Watching the mock Land Use & Zoning hearing at the fifth annual Mayor’s Youth Leadership Conference on Friday morning was like sitting in on a real life county meeting, except none of the participants had graduated from high school.
The event – complete with a line of students playing the roles of board members and speakers, with passionate, vigorous diatribes over zoning and other county business – was the closest most students had come to seeing what goes on in local politics.
And that was the point, according to Lavon Williams, manager of the Orange County Neighborhood Preservation and Revitalization Division, who hosted the event.
“We’re educating them about how local government runs,” Williams said. “Most student curriculum includes state and federal government, but you rarely get information about local government.”
The event, held at Rollins College Friday morning and early afternoon, encompassed eight workshops involving mock hearings for Land Use & Zoning, the Community Action Advisory Board, Code Enforcement and a Local Government 101 course. Students from every high school in Orange County were invited to attend. They also got to sit down with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs for a question-and-answer session called the Youth Issues Forum.
In the mock hearing on Land Use & Zoning, Nelson Stone, a 12th grader at Central Florida Christian Academy, portrayed a developer trying to sell the board on a hospital zoning project. He said the experience was a positive one.
“I pretty much enjoyed it,” he said. I felt like a real pro, doing community meetings.”
Colonial High School senior Juan Angel said the event opened his eyes to what goes on in local government.
“It showed that we can vote in our districts, and it affects where we live,” he said.
Williams said she hoped the event would inspire students to take initiative and get personally involved in local government once they graduated.