They had just persuaded the City Council to tentatively approve building a basketball court in El Pescadero Park, about 200 yards west of the school at 2875 Holly Drive.
It was the second time in three weeks the teenagers had told the council about their idea to improve after-school activities in their northern Tracy neighborhood.
Although the project — with an estimated cost of $65,000 — must be formally approved by the City Council in June with the rest of the city’s capital improvement budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, Hensen was already ecstatic.
“It shows that they (the students) have a voice. It shows that their voice is heard,” she said. “I don’t want them to be passive citizens. I want them to speak up. They’re intelligent young adults.”
Hensen’s students began formulating the proposal after the teacher asked them in March what they liked about Tracy. She said the answers — which included “the exit sign” — were discouraging.
“I was stunned at first,” she said. “It’s one of those times you’re standing in front of the class and you don’t know what to do.”
After a night of thought, she decided to turn it into a learning opportunity, writing a letter to the City Council to ask if someone would speak to her class.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel visited about a week later, Hensen said, and he talked about activities offered by the city and suggested getting involved.
The students took it from there.
Asking for a basketball court was a natural choice, according to some of Hensen’s students who gathered in El Pescadero Park to discuss the project Tuesday, April 9.
Courts at the school are typically locked on weekends and after class, except for use by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy. The security is meant to prevent vandalism in what Hensen called a “rough neighborhood” around Kavanagh Avenue and Holly Drive.
Anthony Johnson, a 14-year-old, said basketball is a popular sport at the school, and the restrictions force students to either break the rules or walk 1.8 miles through unfamiliar neighborhoods to the nearest open court at Kenner Park, next to Jacobson Elementary School.
“We have a lot of basketball teams, and we always have to walk to Jacobson park to play,” he said. “There’s not a lot to do in Tracy.”
The class researched the cost and dimensions of a full-sized, two-hoop court and surveyed El Pescadero Park. They decided the north end of the central field would be the best location, Anthony said, because it would leave room for other activities.
Students collaborated on an essay to the city and sent several representatives to the March 19 and April 2 City Council meetings to state their case.
On April 2, Councilwoman Nancy Young and Councilman Charles Manne moved to put the court on the tentative capital improvement project list, and Maciel and Councilman Robert Rickman agreed. Mayor Brent Ives was absent.
Juan Mariscal, standing in the field he hopes will soon include a basketball court, smiled as he talked about the unexpected victory.
“We didn’t expect that they would listen to kids,” the 15-year-old said. “It makes us care more and (let us know) that we can go and tell them when we have problems.”
“I didn’t imagine that we were going to be heard,” he said.
Several students said they would attend the council meeting when the project goes up for final approval, which has not yet been scheduled.
They hoped their experience would encourage others in Tracy to talk to city leaders about their concerns.
“If you never try, you’ll never know if you can make a change,” Juan said. “You might as well try.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.