Fosters student engagement in local government

Dozens of buses shuttled hundreds of high school students to Valencia College’s West Campus for Orange County’s annual Youth Leadership Conference. Students from 22 Orange County Public High Schools attended the conference to engage and network with local government officials with the goal of gaining insight on how the local government operates while strengthening their leadership skills.

“Students play a vital role in shaping our community,” Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said. “By staying engaged and involved in the local government process, students can ensure that Orange County creates a community culture of innovation, collaboration, and inclusiveness.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings: “By staying engaged and involved in the local government process, students can ensure that Orange County creates a community culture of innovation, collaboration, and inclusiveness.”

The conference, produced by Orange County’s Neighborhood Preservation & Revitalization Office, is now in its eighth year and has had more than 1,500 students participate in the program since its inception.

“Valencia College is delighted to host Orange County’s Youth Leadership Conference once again,” Falecia D. Williams, Ed.D., President of Valencia West and Downtown Campuses said during her opening remarks to students. “We hope this day will be enlightening to you as aspiring leaders. Thank you for lending us your expertise and youthful perspective. Your generation is going to make an extraordinary impact on how we experience and live in our communities.”

Throughout the morning, attendees participated in a series of workshops that the students identified as important topics to their generation. Focus areas included how local government functions, the electoral process, land use issues and working with law enforcement.

Students from Olympia, Acceleration West and Apopka High Schools participated in a mock review board meeting and were tasked with resolving environmental impact, zoning and land use issues. Students asked questions, made difficult decisions, and most importantly, worked together and made compromises to develop a solution to issues facing them.

“I learned so much from the Land Use session,” Reshad Tabor, an 11th grader at Acceleration West High School said. “Local public hearings move at a fast pace and residents are empowered to make a real impact.”

At the conclusion of the Youth Leadership Conference, many students expressed that they gained a lasting impression of the day’s activities. Mayor Demings closing remarks focused on the importance of public service and leadership.

“This event brings me back to my time as a student leader at Jones High School. Little did I know, my time in Student Government would be the foundation of where I am today,” Mayor Demings said in his closing remarks to conference attendees. “For those of you in this room today, I know that you are young, intelligent, leaders and beautiful people. In life, what really defines you is your character. Whatever organization you choose to be part of, you should always be part of your community – give back, embrace it and work to make it what you want it to be.”

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