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The City Journals

Lt. Gov. encourages Cottonwood Heights students to become active in issues

Apr 03, 2018 03:19PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]


Butler Middle seventh-grader Claire Hirrill asked Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, “What’s your favorite color?”

He returned the question to her and once she responded, then echoed the same answer.

“That’s mine, too,” he said. “That’s what politicians do, always agree with you. Don’t ever vote for one of those. Vote for those who speak the truth. My favorite is blue.”

It was a quick lesson in politics for Butler Middle School’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association Day student president. It came at the PTSA Day at the capitol on Feb. 7, which attracted 318 students from Canyons, Jordan and Murray school districts.

Cox’s message to students was to get active in issues and let their voices be heard.

“I want them to meet their legislators and talk to them about big issues and share their ideas,” he said. “Few people actually talk to legislators, especially students, and this is their opportunity to make an impact on their world and future.”

Cox spoke to them about issues that may concern them — teen suicide, education, air quality.

“Teen suicide is a really big issue in Utah,” he said. “Any suicide is one too many as it impacts all of us. Out of about 200 of us, 40 will contemplate it.”

Cox made sure students were aware of the statewide SafeUT electronic device app, which provides real-time crisis intervention with counselors to youth through texting as well as a confidential tip message to school administrators on bullying, threats, violence and depression.

He continued to address issues, saying that by 2025, Utah will have a significant increase in education funding and a significant reduction in air pollution.

“We’d like to have hydro transit pick you up at your houses by the year 2030 as a way to carpool going to work. We have 25 percent cleaner air than 10 years ago, but the bad news is Salt Lake City is always going to have air quality issues. The Native Americans called it the Valley of Smoke since the inversion can’t escape,” Cox said.

After Cox’s welcome, students divided into groups to participate in a mock debate, a 40-minute tour of the capitol and learn about digital citizenship week.

Students participated in a mock debate on whether cell phones should be allowed at school.

Utah PTA Student Involvement Commissioner Betty Shaw said that through the debate, conducted by state auditor John Dougall and Rep. Ryan Wilcox, students were learning both sides of the issue.

“We want students to gain a better perspective and be able to see both sides to every issue; they may learn something from the other side instead of just seeing their side,” Shaw said. “We want to get the kids to understand what goes on (at the capitol), how laws are enacted or changed and how it affects them. We want them to start having conversations about current issues so they can get involved.”

Shaw, who said she had no idea about her state’s government growing up, said she hoped students got “a flavor of what is going on and see part of their history.”

“They’re our future, so they need to see the process and how it works. It would be great to see them get involved in issues they have concerns about, if not at the capitol then locally with their school board or local district agencies and city councils,” she said.

The tours gave students a look at the capitol from viewing the house and senate, supreme court and Gold Room to seeing the downstairs renovation for earthquake safety. They also looked for statues during a scavenger hunt.

They also learned about the bill to replace the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth’s statue, which was first suggested to be displayed in the late 1980s by Ridgecrest Elementary students, in the capitol in Washington, D.C. with one of Mary Hughes Cannon. At press deadline, the bill was on the governor’s desk for consideration.

Butler Middle School PTSA president Hilary Ripley said her students also had the opportunity to meet Rep. Marie Poulsen, who as a former teacher not only represents Cottonwood Heights, but also was the recent recipient of Canyons APEX award.

“We got to sit in the gallery and she introduced the students, which was so amazing for them,” Ripley said. “It was the highlight of their day to watch the process and be a part of it.”

Ripley said students also got to talk to her and others about issues and were encouraged to get involved.

“She inspired them to make a difference in the lives around them,” she said. “We are a service organization so our students are becoming more active in their school and community.”

Recently, the PTSA club has made cards and posters for veterans and active military, held a clothing drive, and helped with the school’s memory books, parent-teacher conferences and with Red Ribbon Week.

At the Digital Citizenship Week session, Canyons School District spokesman Jeff Haney reminded students that what they post on social media would be available for people to see, not only now, but in their future, including college recruiters and employers.

In addition to Butler Middle and Brighton High, Haney said the four other Canyons traditional high schools and six other middle schools as well as students from Jordan and Murray school districts had students participate that day at the capitol. About 180 additional students from across the state attended the event on a second day, Feb. 20.