Summit students cultivate taste for civics |

Summit students cultivate taste for civics

Julie Sutor
Summit correspondent
Summit, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxSummit Cove Elementary fifth-graders are interviewed by Fox 31 News reporter Eli Stokols outside a House Hearing Room at the state Capitol after testifying in favor of House Bill 1131 Monday. The bill, which is sponsored by Christine Scanlan (D-Summit County), will help more kids take advantage of Colorado's great outdoors through environmental science education programs.

DENVER, Colorado – In an effort to get city kids outdoors, Summit Cove fifth-graders left the mountains for a trip to the big city.

The students testified Monday afternoon at the state Capitol in front of the Colorado House Education Committee in support of legislation that would provide assistance to poor and urban students who rarely experience Colorado’s natural beauty.

House Bill 1131, the Colorado Kids Outdoor Grant Program, would support environmental and outdoor education programs. It would position the state to receive federal money through the No Child Left Inside Act and would establish a state grant program to fund field trips and other outdoor experiences for children who might not otherwise have such opportunities.

“Whether I am at school or at home, I love looking or going outside to see the beautiful mountains,” fifth-grader Shaun McGrath told the committee. “This makes me feel very happy and relaxed, which helps me to learn. And I definitely think other kids should get this opportunity.”

The students’ trip was an outgrowth of their studies of various forms of government. During a unit on representative democracy in October, state Rep. Christine Scanlan visited the class to discuss her work and provide real-world examples of the lawmaking process. Scanlan was writing HB 1131 at the time, and a few months later, she invited the children to attend the committee hearing.

“The kids read the bill and spent a couple hours analyzing it,” fifth-grade teacher Debra Mitchell said. “They said they thought it was an important bill, and we had 30 students who wanted to speak.”

Mitchell and fellow fifth-grade teacher Ryan Mihm randomly selected five of the students to testify at the committee hearing. The class worked together to write the presenters’ speeches.

“We live where we can go skiing every weekend, and we don’t have to drive more than 30 minutes,” said Katelyn Keen, one of the five students who spoke. “We heard about how some kids’ parents are afraid for them to go outside, and it shocked us.”

Scanlan could hardly have selected more knowledgeable witnesses to speak to the benefits of outdoor education. The students spent the latter half of last week studying water ecology at the Keystone Science School. They explored water rights, who owns them, and where water is transported for urban and agricultural use. In the process, they analyzed snowpack for water content; examined the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s snowpack-monitoring site atop Loveland Pass; and visited the Roberts Tunnel, through which Denver Water diverts water from Dillon Reservoir under the Continental Divide to the Denver Metro area.

“Our school district funds programs like Keystone Science School and (the Winter Recreation Program), which provides us with skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and ice skating. The kids all enjoy this, and I wish other kids in cities could too,” Katelyn told the committee.

The students were a little nervous, but each one who testified remained poised at the microphone in front of the long table of lawmakers.

“You guys have done marvelously,” said state Rep. Cherylin Peniston, who encouraged the students to stay politically active and to express their views to town councils and other decision-making bodies.

According to Mitchell, the students relished being part of the democratic process at the state level.

“It would be exciting to know that we helped to pass a bill,” fifth-grader Loren Keen said.

The Education Committee approved the measure Monday afternoon by a vote of 9-3.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or

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