Twenty-two teens from various Alaska communities will converge in Juneau this week to learn about state government, key conservation issues and how to use their voices to make a difference.
Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, a high school environmental leadership program that is part of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, will hold its ninth annual Civics and Conservation Summit today through Thursday at St. Ann's Cathedral of the Nativity.
Students from Emmonak, Tooksok Bay, St. Paul, Dillingham, Healy, Palmer, the Kenai Peninsula, Homer, Anchorage, Sitka, Hydaburg and Juneau will be in attendance.
The summit's focus is to train high school students in state government structure and function, with an emphasis on the legislative branch, by focusing on current legislation that deals with environmental issues.
"This summit is a great opportunity for upfront and hands-on learning in civics and conservation, two very important topics," said West High School senior Wiley Cason, a peer leader during the summit.
Aside from working with adult leaders to facilitate sessions, Cason was eager to learn about other students' opinions, and to help teach them about government.
"When people come in, there's varying levels of knowledge about government and civics, as there would be for any random group of high schoolers," he said. "So really, the only unifier here is that everybody's interested in being engaged in civics and conservation. The goal is to educate about ... the actual workings of government, but at the same time educate about how to make a difference here."
To support this goal, one of the final sessions at the summit will cover the importance of writing letters to lawmakers.
As a major part of the summit, participants will review and discuss three bills:
Senate Bill 121 - Energy Efficiency in Public Facilities; a bill to set energy efficiency standards for all public facilities in Alaska.
House Bill 70 - Alaska Grown Agricultural Products; a bill to bring local food to schools and food banks.
House Bill 46 - Mixing Zones and Sewage Systems; a bill to provide public information on water pollution, prohibit mixing zones in freshwater spawning habitat, and require public comment periods for sewage system modifications.
Cason will help lead a session on HB 46, introduced by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and supported by Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage. In regards to the actual bill, Cason said he supports it.
"... It makes financial sense as well as moral and environmental sense to protect the renewable resource of salmon and freshwater fish and to protect the jobs in rural Alaska that are dependent on these freshwater fish populations," he said. "But also I feel that it's the right thing to do as Alaskans - to protect what we have in our state."
After researching the bills and learning about the legislative process, participants will have a chance to visit with the senators and representatives from their districts, according to AYEA program manager Maeve Taylor. Students will be given time to prepare what they would like to say during their meeting.
"This opportunity will help youth to understand how they are represented in our state government and will also introduce our legislators to a different view point - a young, fresh perspective," Taylor said.
To support AYEA's annual statewide campaign, "Renewable Energy in Alaska - Our Time is Now!," the summit will discuss Alaska's renewable energy options and efforts to support renewable energy development through the proposed $50 million in the state's budget.
Taylor said it was the youth who chose renewable energy as this year's campaign issue, mainly because of current issues about its potential for development.
In addition to the summit, two students from Dillingham will talk about their youth-organized group "Rebels to the Pebble," which they established to oppose Pebble mine. The presentation will begin at 1 p.m. Monday at St. Ann's Cathedral of the Nativity.
Youth also will present awards to lawmakers who have supported alternative energy during a community dinner at 7 p.m. Wednesday, to be held at the same location. AYEA welcomes its partners, members and those interested in its program to the dinner.
By Thursday, Cason is hopeful he and other youth have learned as much as they can about the issues at hand.
"I don't know everything about government, and I don't know everything about environmental confirmation and these bills that we're talking about," Cason said, "so I'm looking to learn about that too, but I'm also looking to learn about students from the rest of (the state), because there's very diverse views throughout Alaska."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or email@example.com.
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