MCHS, Twentymile award scholarships to students for wearing seatbelts |

MCHS, Twentymile award scholarships to students for wearing seatbelts

Ben McCanna
Moffat County High School junior Adam Foster, left, receives a $1,000 scholarship from Larry Ellgen, a member of Twentymile Coal Company's donation committee. Twentymile partnered with the MCHS Student Council to revive a 17-year-long seatbelt awareness program in Craig that had faltered in September 2010 due to legal issues.Ben McCanna

Earlier this semester, Moffat County High School junior Adam Foster noticed there were student council members patrolling the school parking lot and making note of drivers who were wearing their seatbelts.

Foster, who said he always wears his seat belt, wondered if the student council members had noticed him.

"I guess they did," he said.

On Tuesday, during the annual MCHS Academic Awards Night, Foster was one of two students who were awarded a $1,000 MCHS Student Council Seatbelt Awareness Scholarship.

The seatbelt awareness program is the newest version of a 17-year project to reward MCHS students for buckling up.

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The original program was started in 1994 by Craig resident Tony St. John.

During its first 16 years, Craig Police Department officers would pull over students who were wearing seatbelts and reward them with gift certificates to local businesses.

In September 2010, however, a few drivers were inadvertently caught with illegal materials during those traffic stops. To avoid any legal issues surrounding probable cause, the police department ended the program.

But, the program gained new life a month later.

MCHS sophomore Russell Walsh died in a car accident. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

Soon after, St. John contacted the student council and asked them to continue the program. The council agreed and, beginning in January, the student council rolled out its own version of the program.

The student council's plan was to patrol the parking lot a few times a week and reward drivers with gift certificates to local merchants. The council also held a poster contest in which two MCHS students, Isadora Hitz and Jonnie Madsen, were awarded cash for their artistic works.

The program gained even more traction when Twentymile Coal Co. donated grand prizes to the program — two $1,000 scholarships. Students spotted wearing seatbelts would be entered into the grand drawing.

Larry Ellgen, a controller at Twentymile and a member of the donations committee, said his company was contacted by the group to pitch in.

Ellgen said the mining company donates "tens of thousands" of dollars to different community programs every year.

And, the student council project looked like a winner.

"We were just happy to help the community and the school," he said. "We think it's a good program."

Student council members Laurie Cotten and Nicole Ferree said they pulled many shifts on the seat belt patrol, in any kind of weather.

"Yesterday it was pouring and we were still out there patrolling," Cotten said.

Ferree said the program started out slowly, but gained steam toward the end of the school year. Ferree estimated that she added as many as 45 names into the raffle every week.

"It started out with a lot of people not wearing their seatbelts, but now we don't see anybody go through without their seatbelts," she said.

Student council members said they suspect some students only wore their seatbelts in the parking lot, but St. John said that's a step in the right direction.

"You know what? There's an awareness to it," he said. "Maybe the kids will start wearing them (seatbelts) more and more.

"Yeah, you get a prize for wearing your seatbelt, but it's an awareness tool for these people to be out there getting names and seeing who these people are. Hopefully, it will lead them to wear their seatbelts."

St. John said the transition from a police-run program to a student-run program has been successful.

"Putting it in the students' hands this first year has been phenomenal. It's phenomenal the way they reacted to it. They got fired up."

MCHS senior Emily Miller was the other grand prize winner Tuesday. She said the scholarship will be helpful when she goes to Colorado Christian University in Lakewood this fall.

Foster, a junior, isn't yet sure where he'll spend his scholarship, but he likes Colorado University-Boulder or Oregon State University.

With the scholarship certificate folded in his pants pocket, Foster reflected on his decision to buckle up.

"I'm pretty sure it's the best decision I've made," he said.

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