It was a pretty simple task: draw something that depicted your favorite parts of the city.
Paige Gilkerson, an eighth grader at Arroyo Seco Junior High started with Central Park, adding apple trees, a deputy sheriff badge, a jumping dog, fire hydrant and an oversized soccer ball – and two friends enjoying themselves in front of a branch of the Santa Clarita Library.
During the process of screening hundreds of entries, narrowing down finalists and selecting a first place winner, Gilkerson was a little too busy to worry about her creation. She plays center-mid on the Saugus Cyclones tournament team, holds down a full schedule at school and spends some of her free time taking her dog to Central Bark.
“I like to go to the library, but I have less free time than I used to,” she said.
On one of those busy afternoons, she got a phone call, telling her that her artwork was picked as the First Place winner of the City-sponsored The Best of Santa Clarita student art contest, in celebration of the city’s 25th anniversary.
On Friday morning, Gilkerson was the most popular student in her first period art class. For her first place win, Chick fil-A provided breakfast sandwiches and fruit, which was served by Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry and City Manager Ken Pulskamp.
Eighth grader Paige Gilkerson's winning artwork | Click to enlarge
As Ferry walked into the classroom, asking “What’s up,” a student near the door whispered, “Is it him?” Gilkerson was seated at the front of the class, where Ferry congratulated her for the win and posed for some pictures before sharing a bit of mayoral wisdom with the kids.
“Being mayor is a totally cool thing,” he began. “Not only do I get to come hang with your guys, last week, I got to be on stage with the drummers from the Grateful Dead and Poison at the Rock The Rhythm.”
“That’s the good part,” he continued. “The bad part is I have to go to meetings two hours away just so you can flush your toilet.”
Ferry asked the students to name some of the city services they passed on their way to school that morning. After they named things like buses, parks, red light cameras and trash services, he stopped to look at a paper on a nearby student’s desk.
“Can I read this?” he asked student Joe Mendoza. “Dear Ms. Monteleone, Remember me? I was the kid making jokes.”
Ferry stopped mid-sentence and high-fived Mendoza. “Dude, you and I are so similar.”
The visiting city officials took a few questions from the floor before turning the students loose on the trays of chicken sandwiches. As the students ate, Pulskamp and Ferry offered some perspectives on public service that the junior high students may not have previously considered..
“Think of half of the room are the people I went to school with and grew up with and are my friends,” Ferry said, gesturing. “Now the other half of the people I know from work and friends and from school. The hospital is expanding and I have to vote. No matter which way I go, there will be people who will never be my friend again because of one vote. People take things very personally.”
Pulskamp prompted some thought on future jobs.
“When I was growing up, I don’t think I even knew what a city manager was,” he explained. “I didn’t think of a career in public service, but I like my job because there’s a lot of variety; one day I’ll be working on an issue with the sheriff, then on something in parks. I probably touch on every service that you mentioned when the mayor asked you.”
After some more chatter with the kids, Ferry picked a student volunteer and sat him down in front of him to watch a magic trick, leaving his audience laughing.
As the ceremony concluded, Paige’s father, John, commented on his daughter’s accomplishment, noting that she has her heart and mind set on being a veterinarian.
“We are very proud of her,” he said. “She’s the kind of kid who would do this for the opportunity. She’s very competitive on the soccer field – a very purpose-driven kid.”
Gilkerson was one of three winners in the contest. Read about the other winners here.