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EL Education Students Pave the Way for Better Roads in Their Community

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Some stretches of road in Routt County, Colorado are dangerous -- and need to be fixed. At least that's what students at North Routt Community Charter School, an EL Education network school, told county lawmakers in letters they worked tirelessly to draft. Learn more about how these students joined scholarship with service to their community -- fighting for what was right -- even when the odds weren't in their favor, in this article by the Steamboat Pilot & Today

North Routt kids seek improved safety on County Road 129 and Seedhouse Road

By Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

September 21, 2018


CLARK — When he was 4 years old, Jeremy Kline watched a tow truck pull a pickup out of the Elk River. The truck had veered off Routt County Road 129 into the river.

The memory has stuck with him.

As part of a civics assignment in Amy Cosgrove’s third- and fourth-grade classes at North Routt Community Charter School, Jeremy and four other students wrote a letter to Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger seeking improvements to area roads.

Cosgrove asked the children to write a letter to a representative of the government about something they’d like to see improved.

Jeremy and Colyer Lotz wrote to Monger requesting guardrails on the road between mile markers 5 and 6.

“Not having guardrails on that section of the road is like skiing without a helmet, you could get hurt really bad,” Colyer wrote.

Jeremy opened his letter describing the vehicle in the river, adding, “As a kid, I can’t build guardrails myself. I feel though that this is a very serious safety issue and would love to see this problem solved.”

Kailani Clark Lay wanted to see falling rocks on Seedhouse Road contained with metal netting or concrete barriers. She wrote that her sister frequently travels the road to visit friends.

“Like any sibling, I want her to be safe,” Kailani wrote. “Of course, my family and I would not want anyone to get hurt going to a friend’s house and back. It would be terrible if anyone, not just in my family, got hurt because of this condition.”

Lauren Vankirk sought to widen the road and add a bike path. In her letter, she said this would improve safety as it would allow people to pull off if broken down, and tourists taking in the scenery could pull over and allow others to pass.

Gracie Piret also hoped to see a non-motorized path constructed between Hahns Peak Village and the Clark Store.

“I think that (Routt County Road) 129 is as dangerous as being a deer during hunting season,” she wrote. “People have been getting hurt because there is no shoulder on the road, therefore cars, trucks and pedestrians have to share such a small area.”

The children revised and edited the letters first with partners in their class. They made revisions, and then each letter underwent a second peer review before they saw a final review with their teacher. Then, each letter was sent with a self-addressed envelope for a response.

To the children’s surprise, Monger responded.

“I’m happy they took it seriously, and they weren’t like ‘Oh they’re kids, that doesn’t matter,’” Lauren said. “They were like, ‘OK, we actually have a request from the community that are the younger generation that could do something in the future, so therefore we’re gonna take this request seriously.’”

“I wouldn’t have let them down on that,” Monger said. “I took it seriously.”

Monger shared the letters with the other county commissioners. He also had them read over his response.

“It might’ve been better if the letter would’ve been sent to all the commissioners,” he said. “That’s how we make decisions. I don’t make decisions for just my district. We make decisions for all of us.”

In a letter jointly addressing all of the children’s concerns, Monger explained that the county had to prioritize other items in the budget.

A cyclist rides on Routt County Road 129. Several kids at Routt County Community Charter School are concerned by the lack of guardrails on the road between mile markers five and six in Elk River Canyon. (Photo by Eleanor Hasenbeck)”We’re doing all that we can do just to maintain the current services that we have right now, and so I tried to get that out in the letter as well,” he said. “We don’t have money growing on trees.”

As the Gallagher Amendment to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights decreases the property tax assessed on residential properties, Monger said the county is working to maintain existing levels of service. Commissioner Tim Corrigan added that most of the children’s concerns on County Road 129 could be said of all of the county roads in Routt County.

In the mid-2000s, Seedhouse Road was paved, Monger said. Now, the county is working to maintain chip-sealed roads.

In 2007, he added, the county voted down a ballot measure that would’ve expanded shoulders on county roads 14, 27 and 129 and paved county roads 44, 35 and other “heavily traveled roads in need of safety improvements.”

Monger also wrote that their families chose to live in North Routt, where it is more difficult to provide services. Monger explained that growth doesn’t pay for itself, so the county encourages people to live in municipalities that can better provide those services.

This also frustrated the children.

“It’s also his job to make it safer for the kids and parents, because they might move here because of a job, and they don’t have a choice,” Gracie said. “Like, if only one person in your family has a job, and they got moved, then that might be their only choice.”

The kids were also dissatisfied that Monger wrote the letter in complicated language that was difficult for the 9- and 10-year-old kids to understand.

“He was talking really serious,” Kailani said.

“And like, formal,” Lauren added. “I think he could’ve lightened up a little bit. I get that he wants to give us the point, and he’s used to writing like that, but maybe try to use a little easier text and be a little less formal with kids, I think. It was really just kind of a little harsh in parts.”

Emma Griffith, left, and Samantha Coleman, right, sit in the city manager and city council members chairs at the Steamboat City Council Chambers as Council President Jason Lacy laughs behind them. The children attended a city council meeting as part of Amy Cosgrove’s third- and fourth-grade civics class. (Photo courtesy Amy Cosgrove)Monger defended his letter.

“It was probably quite heavy from a third grader’s perspective,” he said. “It was probably very heavy, but at the same point, I figured and felt that the ultimate reader of that letter was going to be the parents and my constituents up there, and they needed an explanation as to why the heck I wasn’t spending more money on their roads.”

Monger added that complicated questions deserve a complicated response.

“When you ask those types of meaty questions, expect to get a heavy, meaty response too,” he added. “I thought the letters that I saw were more meaty than just ‘Oh well, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.’”

Dissatisfied, the kids wrote Monger another letter attached to a petition.

“We got a bunch of signatures to help us support the safety of the road,” Colyer said.

The children gathered signatures from parents, teachers and other supporters.

“The project went way beyond the classroom as a result of mostly the kids’ interest to really make change, and that was more than any standard or book could teach to the kids,” Cosgrove said. “As a teacher, that’s what you want. You want them to become involved participants in the world.”

In the second letter, they outlined their concerns about Monger’s response: that it was politically motivated, that there could be other alternatives to guardrails to make the roads safer and that safety of those who travel County Road 129 and Seedhouse Road should be a priority. They also offered to hold fundraisers to supply funding to improve the road.

The petition didn’t get a response.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be now, but maybe, they could create a budget and maybe like in 15 years they could put it in,” Kailani said. “We just want it.”

“Even for other generations, we still want a safer road,” Gracie continued.