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Midvale Journal

Midvale students encouraged to get involved in issues during Capitol visit

Apr 09, 2018 12:02PM ● By Julie Slama

Members of Midvale Middle School PTSA attended the recent Parent-Teacher-Student Association day at the Capitol. (Rebecca Martin/Midvale Middle School)

Midvale Middle School eighth-grader Connor Oviatt joined his school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association because he wanted to make a difference in his school.

“It is one of the most, if not the most, influential groups at school who can make an impact for the students,” he said. “I went to the Capitol to represent the school. I wanted to see how the government functions and learn how to have a voice.”

And that’s what Connor did through listening to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speak to 318 students Feb. 7 at PTSA day at the Capitol as well as touring the capitol, participating in a mock debate and learning about digital citizenship.

Cox encouraged students to get involved.

“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.”

He also spoke to students 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 ensured 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. 

Parent-Teacher-Student Association president Rebecca Martin said that she was glad he addressed that.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health or suicide. We want our students to watch out for friends and get them help,” she said.

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.

Cox also told students that their founding fathers had great foresight.

“The Capitol is an amazing building for being 100 years old. When it was built, it cost $300,000 and now it would be more than $3 million. It is one of the five most beautiful capitols in the country and you have the legacy to stand on to make changes for our future,” he said.

Midvale Middle and Hillcrest students toured the Capitol and grounds. They learned the importance of items from seeing the desk made from some of the 93 trees that fell from the 1999 tornado that hit Capitol Hill to understanding the symbolism, such as the beehive representing industry and perseverance, seen throughout the building. They also viewed the house and senate, supreme court and Gold Room, saw the recent renovation for earthquake safety and looked for statues during a scavenger hunt. 

“We read the placards and learned why the statues were there and what they meant. We discussed how there’s a bill right now at the Capitol about exchanging the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth’s in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. with one of Mary Hughes Cannon,” Martin said.

At press deadline, the bill was currently on the governor’s desk for consideration.

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.

Martin said in the session, students searched for their names to see what popped up in connection with them.

“He wants students to consider before posting what kind of person they are because when they apply for college and jobs, people will see what is there. He gave the example if they saw a sign on someone’s back, would they snap a photo and post it or would they take it off? He wanted them to realize that by posting mean things about others will perpetuate situations and magnify it and also reveal something about themselves instead of showing kindness and empathy. They learned their digital footprint lasts forever,” she said.

Students participated in 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. 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.” 

Connor said that he plans to write Canyons Board of Education about an issue at school.

“I want them to allow us to institute student clubs. When they looked at it, they said it was safer for students not to hold them. But our afterschool activities do a lot of good and they take place inside a locked building, so shouldn’t we focus on the good they do rather than what could possibly ever happen?”

Connor said that the activities at the Capitol helped him look at what he will write and analyze his main message.

“It’s important that teens have a voice and as a member of a diverse school, it’s important we include everyone and this is one way we can do that,” he said.

Martin said the day provided students valuable leadership skills, including critical thinking skills.

“They learned they can get involved and advocate on issues at school or outside of school on what’s important to them,” she said.

Midvale Middle PTSA adviser Stephanie Liu already has walked students through parliamentary procedure as part of teaching students leadership skills.

“We want our students to be efficient leaders and have a better understanding of our working government and how they can participate,” Liu said.

In addition to Midvale Middle and Hillcrest High, 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.