School Finance. Budget Cuts. Alternate Energy. Water Sustainability. These are some of the most challenging issues facing Arizona today. At JSA’s Arizona Institute on Leadership and Politics, 55 students from throughout the state tackled these and many others head on. This four-day program gave these intelligent, passionate students who are concerned about the future of the state a chance to explore the inner workings of state government and debate Arizona’s most challenging issues. The program was hosted at Arizona State University, Downtown Campus and educational sessions were held in and around the State Capitol Building in Phoenix. Over the course of the Institute, students got the opportunity to learn more about important issues in Arizona and question some of the most influential policy makers and power brokers in the state.
The popular and outspoken State Senator Don Shooter conducted a very candid question and answer session with students where he discussed his relationship with the media and his views on education, “”I strongly believe that parents — not bureaucrats in Washington or Phoenix — know what is best for their children and should have the freedom to make educational decisions for their kids.” Students discussed the impact of Prop. 301 and the launch of the Governor’s Classrooms First Initiative Council with Dawn Wallace, the Chief Education Policy Advisor to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, The students also had the unique opportunity to meet with BlueKnot Strategies CEO and JSA Alum, Junelle Cavero, who put them through a rigorous Campaign School in order to gain the knowledge and skills to organize successful political campaigns.
Many other Arizona leaders interacted with the students at the JSA Institiute including Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives David M. Gowan, Associate Supreme Court Justice Ann A. Timmer, Arizona State Senator Lynne Pancrazi, Garrick Taylor, Senior Vice President for Government Relations, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and journalist Jeremy Duda who covers the Governor’s Office for the Arizona Capitol Times. The students were not shy about asking questions of the speakers, whether it pertained to budget cuts on schools, how to become a successful lawyer, or how politicians deal with intense media scrutiny. Students engaged with each other as they debated important political issues throughout the Institute, such as limits on welfare benefits, alternative energy resources, as well as the right to bear arms.
A student debate in the Chamber of the Arizona House of Representatives regarding uniform policy in schools provided a great opportunity for students to imagine themselves as future state legislators. JSA students sat at the desks of the legislators and gave speeches on the floor of the chamber. To cast their votes, the students were able to use the actual voting procedure and technology regularly used during the real House sessions. Prior to beginning a speech during the debate, Kofa High School student D’Artagnan Hook stated, “This is really cool.” Serving in the role of acting Speaker of the House, Jenny Guzman from Gila Ridge High School, called for a vote on the resolution and watched as the results were tallied on the electronic voting board.
The main highlight of the Institute for many of the students was the opportunity to participate in a Water Simulation 5.0, a state-of-the-art web-based user interface that “explores the impacts of climate change, drought, agriculture to municipal transfers, reclaimed water, water for the environment, etc. on water supply.” The simulation permits “evaluation of and governance on water supply, water demand, and water use.” Leading the simulation was Dr. David White, Co-Director, Decision Center for a Desert City and one of the country’s foremost experts on the social and ecological experts on natural resource management. Dr. White briefed the students to give them a deep understanding of these important issues.
WaterSim 5.0 helped the students learn what their state might look like if resources began to be depleted and how a possible drought could affect their future. One student remarked, “The WaterSim at JSA’s Institute on Arizona Leadership and Politics was super informative! I’ve learned so much and have had such an incredible experience. The WaterSim was a lot easier to use than most expected!” Other students said, “We came out of there with a better understanding of the water situation in Arizona!” Prior to this activity, many of the students were not aware of the importance of water sustainability. As JSA Arizona Lt. Governor Brandin Morjadin stated, “Institute has been great! WaterSim was very interesting. It was amazing to see how big of a problem water is and how the majority of the public is unaware and careless about their usage of water.”
During their time in Phoenix, the students developed a newfound love and passion for politics and public speaking. Thanks to the phenomenal experience JSA was able to provide, the students who are not currently JSA members were inspired to bring JSA’s unique brand of civic learning to their high school campuses in the fall by starting a new JSA chapter. The Arizona Institute brought about new friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime, leaving students to figure out how to make their local communities, their state and one day their country, a better place.