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Some kids choose sports, others choose politics | Medill | Washington
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Some kids choose sports, others choose politics

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WASHINTON—Tyler Warman is too young to vote, but he’s been practicing politics for years.

The 17-year-old high school student from Anaheim, Calif., is one of hundreds who have passed through the Washington area this summer to participate in conferences sponsored by political organizations.

“A lot of high schoolers are apolitical and that doesn’t really sit well with me,” Warman said. “To be in a big room with a bunch of like-minded students who are my age, I really like that idea.”

Warman, who will still be too young to cast a ballot in California’s 2012 primary, has been politically active throughout high school, starting a Republican club last year and even participating in the Orange County GOP.  This summer, he joined more than 100 students from 25 states at the Young America’s Foundation’s National High School Leadership conference in early July.

And while the events lined up by Young America’s Foundation, a conservative organization, may differ from the Young Democrats of America’s high school caucus, which hosted its high school caucus last week, and this week’s National Teen Age Republicans’ conference, their participants have one trait in common: they are all in high school.

Ron Meyer, the Young America’s Foundation’s program officer, called the attendance record for the group’s four-day summer conference an accomplishment, particularly for high school students who are usually at camp or working this time of year.

“I think a lot of them are interested in the issues and in what happens around D.C. and government,” Meyer said.  “And I think that some people are genuinely interested in trying to make a difference.  I think that’s attractive to some young people.”

The 17-year-old programs director for the Young Democrats of America’s high school causes, Samina Hydery, of Albany, N.Y., said teens need to get involved now so lawmakers can’t say they haven’t been paying attention when they start voting. She also said teens’ voices are often not sought on issues that affect them directly.

“I think it’s actually because they can’t vote that it’s so important that we have the high school caucus as our outlet for our political ideas,” said Hydery about students who haven’t quite reached the legal voting age.  “So many times elected officials [are]debating on these youth issues that obviously are not pertinent to them, because, yes they may have children, but they are not our age.”

The president for the Young Democrats of America, Rod Snyder, said his organization noticed an uptick in high school participation, particularly after 2008, the year President Barack Obama engaged and won over a high percentage of young voters.  According to a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 66 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots for Obama.“Some of our best volunteers in the country are these very excited, eager high school students who are 16 or 17 years old,” Snyder said.  “It’s been actually pretty incredible to watch.”

What inspires these kids to participate in national political conferences, and in some cases, lead political organizations in their hometowns, when they may not be eligible to show up at the polls for the 2012 primaries?

“How do they identify their interests (as politics)?  I don’t know,” said Snyder. “Some kids like music. Who knows why?”

Warman said he has developed his political positions on his own, but he also acknowledged that both sides of his family are politically active, which may have opened his eyes to political involvement.

A number of the teen politicos mentioned growing up surrounded by political conversation.  And according to a 2009 study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, both Republican and Democratic adolescents identified parents as the greatest influence on their political beliefs over teachers, friends, religion, political parties and the media.

Politics always have been part of life for Ben Herron, 17, from Dresden, Tenn.  His father is State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden.

“I didn’t really have an option of whether I wanted to get involved in politics when I was a kid,” said Herron, who came to Washington this summer for the Young Democrats of America’s high school leadership conference.

Herron said his family has a long history in public service and his grandfather, who was a judge, used to tell his dad, “you’ve got to serve your community somehow.”

Hydery of the Young Democrats said her father, who is from Bangladesh, was a strong force in her political involvement.  She remembers him telling her at a young age that she had one benefit he didn’t:  she could run for president one day.

For now, Hydery is running to be national chair of the high school caucus, which will hold its election on Friday.

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