State Senator Ben Allen Visits PaliHi, Answers Questions From Students (Video)

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

State Senator Ben Allen, who was elected in 2014 in a district that includes includes Pacific Palisades, visited Palisades Charter High School on Sept. 28.

The former Santa Monica-Malibu School District board member (2008-14) had a standing invitation from PaliHi Executive Director Pam Magee to visit Pali, one of the top-ranked charter schools in the nation.

This time a nudge from Allen’s mom, Elena, might have helped prompt the visit. Parent Ivy Greene sat next to Elena at an event at Kehillat Israel and told her, “Ben should come since he’s head of the state’s education committee.”

Lila Kalaf Reiner, Allen’s District director, said the nudge “was a spark because he has been meaning to come by and check it out.”

Ben Allen with robotics teacher Tom Meier.

Ten exhibitions were set up for Allen to view, and included robotics, entrepreneurship, art, photography and CTE Partnerships and development.

Robotics teacher Tom Meier gave Allen an articulated plastic dolphin that had been made in a 3D printer. Meier works with about 120 students, who learn the technology that is needed in order to program a printer. He was asked how close technology is to being able to print human organs.

“Extremely close,”Meiers aid. “It will be learning how to work with the cellular material.”

Allen spent time talking to students in the entrepreneurship pod, who revealed plans to allow students order coffee and have it available when they arrived at school.

At each table, the senator had lots of questions and spent about 45 minutes just listening to students.

Then it was their turn to ask questions in a fully-packed Mercer Hall.

Q. How can we keep health care?

A. “We have some of the most inefficient health care in the United States,” said Allen, who explained that the U.S. spends more per dollar than other countries, and with a worse outcome.

Allen, a Democrat, said the majority of the money is spent on the sickest people and on patients in the last six months of life.

“How do we craft a system that works?” he asked, and then suggested that an overall change might need to be made, with the government guaranteeing a baseline system for everyone, with people able to buy additional coverage.

Q: How can student leaders promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education?

A: “It’s so amazing what you’ve done here,” saidAllen,whoearnedhisundergraduate degree at Harvard in 2000 and a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in 2001. “I’m amazed by the caliber of the projects.” He suggested connecting to the local press, government and businesses, not only for more recognition, but for possible grants.

State Sen. Ben Allen with Palisades High School drama teacher Nancy Fracchiolla.

Q: In 2015, you passed climate-change legislation. Realistically, given the national climate, what can you do?

A: “The constitution gave us states rights,” Allen said, noting that California has the sixth largest economy in the world, which means it can drive the conversation.

Q: What advice would you give students affected by DACA? (Editor’s note: it was announced that there was a special assembly for students and parents already scheduled for that evening at Pali.)

A: “Here in California, here in schools, we’re going to protect you,” Allen said. He urged students to have some faith, but to keep telling their stories.

Q: Is DACA illegal the way it is set up, through an executive order?

A: “Obama set up a lot of executive orders,” Allen said. “Now there’s worry that this president is also using executive orders.”

Allen received his law degree from UC Berkeley in 2008 and was admitted to the bar that same year. Three years prior to his election, he was a lecturer at UCLA’s Law School, where he taught education law and policy. He said at Pali that legality was an open question because the order had not been vet- ted in court, but he felt there was case law that would allow Obama’s order to stand.

Q: You got arts reinstated in schools. Why?

A: “Very few important life questions are on a Scantron [performance test],” Allen said. “Arts helps to expand our minds. It also helps connect students who may be disconnected. There’s a lot of kids who stay in school because of the arts—and it [arts] makes for a more well-rounded human being.”

Q: The attacks in Charleston, the Antifa protestors, what can we do to help ease political tensions that seem to be at an all-time high?

A: Allen reminded students that it might seem at a national all-time high but that during the Civil War, people actually killed neighbors and during the Vietnam War four students at Kent State were shot and killed by National Guard soldiers during a protest.

“A core principal we should all agree to is non-violence,” Allen said, noting that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi both advocated for civil, peaceful actions.

Also, “We need to try and figure out how to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.” He told students he was going to marry his fiancée, a woman from Ohio, next weekend, and said: “There’s a lot of poverty there that crosses racial lines. They vilify us, we vilify them. We need to recognize the humanity in each other a little more.”

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