- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Heated political arguments may not only be for grown-ups.

Case in point: nearly two dozen Martinsburg high school students meet after school each Monday afternoon to voice - sometimes adamantly- their views on a variety of hot button political issues of the day.

The students belong to the Martinsburg chapter of the West Virginia Youth Leadership Association, whose club charter is to examine local and state government and learn how to participate in the political process.

The Martinsburg chapter belongs to the Ohio-West Virginia Youth Leadership Association.

Students say there are many exciting things involving the YLA.

“You sit in these meetings and hear people talk about these issues they’re so passionate about,” said Cat Priddy, a Martinsburg High senior and president of the Martinsburg YLA. “It makes you really excited.”

According to Martinsburg YLA vice president Tabatha Palomo, arguing about current political and government issues is an effective catalyst to getting students engaged.

“One of my teachers says apathy is the biggest problems that teen kids face today - they just don’t care,” said club vice president Tabatha Palomo. “But if you go to a YLA event, it’s different. Every single kid there is someone who is passionate about everything they’re doing at that moment and taking every opportunity to do what they can.”

Although club discussions can be fairly heated, students know it’s part of a larger charter to learn how government works and how young citizens can play a role.

“What makes the club so great, is that you can have a disagreement as far as political views or what community services we should do, but in the end we all help each other out,” Priddy said.

During the school year, YLA members participate in local public service. At Monday’s meeting, students finalized details for painting a new mural inside the school, and reviewing details for upcoming volunteer work at fundraisers at local organizations and businesses.

The club’s long-term fund raising goal is raise enough money to attend the annual Youth and Government Seminar at the state capital in Charleston at the end of April. A cooperative effort of the West Virginia Department of Education and the YLA. The weekend seminar give students the chance is serve as a legislator.

Several YLA members are helping support a bill in the state Legislature aimed at revising eligibility standards at West Virginia Works, the state’s welfare program. To be eligible for welfare benefits under WVW guidelines, state residents must only earn $2,200 or less a month.

Priddy said they are petitioning state legislators to switch the eligibility standard from flat fee to a graduated basis.

“If you make more than $2,200 a month, you’re completely cut off from everything,” Priddy said. “We’re trying to make it graduated, so if you’re at $2,200 you get a little less, at $2,400 you get a little bit more less, until you’re able to be completely self-sufficient.”

The Martinsburg YLA will present its proposal at the Youth Government Seminar in April.

Debunking high school stereotypes, the YLA draws a wide cross section of student interests, Palomo said.

“We’re all passionate, and we all care,” she said. “That’s what ties us together.”

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Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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