From classrooms to crosswalks

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How Zionsville West Middle School students influenced local government

By Sophie Pappas

While building a crossway in some towns may seem like the most mundane of projects, it was no small feat in Whitestown this year.

Last week, the town dedicated a crosswalk to four Zionsville West Middle School students and their former High Achievement U.S. History teacher, who were the force behind the new crosswalk at the intersection of Whitestown Parkway and 700 East.

“What they were asking for was safety,” said Whitestown town manager Dax Norton.

Earlier this year, Tim Yovanovich, or “Mr. Yo” as he is known to his students, asked his class to come up with ideas for what he called an “active citizen project.”

Four girls, Theresa Bottorff, Kelsey Merrill, Charlize Roe, and Amelia Wilkie, decided that they wanted their project to focus on the lack of safe access-ways to their school.

“What started as a class project for these Zionsville West Middle School students is now a reality,” Norton said.

The four girls went before the Whitestown Town Council and the Zionsville Town Council to request a pedestrian bridge that would give them a chance to walk or ride to school safely.

Building a bridge proved too costly but Whitestown town leaders liked the students’ idea and perseverance so much they moved forward constructing a trail and crosswalk project, noting that this would allow for students to safely ride their bikes or walk to ZWMS and Boys and Girls Club, from the neighborhoods across the street such as Royal Run.

In May, funds and support had grown and the project began.

“These kids didn’t stop with just writing a paper. Their goal was to bring about change,” Yovanovich said. “Their persistence and willingness to engage the civic process has finally paid off.”

Whitestown leaders agree and said it’s a good example of what people with good ideas, no matter their age, can accomplish.

“These young girls had a great idea that fits into the town’s goals to make this a more walkable, bikeable and accessible community for everyone and fortunately we were able to make it happen,” said Whitestown assistant town manager and urban planner Lauren Bailey.

Public works director for Whitestown Jason Lawson said that out of his five years working in Whitestown, this has been the best project he’s seen by far.

“Dax and I both got emails from the students,” he said. “And after this went out for public bid, it was really only a 90-day process until completion. It’s definitely the best project I’ve been a part of.”

Bottorff, who, along with the other three girls is gearing up for a start as a freshman in high school this year, said that she is grateful for the town’s support.

“Without their support, we couldn’t have done anything at all,” she said.

Bottorff’s mom, Trang Nguyen, said that her family lives in Royal Run and loves to bike or walk places but never felt like they couldn’t do it safely until now.

“I thought it was amazing that the council approved this project,” she said. “I didn’t really think anything would happen because they are just kids, and what do they know? But they knew how to do this.”

Jonathon Ralstin, who showed up to support the girls at the crosswalk’s dedication, was also in Yovanovich’s class and while his group project didn’t take off like the girls’ project, he was happy to be a part of something civic.

“We all started helping them,” he said.

Matt Doublestein, the principal of ZWMS and a Whitestown resident, said he is grateful to be a part of a community that listens to its youth.

“That’s what this is all about,” he said. “And the girls did all the legwork which is exciting.”

Norton said that Whitestown officials are now inspired to continue building crosswalks along Whitestown Parkway, including one at the Main Street intersection.

“They are definitely teaching perseverance at Zionsville West,” Norton said.

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