Citizenship Awards Program, and the Masons, are Still Going Strong

In 1956, the Chula Vista Elementary School District had 11 schools, and Mr. Jim Fortner of the local Masonic Lodge could easily make it to each to present citizenship awards to sixth grade students.

A lot has changed over the years. Lemon fields and empty pastures gave way to new home subdivisions. Blackboards and chalk gave way to digital whiteboards and iPads. The District now has 44 schools and nearly 29,000 students. For all the change, Fortner has been a constant.

Now 88, Mr. Fortner made the rounds on April 9 with his brothers from Chula Vista Lodge #626 to honor grade six students with citizenship awards. Just like he did first in 1956.

A tall man with a booming voice and proud bearing, Mr. Fortner walks four miles a day. Asked if that was his secret to a long life, he quickly answered it was “certainly a factor.” His wife, Shirley, is a former school teacher. Among the schools they visited together for the recent Masonic Awards were Arroyo Vista Charter, Olympic View, and Salt Creek.

The Masonic Awards are an annual tradition in CVESD, and hearken to the 1920s, when “Public Schools Month” was first sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of California. It is promoted every April, with the goal of encouraging the community’s support for public education. The Chula Vista Lodge was founded in 1925, and started a tradition of honoring students for good citizenship as part of Public Schools Month.

“Our students, staff members and parents fully understand the value of community partnership, and this awards program is a shining example of what our local schools mean to our community,” said Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “The message of support for free public education and being a good citizen are as important today as in the 1920s.”

Mr. Terry Stewart, Secretary of the Chula Vista Lodge, noted that many former award recipients are now in public service, including teachers at District schools that welcomed this year’s Masonic teams.

“The Citizenship Awards program is Chula Vista Lodge’s way of honoring the Grand Lodge program of Public Schools Month,” Stewart said. “Our members that take part in this visitation look forward to being a part of an uplifting program that highlights what we as Americans try to uphold—being good citizens.  Our Lodge is very appreciative of the school district’s exemplary efforts to create a very well organized, and executed awards program.”

The students were selected by their teachers using criteria that included behavior, participation in school activities, leadership within peer groups, use of courtesies and proper manners.

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