Annual civic conference educates youth

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer

Students from grades four through 12 participated in EWU’s sixth annual West Valley Civics Conference on Feb. 20.

This year’s theme was: What needs to change at my school so that rights and respect are maintained for all?

The conference on Friday featured Washington Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens, ASEWU President Dahir “D.J.” Jigre and EWU professor of government Tom Hawley as keynote speakers.

Stephens comes to every conference and is a huge supporter of it, according to Helen Bergland, current academic program manager at EWU.

Participating students are selected through a variety of ways.

Dusty Andres, principal of West Valley City School, said his students have to write essays on the theme for that year, which are then scored on a rubric.

“The conference is a great way for kids to be exposed to things they don’t normally get to see,” said Andres.

Along with listening to speakers and getting a tour of the university, students came up with amendments that they will try implementing when they go back to school, according to Andres.

The conference started with a speech from Dahir, who encouraged the students to be active in achieving their dreams and asked them to think about how they can contribute to bettering their schools.

Hawley expanded on the same ideas in his speech and pointed out how students can be successful: There is no substitute for hard work, grades do matter and sweatpants are not clothes.

Molly Ayers, the director of community engagement, said she loved how this year, Hawley and Dahir talked about seeing the possibilities in oneself and in others.

“Sometimes it takes another person seeing that in you for you to become the leader you’re meant to become,” said Ayers. “I thought that was a really incredible and honest theme throughout their talk.”

The partnership began in 2007 when EWU’s Bill Goetter contacted Jim Williams, who is Stephen’s father and was the director for the West Valley School Board at the time.

“Goetter was very interested in civics and we struck up a friendship,” said Williams in an email. “I’m very proud to have played a part in the formation of this important partnership.”

The two of them teamed up with Bergland and began brainstorming activities for students to explore the ideas of civics.

Last year, Bergland asked Ayers to take over organizing this year’s conference.

“It’s got a good home in the Office of Community Engagement,” said Bergland.

Ayers said her job involves meeting regularly with the schools, coming up with a theme at the beginning of the academic year and organizing the event.