SALT LAKE CITY — Student efforts to identify and find solutions to problems in their high schools and communities were honored Friday at the Salt Lake City School District Civics Day celebration in the state Capitol.
"We were very happy we could get something done," West High School senior Julia Obbard said of the "Helping Homeless Hygiene" project to distribute opened feminine hygiene products and other items from local drugstores to a homeless shelter.
Brandon Jasaraj, a junior, said the group behind the project initially wanted to collect food for the Family Promise Salt Lake Shelter at 814 W. 800 South, but ran into some difficulties and asked what was needed.
The answer, he said, was hygiene products. So the group negotiated with two area Walgreens stores and soon will start collecting boxes of tampons and other necessities that have been opened and can't be sold to pass along to the shelter.
Several of the 17 projects displayed at the event dealt with suicide prevention. That struck Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, who along with other state lawmakers, educators and community members reviewed the students' work.
"Access to mental health care has been in acute crisis for a long time and keeps getting worse," said Dailey-Provost, a longtime public health advocate. "We have students that are crying out for health. … We need to empower them."
William Patton, a West High senior, spoke of his own mental health crisis in explaining the project he is involved with, seeking student representation on the school district's Social Emotional Learning Council that develops curriculum.
"Personally, I've struggled with mental health," Patton said, crediting the coping skills he learned in therapy after a suicide attempt with helping him deal with anxiety and depression. "This is an issue that affected me personally."
Zahra Nasir, also a senior, said mental health is such a big issue the group had to narrow its focus. She said they decided to look at a systemic solution, ensuring a student voice in how coping skills and mental health awareness is taught.
"I see a lot of people are struggling at school," Nasir said, and it can be hard for them to talk about their problems.
We have students that are crying out for health. … We need to empower them.
–Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost
Other issues tackled by the three schools represented — West High, East High and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education — included potential training to better respond to school shooters.
Sahalma Rodriguez, a West High senior, said the "Run, Prepare, Fight" project to help students feel prepared to deal with an active shooter situation is the answer to a survey by her group that found 41 percent of students polled felt unsafe.
Rodriguez said they're scheduled to present their proposal to West High faculty.
Dailey-Provost said she was impressed with the students, who all received recognition for demonstrating the core values of the civics program: grassroots change, systemic impact, collaboration and diversity, action and open-mindedness.
"These students are our future elected officials. This is very exciting," she said.
The Civics Day program, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, is part of a national Generation Citizen initiative to teach students how to become actively participating citizens.
Correction: In an earlier version, Sahalma Rodriguez's surname was misspelled as Rodriquez.