Students in the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility had the opportunity to connect more deeply with their lessons about social justice and government recently when Assemblymember Todd Gloria visited them.
Gloria talked with the 18 young women for about an hour, sharing his story, discussing what it's like to be an elected official, answering questions, and listening to their concerns.
"He was really cool and actually seemed like he was listening to our stories and that he is going to make a difference," one of the students said.
The students, who range in age from 14 to 19, shared plenty of laughs and some tears with Gloria as they discussed some very important and personal topics, such as housing, immigration, criminal justice reform, and care for transgender students.
Gloria said he was impressed with the quality of the questions and how the students presented themselves.
"I was really struck by the positivity in their comments, their sense of humor, and the insights that they had, really beyond their years," he said. "It really opened my eyes to some of the real issues that they're dealing with and the fact that we at the state can help them to do better."
Gloria said he will be able to use the students' concerns and stories to help him make positive changes by convincing colleagues and constituents of the need to support related policy changes.
Before the visit, the students researched social justice topics that were important to them and learned more about Gloria. They worked with their teacher, Sarah Haffey, and two counseling interns on the project.
"I'm so proud of them," Haffey said. "They really worked hard."
The students said they were also proud of themselves.
"I was nervous but I was really proud to be able to talk to him and make my voice heard," one of the students said.
The San Diego County Office of Education runs the classrooms in the facility as part of its Juvenile Court and Community Schools. The county Probation Department oversees the other aspects of the detention facilities.
The visit was special for the students because most of them don't have opportunities to interact with politicians, said Margie H. DeLeon, division chief with the Probation Department.
"He gives them hope," DeLeon added.
The conversation also helps educators and probation officers understand the students' perspective and voice, said Scott Huizar, deputy chief with the Probation Department.
"As educators, it's important that we offer these students the same opportunities they would have at any other school," said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools.
Guadalupe González, president of the San Diego County Board of Education, agreed.
"All students should have a chance to have meaningful dialogue with government leaders," she said.