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Draper Journal

Lt. Gov. encourages Draper students to speak up about issues

Apr 06, 2018 10:59AM ● By Julie Slama

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox takes a selfie with 318 students at the recent Parent-Teacher-Student Association day at the capitol. (Spencer Cox/Utah State Capitol)

During the recent Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) day at the capitol, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox hoped students took away one message: to speak up about their concerns on issues.

“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 welcomed 318 students Feb. 7 and spoke to them about issues that may concern them — teen suicide, education and air quality among them. 

“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 to youth through texting and a confidential tip program.

He also said 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 as the inversion can’t escape,” he said.

Ann Rasmussen, who is Corner Canyon’s PTSA adviser along with Kathryn Myers and Jennifer Kalm, said that students appreciated his honesty.

“They just loved him since he is down to earth and not the stereotypical politician,” she said. “He understands kids and has kids of his own at this age. He wants students to be informed and maybe this will get them active — if not now, later in life.”

After Cox’s welcome, where students asked questions and learned that his first career choice was a professional basketball player (“I was too short and too slow”), students divided into groups to participate in a mock debate, a 40-minute tour of the capitol and learn about Digital Citizenship Week.

State auditor John Dougall and Rep. Ryan Wilcox led the mock debate session, asking students to voice their opinions over whether cell phones should be allowed in school.

Rasmussen said her 24 students went up against some Hillcrest High debate students.

“They argued that it was easier access for research versus the phones being distracting during quizzes. It was pretty much divided, but they learned how to speak up for a position and study both sides of the issue. It gave them the right tools to learn how to voice their opinion and can lead them to a bigger role in being involved and not being passive,” she said.

Utah PTA Student Involvement Commissioner Betty Shaw said she hoped students gained a better perspective.

“We want them to start having conversations about current issues so they can get involved,” Shaw said. 

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.

Corner Canyon students took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol, which ranged from seeing the downstairs earthquake safety renovation to looking for statues during a scavenger hunt and learning their symbolism before meeting Rep. LaVar Christensen at lunch.

“He took the time to meet with them and several students asked questions on different topics,” Rasmussen said.

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, including college recruiters and employers, not only now, but in their future,.

“He wanted students to question before sharing if it could be embarrassing to both the person and themselves and to ask whether it’s something they’d want to have posted throughout their life. He was asking them to make good judgment decisions,” Rasmussen said.

Haney said that all five Canyons traditional high schools had students at the capitol as well as six of the middle schools.

Shaw said about 180 additional students from across the state attended the event a second day, Feb. 20.

Rasmussen said that experience helped to unite her students.

“It was really bonding. We talked in a low-key setting and it was fun environment for ours students to learn. We rode the bus with 32 Draper Park students, so we told them to come be a part of our student club when they come to Corner Canyon and made that connection,” she said.

Next up for Corner Canyon PTSA is to help with the school’s Health and Wellness Week slated for the week of March 26, then provide support for AP testing later this spring. They just completed promoting a healthy relationship month, defying bullying and teen dating violence.

Canyons Education Foundation’s Holly Bishop said she hoped students gained an understanding for the Capitol and what happens within it.

“I hope they appreciate and become aware of how the capitol works and can get involved,” she said. “It’s exciting when they stand up as a leader and have their voices be heard.”