By: Mariah Guerrero (she/her/ella)
Green Mountain Elementary School (GMES) has provided more than foundational education to our community but also a safe space and encouragement for students, like me, to thrive. I am a family member of a current student, but I am also a former GMES student. In 2006, I was in Mr. Thomas Gardner’s (currently Principal Gardner’s) fourth-grade class. On October 27, I stood in front of the Jefferson County Board of Education, urging them to reconsider the sweeping decision of consolidating sixteen elementary schools, including GMES. I called on them to have the courage to explore incremental changes and alternatives that will better support our students, teachers, families, and community.
The world our kids know today is one filled with uncertainty. In the last two years, they have lived through a global pandemic, a public reckoning with racial injustice, and rising gun violence in schools. Unsurprisingly, our kids are experiencing a surge in mental health problems. As an older sister, it hurts to see the cumulative impact of these experiences on my ten-year-old brother, Zayn, a fourth-grader at GMES. I am grateful that in a rapidly changing world, Zayn feels safe and supported at Green Mountain Elementary. He has always been anxious, but recently, I have seen his anxiety and stress worsen with the proposed closure of his school.
I’m there to listen to his worries when he is scared about getting lost in a new school and not having any friends. I’m there to hold his hand when he becomes upset seeing the defeated faces of the teachers he has come to love. But I don’t have the power to take his fear away; only the school board can do that. We are in an unprecedented time where our kids are craving greater consistency and support to thrive and recover from the challenges they have faced in recent years. At a time when our kids need routine and a sense of normalcy more than ever, they now face the loss of their community and what many of them consider a second home. This is not the time to disrupt our children’s support systems and limit their capacity to recover.
The supportive community and dedicated teachers at Green Mountain Elementary encouraged, challenged, and provided me with a solid educational foundation. Because of them, I later graduated top of my class at Green Mountain High School and became the first in my family to attend and graduate college. Zayn and his fellow Falcons are no less deserving of the same opportunities. Our state’s inability to sufficiently fund education does not take away our students’ rights to an education.
As a family member, a former GMES student, and a young person who cares deeply, I participated in community conversations and attended the Board’s public hearing to advocate for incremental changes and alternatives to the proposed closure of sixteen elementary schools. I reminded the Board that times of budgetary and fiscal stress are not the times to make swift decisions that we cannot easily undo in ten years. I urged them to consider the young voices, like Zayn, who may be too anxious or fearful to speak for themselves. Most importantly, regardless of their decision, I asked that they further support and provide resources to the Green Mountain Elementary Falcons- through this transition and in the future- so they can continue to soar.
Decision-makers must listen to young voices like mine and Zayn’s. The public often sees media narratives that convey young people as disengaged with politics, but in my experience, that is not the case. Young people care deeply, lead fearlessly, and have opinions worth listening to. Decision-makers have as much responsibility to represent young people as they do our parents, families, and older community members. At all levels of decision-making, from school boards, to the Colorado State Capitol, to DC, we deserve to take up space and be considered in the decision-making process. Young people are the future, and we are tomorrow’s decision-makers- when we are in the room, it is time to listen.
Mariah Guerrero grew up in Lakewood and is a former Jefferson County Public Schools student. Mariah graduated from Regis University with a B.A. in Politics and Spanish, served as a U.S. Senate legislative intern, and was a legislative aide for the Colorado House of Representatives. She recently earned her Master’s in International Studies and Public Policy from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She works at Young Invincibles, a nonpartisan policy and advocacy organization.