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Sandy Journal

Sandy students learn to advocate during PTSA day at the Capitol

Apr 09, 2018 10:29AM ● 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)

When Utah Parent-Teacher Association Student (PTSA) Involvement Commissioner Betty Shaw was growing up, she had no idea how her state’s government worked.

So when she recently took on her new post, which included promoting the PTSA day at the Capitol, she put her heart into it.

“These students are our future, so they need to see the process and how it works,” she said. “We want them to start having conversations about current issues. 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.”

That was the message Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox conveyed as well.

“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 with counselors to youth through texting as well as a confidential tip message to school administrators on bullying, threats, violence and depression. 

Alta High’s principal, Brian McGill, knows firsthand about the app as he has personally followed up on tips sent on cells phones. In January, he received an award for his involvement in the program from Cox as well as other representatives at the Utah Suicide Awareness Summit.

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

After Cox’s welcome, where students asked questions and learn 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 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.

Shaw said that 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,” she said. 

Tricia Anderson, who is Alta’s PTSA student club adviser with Deena Denning, said Alta students supported cell phones in school to assist with research for school assignments.

“The mock debate was engaging so they were active in learning the process and they learned that their voices can be heard,” she 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 had students search for their names to see what popped up in connection with it as well as photos posted about them. Several had baby pictures that they didn’t realize their parents posted and they were laughing and took it in stride. But they also realized the concern that what could be posted now may not be funny when they’re searching for colleges or jobs, so it was a good lesson for them,” Anderson said.

She said that also tied into Alta’s Digital Citizenship Week in February, where students were asked before posting to social media to THINK — is it True? is it Helpful? is it Inspiring? is it Necessary? is it Kind?

Haney said that in addition to Alta and Jordan High, the three other Canyons traditional high schools had students participate at the capitol as well as six of the middle schools, including Sandy’s Indian Hills, Eastmont and Albion. Shaw added that about 180 additional students from across the state attended the event a second day, Feb. 20.

Canyons Education Foundation’s Holly Bishop was one of the tour guides who gave students a look at the Capitol, where they viewed the house and senate, supreme court, Gold Room, the downstairs renovation for earthquake safety and looked for statues during a scavenger hunt, as well. 

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,” Bishop said. “It’s exciting when they stand up as a leader and have their voices be heard.”