Public school students in Fresno and Orange Counties had reason to celebrate civics recently—to welcome California Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero to their campus.
Schools awarded the 2023 Civic Learning Award of Excellence received the news in May. In September, the Chief Justice reinstated the tradition of visiting schools after a hiatus during the pandemic. The announcement came during Constitution Month, a statewide commemoration sponsored by her Power of Democracy Civic Learning Initiative.
On September 29, Clovis Unified School District's Maple Creek Elementary School was the first to host a visit. Chief Justice Guerrero and Administrative Presiding Justice Brad Hill of the 5th District Court of Appeal (Fresno) met students in the school library where they received a student presentation on award-winning programs that promote kindness and positivity on campus.
When students asked the Chief Justice about studying law, the Chief Justice credited mentors who motivated her as a student.
"I needed that encouragement from people who saw something in me that maybe I didn't see in myself," shared the Chief Justice. She added, "I see there is something special in every one of you here in this room, and your teachers see it, too."
A few weeks later, on October 23, the Chief Justice traveled to Anaheim Union High School District, joined by Orange County Superior Court Judge Maria Hernandez and District Superintendent Michael Matsuda, the 2021 Champion of Civics.
First, at Gilbert High School, students one by one presented their award-winning civics projects, including developing the District's first campus-based food pantry, El Mercadito.
"For these students, this is the first time they're getting an award like this for something they did," said Principal Jose Lara. "I'm grateful for the words of Chief Justice Guerrero, 'students are encouraged to continue to use the voice that has for too long been ignored.' How inspiring. And Gilbert students need to hear and hold those words."
Gilbert is Orange County's only credit-recovery continuation school and the only continuation school to receive the highest honor since the award's inception a decade ago. In closing, students shared with the audience their plans to advocate to change current bus schedules and improve student access to public transportation.
Next, the Chief Justice traveled a short distance to Dale Junior High, recipient of the Civic Learning Award of Merit for four straight years. This was their first Award of Excellence. Students now in 9th grade who were part of the Award-winning application last year also attended the presentation. The highlight of the event was when the Chief Justice called up 11 recently-elected student senators for their oath of office.
"This is a bucket list day for any school, in my opinion," said Principal Rafael Santiago. "These kids will remember this for a lifetime, especially our new senators sworn in by the Chief Justice of California today! I couldn't be any more proud."
During the pandemic, the Awards, co-sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond with generous support from the California Lawyers Association, were presented remotely for three years. These visits were the first for Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, appointed in January 2023.
Learn more about the Civic Learning Awards.