other California students for a weeklong stay to "take over the state capital," said Fabian Blancarte, program director of Youth in Government, the East Los Angeles chapter of the YMCA program.

While lawmakers are on holiday, the students will sit in their chairs, debate issues in committee and bring bills to the floor of the state Assembly and Senate. If they have done their homework, a "youth governor" will sign their bill into law.

Blancarte, 21, who grew up in East Los Angeles, attended a Montebello Youth in Government program as a teen-ager. Last fall, he decided that East Los Angeles students needed a program of their own and formed the Youth in Government chapter.

The program lets students "learn about the democratic process from participating, not from a lecture," Blancarte said. In addition, the program teaches leadership, cooperation and communication skills.

Even for students with no plans to run for political office, the program's lessons are practical, said Aparicio, a Roosevelt High sophomore who wants to be a psychologist. "I'm going to be voting pretty soon and I want to make the right choices," he said.

Since November, Aparicio and his fellow junior legislators have met at least once a week to study their topic, refine their arguments and brainstorm on how to raise the $4,200 they needed for the Sacramento trip. The group held rummage sales, a "swimathon," and sold popcorn and other goods.

"It was hard," said Vanessa Ortega, 15, the group's treasurer. "On our days off we had to sell things and get up early."

But the work was worth it, she added. "I'm proud of myself."

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