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Summit program aims to shepherd troubled kids back into mainstream

Just like a candidate stumping for support, Amanda Black announces proudly that she will push for reforms of school regulations governing her peers.

"I want to maintain our freedom," pledged the 14-year-old student. "I want to make it possible for us not to be segregated from the other parts of the school, and so we are known to everyone as a part of American Fork Junior High School."Black and friend Elizabeth Overall, 16, grasping hands and laughing with classmates, were elected president and vice president during a mock Democratic Convention at the school on Wednesday.

"I told them I'd be honest and a fair president," Black said about her campaign speech.

"I said I'd give my best effort to support the president and I'd be fair," added Overall.

In their elected posts, the two gregarious teens will help teachers make classroom rules for an Alpine School District program called Summit, a class for junior high and high school students with troubled pasts or who have been disciplined for continued disruptive behavior.

Some 14 Summit students graduated or earned a diploma last year. Two of the 1997 graduates now are enrolled at Utah Valley State College.

Black, who is from Salt Lake City, and Overall, whose family resides in Murray, live in the same group house. Both have been in the program for several months and are easing back into mainstream classes.

"I'm trying to get my act together," Black said, adding that she's trying hard to control her temper, stop smoking and running away.

Overall plans to enter regular classes entirely in a few months.

For their first presidential act, they want to draft a resolution that would allow Summit students to eat lunch with students at the junior high.

The class now eats at a separate table because of clashes they've had with junior high school students in the past, said teacher Elayne MacArthur. A handful of Summit students have ties with gangs that are hard to break, she said.

MacArthur teaches the 25 Summit students in a portable classroom adjacent to the school, 20 W. 1120 North. It's her first year teaching in the Summit program.

The mock convention, complete with balloons, streamers and signs supporting candidates, culminated four weeks of lessons on the U.S. government.

Students were "bored out of their minds" when she started talking about the democratic process, political parties and how lawmakers draft legislation, she said.

Enter Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr and Linda Tripp.

"Bill Clinton's scandal helped us out," she said. "They started to see on the Democrats vs. Republicans thing on TV, and they started to get interested."

Listening to the students Tuesday, she's convinced they learned how the process works.

"I think this has increased their self-esteem. That's the main thing," she said.

Aaron Samudil, 13, said the media and public should stop scrutinizing President Clinton's personal life.

"I think it's an issue if he lied to the United States," he said. "But they should just let him do his job."

Samudil said the convention was "the funnest thing I've ever done here. I liked learning how the Democrats and Republicans are different," he said. "Before this, I didn't know. If I was going to be in a political party, I'd be a Democrat."

MacArthur said the class also will elect legislators to establish rules, a judge to interpret the laws and public defenders and prosecutors for a student court.