Courtesy of Youth Leadership Initiative
High school students from Charlottesville and Albemarle who
are participating in the Youth Leadership Initiative visited
the U.S. Capitol in Washington this spring.
aims to make high school students lifelong voters
U.S. voter turnout lower than that in any other industrialized country,
Larry J. Sabato, Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Government
and Foreign Affairs, decided one solution is to start offering
teenagers a chance to gain hands-on experience with the political
"For as long as I've been in politics, I've been appalled by
the public's lack of knowledge about civic affairs," said Sabato,
who directs U.Va.'s Center for Governmental Studies, which he founded
last year. "I really do believe it's the source of the public
policy ills that bedevil us. If we're going to correct this, we
have to start with the young."
this fall, students attending Charlottesville and Albemarle County
high schools can participate in the center's Youth Leadership Initiative.
Organized around a mock election, the project also includes training
sessions, student-forged campaigns, political forums and a wide
assortment of hands-on activities, said Alexander G. Theodorodis,
the center's program director.
lot of schools have mock elections, but they don't necessarily do
anything before or after," said Theodorodis, who graduated
from U.Va. in 1998. "This is a way to incorporate politics
into the whole curriculum."
the beginning of the three-month program, which has received non-partisan
funding, center staff will train youth leaders, and faculty sponsors
will attend a two-day training session on Grounds.
Though the pilot program involves seven area high schools, 35,000
students from across the state will participate in the mock election,
making it the largest Internet ballot that's ever been cast in the
nation, said YLI director Ken Stroupe.
we're using a secure Internet ballot, this has become a demonstration
project for the state Board of Elections and the governor's office,"
he added. Students will vote in the Virginia Senate, the House of
Delegates and their local elections in this year's mock election,
and for the presidential candidates in next year's primaries.
The program is also a demonstration project for teachers, who will
learn how to incorporate into their classes the center's interactive
software and citizenship curriculum. Both were recently endorsed
by the 51,000-member Virginia Education Association's executive
board, Stroupe said.
schools in Virginia will participate fully in the program in 2000,
and the center staff hope to offer it nationwide by 2004. "We
chose to work with high school students because that's when most
students begin to have their political awakenings," Sabato
said. "Not all do -- many don't -- and that's another justification
for this program.² He added that teenagers like to focus on issues
such as environmentalism and civil rights, but ³in the end, all
roads lead to politics. No public policy is created outside the
speculated that many Americans are reluctant to participate in that
system due to their "lack of knowledge. If people don't know
the rules of the game, they're not going to get involved. Politics
is a complicated sport and you do have to know the rules."