By Chelsea Tossing
I teach environmental civics at a high school here in Boulder Valley. I deeply believe in the power of experiential learning and do my best to use a problem-based approach where we learn cross-disciplinary content by exploring issues that affect our community. This term, we explore the complex topic of “Water in the West” through the lens of the Gross Dam expansion, a nuanced local issue happening in my students’ backyards. Our aim is to examine the question: how to balance human needs and environmental limits?
To answer such difficult inquiries, our future needs young people who have nuanced and critical perspectives and who are empowered to have agency in their communities. I believe connecting students to their local government can be a transformative step in their future as engaged citizens; that’s why I contacted the staff at the Boulder County Commissioner’s Office to ask if they could talk to my students about the general role of the county commission and how they handle voter voice in complex issues such as the dam expansion project.
I would like to share my correspondence with a staff member of the Boulder County Commissioners Office in hopes of creating a thoughtful conversation about how our elected officials engage with youth as their constituents.
“Hello (staff member),
Thank you very much for responding to my request. I have contacted several people from Denver Water, and I appreciate the additional contacts! I hope a representative from Denver Water can meet with us during our field trip to Gross Reservoir to talk about the impetus for the project, their community engagement process, and the overall vision for the reservoir going forward. .
In an effort to include stakeholders from a number of perspectives to add to the richness of my student’s educational experience, I would like someone from Boulder County to be represented if possible. We are ultimately working to create our own civic action project, and engaging with local leaders like the commission has a significant impact on both their understanding of civic processes as well as their sense of agency. and connection in their community.
Is there someone I could contact who would be willing to talk with my class about the role of local government and opportunities for voter involvement, particularly around complex issues such as expansion raw tank? Thanks for your time, and I appreciate any direction you might be able to give me!
I am incredibly disappointed to have received the following response from the office of our elected officials:
I don’t believe there are any staff members who would be comfortable participating in such a conversation at this time. I’m sorry we couldn’t be of more help.
I understand that civil servants have a heavy workload and that not all requests can be honored, but avoiding a conversation about democratic participation with young people because our leaders are not “comfortable” is a bad model governance that lacks transparency, accountability and courage. I would like to ask the Boulder County Commissioners to review their voter engagement practices and consider hosting a youth outreach and young voter education forum. In the spirit of transparency, I would also like to ask the commission to make public the email addresses of each district commissioner to create accessible channels of direct communication from their constituency.
As voters of the future, our students deserve leaders who are willing to engage them, even when it’s not comfortable.
Chelsea Tossing is a high school teacher. She lives in Boulder.