Local, state leaders encourage Elk Ridge Middle School students to advocate issues
Apr 20, 2018 09:04AM
● By Julie Slama
Elk Ridge students met with South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey and Representatives Susan Pulsipher and Kim Coleman at the capitol during PTSA Day. (Michelle Kilcrease/Elk Ridge Middle School)
By Julie Slama | firstname.lastname@example.org
Twenty-seven Elk Ridge Parent-Teacher-Student Association student ambassadors had the opportunity to watch representatives and senators discussing issues on the capitol floor — and meet their local leaders and the lieutenant governor.
Through PTSA day at the capitol, students not only toured the building and grounds but had chances to meet and listen to officials — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Representatives Susan Pulsipher, Ryan Wilcox and Kim Coleman, state auditor John Dougall and South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey.
Ninth-grader Baylee Swensen had visited the capitol on a fourth-grade field trip but only remembered bits and pieces.
“It was fun to see what the capitol is like when it’s in session,” she said about their Feb. 7 visit. “There was more going on.”
Their day started with. Cox addressing 318 students about issues that may concern them — teen suicide, education and 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 ensured 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,” he said. “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.”
Cox inspired students to advocate for issues and to let their voices be heard through their representatives during the 45 days legislators are in session.
“It impacts their lives, and I hope they get involved,” he said. “I want them to meet their legislators and talk to them about big issues and share their ideas. Few people actually talk to legislators, especially students, and this is their opportunity to make an impact on their world and future.”
Baylee, who plans to install the SafeUT app on her cell, said, “It’s cool to hear what they’re doing about teen suicide and wanting to help.”
She also said it ties into their school’s PTSA Kindness Week, which will encourage students to be kinder to one another.
“If we can all be a little kinder to each other, it would improve the way the world would be and solve issues that stem from violence and instead, discuss issues civilly,” Baylee said.
Eighth-grader Madelyn Sadler said they will apply what they learned to begin making a difference immediately.
“Our generation will be the ones to change and get people to be kind and address social issues in the future through communication,” she said. “If we can practice it now, it will make a change early on.”
Both Baylee and Madelyn said they liked participating in a mock debate, conducted by Wilcox and Dougall.
Utah PTA Student Involvement Commissioner Betty Shaw said through the debate, 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 them to start having conversations about current issues so they can get involved. 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.”
Through talking with Pulsipher and Ramsey, Madelyn said she learned about issues that affect them now as students as well as those that affect Utah residents.
“I never thought I could write a letter to them about the environment, but it is a big problem, and the inversion has a lot to do with it,” she said.
Assistant Principal Michelle Kilcrease said both leaders encouraged students to have an active voice in their local government.
“Mayor Ramsey encouraged them to be present in their local government and never shy away,” she said. “Rep. Pulsipher echoed that sentiment.”
Ramsey said this interactive learning provided students a great opportunity to learn.
“The students are learning how government works, touring the capitol, learning about it today and its past, and meeting legislators and hearing from the lieutenant governor,” she said. “It’s real life experience that is alive. I hope they never take for granted the government is run by the people for the people and to always exercise their voice by voting and advocating for issues.”
Elk Ridge PTSA president Ani Allen said she hopes her student leaders learned the impact of the words of the government officials and will make a difference around them.
“Whether they become a senator and work in the capitol or a mayor and address city concerns, I hope they heard Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox tell them to speak up,” she said. “It’s only then when they can make a change, whether it’s at their school or on a larger scale. Their voice matters, and it can make a huge difference. I want the students to be leaders and know that we are there, believing in them.”