Middle schoolers from Moffat, Routt counties pitch ideas to improve community during inaugural Civics Bee | CraigDailyPress.com

Middle schoolers from Moffat, Routt counties pitch ideas to improve community during inaugural Civics Bee

Finalists display their certificates during the Craig Chamber of Commerce National Civics Bee on Friday, April 21, 2023, at Luttrell Barn Cultural Center.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

A good idea to boost a community can come from anywhere, and students were presenting plenty of them Friday night, April 21, in Craig.

Craig Chamber of Commerce crowned three state-bound competitors during the first-ever National Civics Bee at Luttrell Barn Cultural Center. The event, an educational competition for middle school students, saw nine finalists from Moffat and Routt counties displaying their knowledge about government and their ideas for ways to enhance their hometowns.

The Civics Bee is a pilot program through the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and its associated organization, The Civic Trust. The Craig Chamber was among five Colorado chambers to host the bee, while Colorado is one of only nine states to participate in the new program.

“They’ll hopefully be bringing it to more states next year,” Chamber Executive Director Jennifer Holloway said. “It went well for our first time. Thanks to the community for supporting this and helping our kids get involved.”

The finalists were narrowed from nine to five after an opening round of civics-themed trivia, most of which was about the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s history. Competitors answered via tablets provided by High Rapid Networks and were free to keep the devices afterward.

Then came the final round as contestants orated about the essays that served as their initial entry — a hypothetical proposal to address a community problem. Among those discussed were current events notable for Northwest Colorado such as the transition from a coal economy and the introduction of wolves to the area.

“They did a great job picking local topics for our area,” Holloway said.

Judges included Randy Looper, Chamber board member; Chuck Grobe, Moffat County Republican Party chair; Tim Redmond, Routt County commissioner; Tom Kleinschnitz, Craig City Council member and head of Moffat County Tourism Association; and Denise Kleinschnitz, Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District board member.

Bee contestants were judged on their ability to verbalize and defend their ideas.

Winning the $500 grand prize was Hayden’s Rayne Housel, who spoke about ways to cut down on winter driving accidents, especially among visitors in ill-equipped rental cars. Housel said a friend’s death earlier this year in a wintertime collision was part of her motivation.

She didn’t feel too much stage fright thanks to practicing the presentation quite a bit with an audience.

“I was confident that I could answer all the questions,” she said. “My sister and my dad were my pretend judges when I practiced. State will probably be similar, but I’m sure I’ll see people who are even more experienced with public speaking.”

Craig Middle School’s Ryun Pressgrove took second place for a proposal that addressed the rising egg prices by bringing agriculture into area homes and raising chickens.

Mercy Fontenot of Moffat County Christian Academy rounded out the winners for a proposal to beautify the area with an edible nature trail with plants such as fruit trees. Judges questioned her on the viability of certain flora in a tricky climate, but she was not thrown.

“I probably had the easiest questions out of all of them,” she said. “I’m two grade years ahead of Jonas Pressgrove, and I think they gave him pretty difficult questions compared to me.”

She added that while she was competing against a crowd of familiar faces — including her own sister Gracie — she didn’t feel too much tension.

“The enjoyment was knowing most of the people up there are people I know, and we’re all still going to be friends no matter what happened with this,” Mercy said. “I’m very proud of myself.”

The top three Civics Bee contestants will move on to a state event in May hosted in Denver, though Holloway said a true national finals won’t be hosted until next year. As part of the bee, the Chamber screened prepared videos from state and national politicians, as well as a message of encouragement by Moffat County Commissioner Tony Bohrer.

“Each of you are preparing for the future as active citizens and leaders who are not only engaged, but they are responsible and committed to this great community we live in,” Bohrer said in his video. “Your civic engagement makes this place we live in, Craig, Colorado, Moffat County, a better place.”

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