Ismael Benavidez received his first glimpse of lawmaking Friday. It’s long-winded a process often likened to sausage-making – something no one really wants to see – but the junior at Sammamish High School left Olympia impressed.
"It was pretty neat to see how it all worked," he said. "And I’ve learned a lot this week."
Benavidez and about 600 other students were at the Capitol to meet with legislators as part of an education conference hosted by the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project.
They also visited the chambers, took a tour of the building, received a primer of how the political process works and discussed several bills that would benefit Latino students in Washington.
The LEAP conference began Thursday at the Hotel Murano in downtown Tacoma with a dinner and keynote address from Gov. Chris Gregoire. Students attended leadership and educational workshops. The conference concludes Saturday morning.
LEAP’s top educational priorities include support for future bilingual teachers and lobbying to extend state financial aid to illegal immigrants.
Students sat on the steps of the Rotunda or milled about its marble-lined halls while listening to speeches from several legislators. Others were drawn to various booths set up in the halls (it was National Guard Day, too) – that showed off military hardware.
"This is one of the best things they can do for Latino students every year," said Esmeralda Loiaza. The senior at Mount Vernon High School was standing in line to try out a flight simulator run by a recruiter from the Air National Guard as the event was winding down. This is her second year attending the LEAP conference.
"When we go back to Tacoma," she continued, "the workshops are always really interesting. They’re helpful, too. It really makes you focus on the issues that are important to the Latino community."
Some students were making their first trip to the Capitol. Alex Rangel from Warden High School said he was amazed when he first took in the size and grandeur of the building.
"It’s just awesome," he said. "And it’s a good program. It’s been a good day so far."