Garden Grove’s Pacifica High School earns state honor for civic education

In recent years, Pacifica High School in the Garden Grove Unified School District has placed an emphasis on engaging students in important civic issues.

And that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Pacifica was recently named one of three campuses in California to receive the Civic Learning Award of Excellence co-sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The accolade was created in 2013 to celebrate schools that promote civic learning — and to highlight successful strategies that can be replicated elsewhere.

Civic education teachers from Pacifica High School
Teachers Leslie Ross, Drew Devoy and Adam Wemmer are credited with pursuing the Civic Learning Award of Excellence for Pacifica High School.

At Pacifica, teachers Leslie Ross, Drew Devoy and Adam Wemmer are credited with pursuing the recognition, which comes with a plaque, an invitation to the California Gold Ribbon Award Banquet and a visit this week from none other than Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye.

“We are proud that Pacifica High School is recognized among the best of the best in California for equipping students with the knowledge and skills to actively engage in important civic issues that impact our communities,” said Teri Rocco, a trustee with the Garden Grove Unified Board of Education.

In all, more than 50 schools received Civic Learning Awards this year, but just three qualified for Awards of Excellence, which is the highest level. A half-dozen sites received Awards of Distinction, and 47 schools earned Awards of Merit. All of these schools were selected by a panel of experts based on the depth and breadth of their civic learning classes, clubs and programs.

Of course, any conversation about civic education at Pacifica should probably begin with the school’s Service Learning Project, which is considered a signature practice.

Now in its 12th year, the project requires seniors to spend a minimum of 15 hours engaging in civic participation after they’ve learned about local, state and national politics, as well as key issues, in their civics classes. Students can choose to work on behalf of political campaigns, the Orange County Student Poll Worker Program, non-profit organizations or other local initiatives.

While we’re on the subject, here are a few other Pacifica High initiatives worth highlighting:

  • For three years, students have participated in a Community Action Project, completing service hours by studying and developing an action plan for a school issue. Students are currently creating a campuswide recycling program that’s expected to be in place by the end of the year.
  • Pacifica has dozens of service-oriented extracurricular clubs, and the senior class hosts a longstanding Adopt-a-Child program, inviting hundreds of elementary students from low-income families to the campus for a massive holiday event.
  • In November, the ASB hosted a mock presidential election and encouraged all students to participate. Seniors also learned how to register to vote, and those who were 18 at the time were able to complete their registration.
  • Pacifica’s history and social science teachers frequently simulate democratic processes as part of their instruction, including mock trials of historical figures, bill-to-law simulations, political prognostication projects and mock Supreme Court arguments.
  • Finally, the Social Science Department’s “Close Reading” approach to historical texts trains students to investigate claims from various sources. Officials say this is something that caught the attention of the awards committee, which noted its importance given the proliferation of fake-news sites and concerns over misinformation.

For more on the Civic Learning Award program and all of this year’s winners, check out the official news release. And for more on Pacifica High, visit the school’s website.