The city of La Puente’s Project L.E.A.D. was submitted in 2015 for the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government in city Government award category.
Whether it is through voting, volunteering or running for public office, citizens have the opportunity become engaged and informed. Life Experiences About Democracy (L.E.A.D.) is a partnership between the city of La Puente and the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District (HLPUSD) that focuses on student and parent engagement at city council meetings and incorporating them in city events and projects to impact meaningful change in the community. Among other activities, L.E.A.D. includes a mock city council meeting environment so students can learn about making important decisions affecting their community.
Maechelle Brown, at teacher at Workman Elementary School met with then La Puente Mayor Violeta Lewis to brainstorm how to enhance her democracy education. Mrs. Brown envisioned students visiting city hall, engaging with elected officials and city staff and experiencing firsthand the workings of local government. She partnered with colleagues from the HLPUSD, Sparks Middle School and Sunset Elementary. This coincided with the introduction of Common Core Standards in the classroom to prepare students for success in college and the workplace.
Annual city events are the preferred family activities in this community. La Puente’s 2014 Independence Day Celebration attracted an estimated 20,000 attendees, which is approximately half of the city’s residents. City officials wanted to see the same interest translate over to civic engagement and a healthier community.
In summer 2014, educators from HLPUSD and city officials, including then Mayor Lewis and City Manager David Carmany, met to explore Mrs. Brown’s ideas. They discussed the challenge of combining this grassroots movement with the city’s strategic plan goals to create a civically-minded community that is engaged, healthy, clean/green and informed. As a solution, the partnership created L.E.A.D. By the end of the summer, the entire school year had been mapped out to align Common Core State Standards with the curriculum taught in the classroom and the city’s strategic goals.
L.E.A.D. kicked off the school year by engaging the community at an assembly at each of the schools. These assemblies provided students and parents with the opportunity to meet city officials, to receive an update on current projects and to learn about the city’s departments and their functions. Students and parents asked questions and dialogued with city officials.
L.E.A.D. provided opportunities for community engagement at city hall. Since September 2014, students and parents are regularly attending city council meetings. At these meetings, students lead the flag salute and each school has a student or parent presenter give a report on the activities going on in their schools that are given the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion with the mayor prior to the start of the meeting.
Through L.E.A.D., students received diet and exercise lessons from HLPUSD’s director of Food Services. Students applied their learning by hosting a booth at the city’s Health, Wellness and Safety Fair. Students educated the community on the importance of healthy choices. This helped to further the city’s strategic goal towards a healthier La Puente.
The city’s clean/green strategic goal was met when the city and L.E.A.D. held a Community Clean-up Day and a Community Tree Planting Day. The Clean-Up Day was held at La Puente Park and Community Center where trash was picked up, picnic tables and shelters were repaired, cleaned and painted. The Community Center received a face-lift with freshly painted activity rooms and new plants new flowers. The Tree Planting Day brought more than 60 volunteers to Sunset Elementary school to plant 19 trees at the school and the surrounding neighborhood. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps helped dig holes and plant trees. This event was made possible through a grant from the office of Los Angeles County’s First Supervisorial District.
The city and HLPUSD partnered to give L.E.A.D. create a Youth in Government Day. Then Mayor Pro Tem Dan Holloway and HLPUSD Board President Anthony Duarte discussed the important role that they and their families have in creating a stronger city and school district. Students attended workshops presented by the city manager, city attorney and the department leaders. Students continued their learning with a mock city council meeting. This meeting featured a five-member mock city council of L.E.A.D. students who were elected and had to consider the development of a new skate park. Students in the audience prepared and delivered research-based presentations supporting or opposing the skate park. Other students portrayed the role of staff members by giving reports to the mock city council and answering questions.
To measure the impact and effectiveness of L.E.A.D. the team looked to the city’s strategic goals along with community feedback, attendance and participation records. The city received hand written letters from the students with positive feedback about school assemblies. In the letters the students thanked the city officials for coming to their school, asked additional questions about the material that was presented and provided input regarding what they would like to see in their city. City officials responded by sending personalized letters to each of the students addressing their individual questions and acknowledging their ideas.
L.E.A.D. also used technology as a tool to gauge participation. An online survey solicited feedback about the city and the program . The use of technology was applied in the classrooms when L.E.A.D. teachers asked students and parents to download the city’s GORequest app. This free application allowed students to submit service requests. Students received a confirmation email and status updates on the progress of their request. Analytics show that a verifiable increase from zero to approximately 100 students and parents in attendance and involvement at city council meetings and events has occurred through L.E.A.D., creating a greener environment with the Clean-up and Tree Planting Day.
Before L.E.A.D., La Puente’s youth did not actively participate in city government. Students now present information twice a month, while learning about city issues and getting to know their city leaders. L.E.A.D. gives students an opportunity to see themselves at city hall as decision makers. In addition, these young leaders have spread positive energy throughout the community, infused new life inside the council chambers and have revitalized city employees and officials.