Newhall Elementary School welcomed Mayor Pro Tem Jason Gibbs to speak to sixth-graders about his position on the Santa Clarita City Council and as a rocket scientist for GP Strategies Corp. on Friday.
This is the second annual event of its kind. The original idea was brought forth by Angelica Huato-Nelson, a sixth-grade teacher for the school. Last year Bill Miranda, mayor at the time, spoke to the students.
“We wanted a culminating activity to our first unit of study, which is government,” said Principal Jackeline Tapia.
For the past four weeks the sixth-grade students at Newhall Elementary have been learning about the basics of government.
“During this time, they learn about the different types of government, they reflect on the different types of government and our teachers do a very good job of inviting them to start thinking and reflecting on the different types of questions,” said Tapia.
Gibbs began his speech by giving all those in attendance information on his background.
Gibbs grew up in Santa Barbara not having a clue what he wanted to do. When he saw his oldest brother having to switch out of mechanical engineering school because it was “too hard,” he thought to himself, “I could do it.” It took him six years to earn his degree in engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
He has worked as an engineer since. He currently specializes in the development of fueling systems for cryogenic and high-pressure gas systems to launch vehicles, or as he puts it, “I build gas stations for rockets.”
The way he got to live in Santa Clarita was because of his wife and her work as a biomedical engineer. However, he never saw himself ever taking on a position of political power.
“I never woke up one day and said, ‘I’m gonna be the mayor pro tem of Santa Clarita,’ or, ‘I’m gonna be on the City Council,” said Gibbs.
It wasn’t until his first child was born that he made the decision that he wanted to be involved in the community.
“I just decided that I wanted to do something good. I wanted to do something positive. I wanted to be involved,” said Gibbs.
Seven students were selected out of the grade to ask Gibbs a question.
“We wanted to give our students the opportunity to experience what it is like to speak to someone in a more formal way, like in a panel, and really know the importance of or the reality that they could aspire to be,” said Tapia.
The seven asked Gibbs the following questions: “What are you going to do to make us safe?” “Could you please tell us more about your day-to-day responsibilities as mayor pro tem?” “How was it for you growing up here in Santa Clarita, do you have a special memory?” (This was corrected by Gibbs, as he grew up in Santa Barbara, and answered according to that.) “What made you interested in the job?” “Have you met any U.S. presidents?” “What is your greatest fear?” “Why do taxes get more and more expensive each year and where does that money go?”
Regarding public safety, Gibbs answered, “You do two things. You allocate and you provide funding and encouragement and support to them (first responders), so that they can do their jobs because they’re the people that you call when you need help. They’re the people you call when bad things are happening in this world and they need to know that you support them.”
“It’s pretty cool to be able to tell people that you play with rockets,” said Gibbs in response to being asked what made him interested in his job.
Regarding his biggest fear, Gibbs told the students it revolved around being able to live up to the community’s expectations. “Fear is an interesting one as an elected official. Your greatest fear is letting people down,” Gibbs said. “It’s wanting to be able to provide somebody everything that they believe that they need, but realizing that you can’t.”
Throughout all of his answers, there was one common message Gibbs was trying to convey to the sixth graders – they can do what he is doing, too, and accomplish whatever they set their sights on.
“You can do whatever it is you want to do. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not just adults just saying things. It’s real…You never know where that path is going to end,” said Gibbs.
Newhall Elementary thanked Gibbs for his attendance by giving him the title of “Honorary Newhall Eagle” (the school’s mascot) and having sixth grader Melany Fentanes present a piece she made for Gibbs to put in his office.