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South Jordan Journal

Elk Ridge PTSA students learned to speak up, work together from elected officials

Apr 03, 2022 06:59PM ● By Julie Slama

State Sen. Derek Kitchen talked to Elk Ridge Middle School students about how being an Elk Ridge Middle studentbody officer spurred his interest in serving the people in the legislature. (Steve Pollock/Elk Ridge Middle School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was more than a civics lesson. It was a life lesson in becoming involved and working together for a common goal.

That was a message 28 Elk Ridge Middle School student body officers and PTSA ambassadors heard while visiting the capitol and meeting with Rep. Susan Pulsipher and Sen. Derek Kitchen.

Pulsipher explained to students about “some of the things that she’s putting through to help education and about that process,” said Elk Ridge teacher and PTSA adviser Steve Pollock.

He said that her message of teamwork and finding common ground was important.

“It was good for her to talk to the kids about how to work with other people even though you’re not always the same political party,” he said. “She told them, ‘You have to keep a good relationship because maybe down the road on a different bill, it will be important to have their support. It’s really important because sometimes kids think, ‘If I don’t like what you’re doing right now, you can’t be my friend,’ but I think they understood when she said, ‘You always got to be working for what’s best for Utah.’”

Kitchen echoed that message.

“Sen. Kitchen invited us in the senate chamber when they were in session and said, ‘I want you to listen to the language how we talk to each other because we never call each other by our first names. We always call each other the good senator.’ He told the kids that they need to respect one another because they need to work together, regardless, if they have different views,” Pollock said.

Eighth grader Navina Devarajan noticed the proper manner.

“It’s all very formal,” she said. “There’s no like personal grudges when they’re voting. They address the speaker when they’re telling their points. They don’t really look at each other and argue; I thought that was interesting.”

Both elected officials told students they can become involved in decision-making right now, said ninth grader Malik Lucero.

“Rep. Pulsipher told us people reached out to her to advocate and vote for certain things,” he said. “She then will research and make an informed decision on what is best for Utah. She told us that we, as students, and our families, can reach out to her and email her about what concerns we have, which is kind of cool. I didn’t know we had this much of a say. We learned our voice matters.”

Navina agreed.

“We have a say in things, we are not left out,” she said. “We can talk about issues and make a change.”

Pulsipher told them she’s working to make the transition to Utah’s education system smoother for refugees, who often arrive without the required birth certificate and other documents.

“We learned from her how different representatives and senators work with their districts on local needs that need changing, like the influx of new immigrants coming to schools and how new processes need to be made to make sure they learn English, learn customs and can be immersed and not thrown to the wolves,” Malik said about the former Jordan School District Board of Education member who now sits on the House Education Committee and on the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Kitchen, a graduate of Elk Ridge Middle School, acknowledged the students from the Senate floor.

“We were able to stand up and wave, and that was really pretty cool,” Navina said.

Malik said Kitchen told them how Elk Ridge and in high school impacted his future.

 "Sen. Kitchen started getting a feel for politics when he was a SBO in eighth grade, and he told us how that was important in his life,” he said.

That’s important to Malik as he hopes the skills—“teamwork and learning how to work independently, but know when to ask for help”—he has learned as a PTSA ambassador will help him attend an Ivy League school where he’d like to study to become an astrophysicist.

Elk Ridge’s PTSA already has helped with Red Ribbon Week, the Halloween school carnival, posters for school events, teacher appreciation and the Angel Tree service project. They’re also looking into starting a movement for kindness at their school.

“We advocate for kindness, and if someone is sitting alone at lunch or not having someone to hang out with, we can reach out,” Malik said. “We want to include everyone and have them know it’s a safe place and make new friends. As leaders, we feel we should be kind so others can choose to do that also.”

Navina said “bringing people together in making a difference” is something she has learned from PTSA.

“With my career goal of becoming an orthodontist, I’ll need to be able to strike conversations with patients and make them feel comfortable and that’s essentially what we’re doing with PTSA,” she said. “We’re interacting with students, making them feel comfortable at school, and if they have any problems, they can talk to us about it.”

Their capitol visit also included a docent-led tour, where the guide pointed out the symbolism of the building.

“Our guide pointed out all the paintings and their significance and some of the features in the house and senate; it was really cool.” Navina said. “She talked about how they constructed the capitol and about how they recently made it earthquake safe.”

Malik was impressed with the Gold Room.

“I went in there and it was like, ‘Whoa,’” he said. “It was just so lavish and beautiful. Our tour guide told us all the important meetings happen there. The whole capitol is so big and beautiful. I didn’t realize how much history there is in every little detail of it and how much history is being made there every day.”