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Prof. teaches politics in thick of conventions

September 10, 2004

Photo of two of the Junior Statesmen with comedian Al FrankenAs presidential politics reached fever pitch during the political conventions in New York and Boston, Assistant Professor of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Melissa Camacho and more than 150 high school students were first-hand witnesses to what a career in politics is all about.

"Politicians are busy, very, very busy," said Nick Rivera, an Aptos High School senior who attended both conventions. "They are always doing something, like speaking to delegations or attending party breakfasts."

Through the Junior State of America (JSA), a nationwide organization in which high school students form and run a democracy, Camacho and the 165 teens from throughout the country, attended the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.

Over the two weeks, the teens met such high-profile politicians as Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Michael Dukakis, Carol Mosley Braun and Hillary Clinton. They were also in the audience for the speeches of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Bush twins and first lady Laura Bush.

"The students' participation in the conventions offered them the opportunity to experience our democratic process first hand," Camacho said. "At the same time, it gives them a chance to recognize that there are alternative points of view, and that they can co-exist in our country."

Camacho, who has taught political communication for JSA's summer session at Stanford University since 1999, said she spends her summers teaching politics to high school students because it is an opportunity for her to incorporate politics and media.

"It's a chance for me to merge my media world -- both as a former producer and as a Ph.D. in mass media -- and my government world, as I have two degrees in government," Camacho said. "Also, I get to teach a college course to high school students who really want to learn! These kids are our future leaders. ... They are outstanding and believe in our democratic system."

In addition to navigating Boston and New York with 165 high school students, Camacho ran nightly workshops that deconstructed the day's events and included campaign simulations. In the simulations, students role played candidates, their managers, interest groups, a free-speech zone and media representatives to learn how the system works.

The JSA summer symposia are sponsored by the Junior Statesmen Foundation and are held in six states. Each summer symposium includes an array of classes pertaining to politics as well as cultural trips and extra-curricular activities. Election symposia in which students attend political conventions are held during presidential election years.

"I liked both conventions for different reasons," said Arcadia High School senior Jacqueline Pinta. "But the best part was the California delegation party. It was great to meet politicians in a casual environment."

-- Student Writer Elizabeth Davis with Matt Itelson
Photo: Matthew J. Randazzo, Junior Statesmen Foundation


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Last modified September 10, 2004 by University Communications