WATSONVILLE—While trying to recap the first half of their day with Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, high school students Jennifer Fernandez and Maurice Moreno both thought back to their stop at Watsonville Fire Department headquarters and a conversation they had with Fire Capt. Almita Schaefer.
Her message to the students was succinct: “Listen to the community.”
That sage advice was just a sliver of the duo’s day-long tour through the city as part of the Mayor for the Day contest. Fernandez, a freshman at Watsonville High School, and Moreno, a senior at Pajaro Valley High School, tagged along with Dutra on visits to the various departments that make the city go.
Along with visiting WFD, they checked in with parks, police, solid waste and community development before attending the Watsonville City Council meeting in the evening. They also stopped by Watsonville High where Dutra presented a proclamation in honor of National Coming Out Day.
Both students said they were surprised with the amount of work and number of people that help determine the city’s direction.
“I learn a lot of life lessons,” Moreno said. “There’s a lot of people that are dedicated to the people, and they care about helping people.”
It was the second time the Mayor for the Day contest was held. Two years ago, then-mayor Francisco “Paco” Estrada teamed up with Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee Jennifer Schacher to start the initiative, but it was shelved last year because of the pandemic.
To be selected to participate in Mayor for the Day, Fernandez and Moreno submitted one-page essays on describing why they would be a great mayor. Fernandez wrote about the importance of school safety, and Moreno wrote about traffic safety around Pajaro Valley High.
Dutra said many deserving students submitted essays, but Fernandez and Moreno stood out because of their vision for the two critical issues.
“The safety of students and traffic safety are really important issues for me,” he said.
Dutra surprised the students at their respective schools with the news that they had been selected. He also brought along a framed letter stating he had chosen them.
Both of them get a round of applause from their fellow students. Fernandez said her peers told her that she was “going places.”
“I was really surprised but I was excited,” she said.
Fernandez said she applied because she wanted to see the work that goes on behind the scenes within the city. Moreno said he submitted an essay because he decided to step out of his comfort zone for his senior year.
“I really wanted to do everything I could this year,” Moreno said.
Moreno says he plans to attend Cabrillo College next year, hopes to become an entrepreneur and give back to his community. Fernandez said she doesn’t know what she would like to do when she graduates from high school, but she said that she plans to go to college.
When asked whether either one of them would consider taking up the mayorship in the future, both said yes.
“It’s a really interesting job to try to make people and the community happy,” Fernandez said.