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What's it like to lead during a global crisis? Some Ventura County students get taste of leadership

Some students from Simi Valley's Royal High School taking part in the Reagan Foundation's "Reagan Leadership Program." It puts them in a a simulated international crisis, where they serve as government leaders, intelligence officers, and reporters facing some tough decisions.

Reagan Foundation program puts students in simulated international crisis situation, casting them as everyone from the President to reporters.

The President is walking up to a podium at a news conference in Ventura County to talk about an international crisis. But, while it looks like the White House briefing room, it’s actually a room at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

And, the person speaking as the president, her cabinet, and even the people acting as reporters are all high school students.

The Reagan Foundation's Reagan Leadership Center has opened a new immersive program intended to give high school students a taste of what it’s like for people to be in tough leadership roles.

Royal High School student Gabby Munoz plays the U.S. president in a scenario which has the class dealing with an international crisis. After geting a rundown of facts, they have to make some key decisions on how to deal with the crisis.

Megan Gately is the Reagan Foundation’s Director of Learning and Engagement. She said three dozen students from Simi Valley's Royal High School are on hand, kicking off the new program.

"We want kids to experience leadership....not only can they do it...but that it's difficult," said Gately. "We throw a lot of things at them...they have to communicate...they have to figure out how to negotiate."

Gately said the scenario involves a real life tragedy, and crisis in 1983 involving Soviet jet fighters shooting down a civilian airliner. How could, and should the U.S. respond is the question for the teens. When the actual crisis happened in 1983, President Reagan condemned the attack and sanctioned the Soviet Union, but in a measured response stopped short of military action.

Ava Giller plays the Vice-President as the United States tried to decide how to respond to the crisis. "It was really hard, because there were multiple decisions which would have been good," said Giller. "It was very nerve-wracking. My first instinct was to deliberate and have communications with the Soviet Union...not to create war."

And, Gabby Munoz had the toughest role, cast as the President. "It was a lot of responsibility, there's a lot of pressure...although it's just a's choosing the fate of the country," said Munoz. In the end, the students also decided to take a measured response, rather than military action.

As the scenario wraps up, one of the educators running it, Will Donley, talks to the teens about what it’s hoped they get from the experience. "We count on our citizens to be leaders, and that's you," said Donley. "My generation...we're leaving. You are going to be the leaders from now on."

The Reagan Foundation’s youth leadership program has existed in different forms for 14 years, hosting nearly 300,000 students. It’s received state and national recognition. But, the hope is this new version of the program will provide an even more realistic way to help promote civic engagement and participation.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.