Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty makes public service and civics relevant for students

The National Assessment on Education Progress recently announced results from the 2010 civics exams, showing that our nation’s 8th & 12th graders are barely proficient in basic concepts like how we finance our government, enact laws, or what rights the Constitution protects.  US History courses aren’t structured to include events more current than the 20th century. Students in Santa Cruz City Schools middle and high schools benefit from a commitment by teachers and community leaders to discuss current events, make civics relevant and share the value of public service.

This year, marking the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, mayors throughout the country visited middle and high schools to discuss their own paths to public service and why it is important for young people to be engaged in their community. The project was a partnership between the US Conference of Mayors and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty visited seven classes at Harbor, Santa Cruz and Costanoa, speaking about public service and engaging in civic life in Santa Cruz. “Speaking to students is one of the most enjoyable activities I have had as mayor.  The students are engaged, thoughtful and, most importantly, incredibly optimistic about the future,” said Mayor Coonerty. “I challenge them to offer ideas on how to improve the community and have been impressed with the breadth and depth of their ideas.  They rose to the occasion, offering concerns about everything from potholes and intersections to advocating for banning plastic bags.  I’m taking their suggestions seriously and doing my best to make sure their voices are heard in the political process.”

Santa Cruz High School American Government teacher Cathy McDougall is one of those teachers who stresses the importance of civics and engagement. “It is not always easy to get students excited about civic duty. However, Mayor Coonerty did it with ease. Mayor Coonerty’s participation in the national effort to commemorate President Kennedy’s call to service impressed students with the value of public service,” said McDougall. “His enthusiasm and interest in what the students had to say motivated many students to get involved. My students felt empowered by the opportunity to share their thoughts directly with a City of Santa Cruz decision maker. For many students, Mayor Coonerty connected the City Council to a real person.”

I encourage more teachers to take advantage of the mayor’s offer to speak to their classes. Together, we can encourage the next generation of active citizens. – Cathy McDougall