A group of girls at the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility were inspired Tuesday as they interacted with State Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber.
Dr. Weber talked with a group of a dozen teenage students for about an hour, discussing her work as an assembly member, answering their questions, and motivating them to get involved.
"It inspired me," a 16-year-old student said after the conversation. "It's very motivating and empowering."
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 students were particularly interested in legislation Dr. Weber has authored that involve pat-down searches for incarcerated women, student parental leave, the state's gang database, and an elderly parole program.
"Dr. Weber's visit means the world to these kids," said Tracy Thompson, executive director of Juvenile Court and Community Schools. "If their pilot light wasn't lit before, it is now."
Dr. Weber said she also enjoyed the conversation with the students.
"You women are brilliant," she told them. "I've been really impressed with our conversation, the questions you've asked me."
She urged them to consider making a difference in their community by becoming politically active.
"You've had the good and the bad in your face, which means you'd make a great legislator," she told them. "I want to encourage every last one of you to get yourself together. We are waiting for you."
Dr. Weber also asked the students to help her shape future legislation by sharing their feedback and experiences.
"I'm asking you what else I need to do," she said.
Teacher Sarah Haffey said she was proud of the effort the students put into their questions for Dr. Weber.
To follow up on the visit, the students will now study youth advocacy, which will include writing letters to elected officials and other lessons about community involvement.
The conversation was a great opportunity for students to connect with an elected official and have their voices heard, said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools.
All students should have a chance to have meaningful dialogue with government leaders, said Guadalupe González, president of the San Diego County Board of Education.