2017-02-03 / Schools
Students practice civic duty
Youth town hall at Reagan Library engages teens
Among the students’ concerns were President Donald Trump’s view of global warming, equal education access for all students and the ways youths can make a difference in their own communities.
The panelists were Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber, Interim Police Chief David Livingstone, 38th District Assemblymember Dante Acosta and Simi Valley Unified School District Director of Secondary Education Deborah Salgado.
Simi Valley Youth Council members Leah Nohrenberg, a junior at Royal High School, and Zalma Quezada, a junior at Santa Susana High School, moderated the town hall meeting, which was held at the Reagan Library.
“We’re asking you to take a critical role in this session using social media, text messaging and comment cards,” Keyla Pech, a student at Apollo High School and master of ceremonies, told the students in the audience. “It is a privilege for each of us to have the opportunity to be a voice regarding Simi Valley youth-related matters.”
A flood of tweets and texts appeared on two large screens in real time during the 90-minute session. The questions the panel was asked had been screened and selected by members of the Simi Valley Youth Council.
“In the history of our country there has long been a connection between education and democracy,” Tony Pennay, chief learning officer at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, told the students. “Well, today we’re going to see that long tradition continue as part of our Simi Youth Town Hall.”
The session began with each panelist expressing their opinions on some of the biggest issues facing young people today.
“Unlike when I was your age,” Acosta said, “you have something that is very distinct, and that’s your cellphone. It is something that is truly wondrous and an important tool.”
“Be mindful of what you’re doing on social media,” the assemblyman told students. “You see a lot of people that are injured by what we put out there, and it can also come back and hurt you as well.”
Huber touched on the city’s Task Force on Heroin Prevention. He said he’s attended many funerals for people who’ve died from overdoses.
“The key now is to educate people (about) the risks that are involved,” the mayor said. “It all starts with you and education. If you see a friend, counsel them to just say no. This is a perfect venue to talk about this because you are the leaders. So you need to help get the word out.”
Simi’s interim police chief said the potency of drugs now available is much greater than just five years ago.
“People might experiment with something where,in the past, you’d wake up the next day with a bad headache, and now it can actually be fatal,” Livingstone said.
Salgado told students, “The test of this time of your life is not new.
“But it’s pushed a lot earlier upon you than it was for my generation, and that is developing and identifying your own character,” she said. “Are you going to be a respectful, engaged person? Are you going to make your community better? Are you going to pursue things after high school that will help you solve problems, cure diseases, the things that our society needs?”
Salgado was asked to respond to one student’s tweet: “President Trump has called climate change a hoax, which contradicts 97 percent of the scientific community. How will this affect education?”
“I won’t comment on other people’s opinions about science, but I’m certainly intelligent enough to look at the science that’s reported and make my own decision,” the SVUSD director said. “And students have to do that, too, because you’ll always find opinions on any topic which fall in one direction or the other.”
Huber responded to a text asking about how students can get involved in the community.
“We have the youth council, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Interact and Rotaract clubs, and the Kiwanis has the Key Clubs,” Huber said. “There’s just so many opportunities for young people to be involved.”
Salgado addressed another question about student access.
“We as a school district are committed to being inclusive and having our borders and classrooms open to all students,” she said. “All students should feel safe and welcome on our campuses and should have access to all of our classes.”
Toward the end of the town hall, Livingstone told students they’re at a stage in life where they’re looking to the future.
“Don’t ever sell yourself short,” he said. “Believe in yourself, because I can tell you I was not the best student. I kind of squeaked by. I didn’t really put a lot of effort into my high school years. But I went back to school later in life . . . and now I’m in a Ph.D. program.
“ Knowledge is power, and education is the key.”
Salgado encouraged students not to limit themselves to the education required by state law.
“Yes, you’ve got to do that, but don’t confine yourself, especially in this day and age where you can turn your phone on and learn about things in this world that interest you,” she said. “Don’t confine yourself to what is presented to you in your schools. Go above and beyond. Follow your dreams and prepare yourselves.”
Huber thanked the students for their insightful questions.
“You’re the movers and shakers that are going to make things happen because you’re here and you’re involved. Stay involved.”