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Excitement is building

The top 20 applicants in the First Annual Buena Vista/National Civics Bee head to the Ivy Ballroom at the Surf Hotel for an evening of competition on Tuesday evening, April 18. The event will narrow the field to three local finalists who will go on to state competition in Denver in-mid-May.

“It’s so awesome seeing what is important to these kids and how they are beginning to understand that they CAN be a part of change, the right way,” said BV Chamber CEO and President Heather Rupska, who has led the effort to bring this national event to the local area.

The Buena Vista LIVE Event is FREE and open to the public. It will run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, featuring middle school students from across the BV School District. To advance to this point, applicants were judged after submitting their 500-word essay on an issue they see in the community and how they would go about changing it through our democratic process.

Students picked their own essay topics. Essays focused on topics including Affordable Housing, Making Roads Safer, a BV Recreation Center, Involving Youth in Local Government and School Boards, Littering/Recycling, and Heated Bus Stops.

Applicants then attended study sessions led by the Chaffee County League of Women Voters as the LIVE event will feature fast-paced rounds of quiz questions testing students’ knowledge of civics and democracy while working under pressure in front of their peers and the live audience.

LIVE event features three rounds of competition with the Top 20, then the Final Five

The MC and Quizmaster for the event will be Dan Ridenour (Dan R) of Heart of the Rockies Radio

  • Round I – Multiple-choice warmup quiz questions, racing the time clock
  • Round II – Multiple-choice, more challenging quiz questions, against the clock
  • Round III – Top five combined high-scorers from Rounds I and II “pitch” a brief summary of their essay idea, then respond to judges questions, probing for details and clarity.

The judging process tests students’ knowledge of local governance

After judges tally Rounds I and II, the top five scorers will remain on stage. Each will be asked to give a three-sentence summary of their essay topic. An assigned “lead judge” will pose a question which may be followed up by the other four judges.  Applicants will be evaluated on their knowledge of civic principles as well as their ability to present their ideas clearly and give evidence of specifics. The process continues, moving on to each of the final five.

Judges will each then score Round III and add these scores to the totals for Rounds I and II, arriving at the three finalists.

Truth Has a Voice Foundation President Merrell Bergin is among the judges for the LIVE event. He’ll be joined by BV Mayor Libby Fay, BV Chief of Police Dan Morgan, Realtor Amber Gaston and Blake Bennett Manager, Sales and Development at ACA Products.

“Reading through the 20 essays, it’s amazing the passion, sincerity and ‘homework’ these kids put into the process” said Bergin. “And to think, that was just step one. To stand up and face a battery of civics questions also shows how much they care, want to succeed and contribute to their community.”

A lifelong learning experience that’s also fun

Logo courtesy Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce

The local event is sponsored by High Country Bank and produced by the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce. The Media sponsor is Ark Valley Voice and event partners include the League of Women Voters and Heart of the Rockies Radio.

Each participant will take home a brand new tablet thanks to event Tech Sponsor, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association (SDCEA) and cash prizes will be awarded to the three finalists in BV.

It should be noted that as with any effort, much of the value of this kind of event starts with just showing up and applying in the first place. Getting encouragement from teachers, parents and peers helps build confidence, regardless of a “win, place or show”.

Students learn that making an “ask” of their elected officials, school boards, business or community leaders isn’t insurmountable but requires inspiration, preparation and determination. Not all ideas succeed, but every attempt at civic engagement is a “win” for those who simply try.

We remind ourselves that these are middle school kids, with a long runway ahead of them. We all need to keep their positive energy top of mind during the judging. Most of all, “Let’s have fun!” Rupska said during a recent briefing call with judges.

BV Pride

Colorado is just one of nine states to be invited to participate this year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in partnership with The Civic Trust. Across Colorado, five cities or towns chose to participate, with only two outside of the Front Range, giving Buena Vista both pride of place and high visibility.


In addition to public recognition, finalists will vie for prizes.

  • First Place Winner will receive a $500 cash prize.
  • Second Place Winner will receive a $250 cash prize.
  • Third Place Winner will receive a $125 cash prize.

Editor note: Truth Has a Voice Foundation/Ark Valley Voice is a community media sponsor for this event. In addition to delivering fact-based journalism six days a week in Ark Valley Voice, their parent (Truth Has a Voice Foundation) works toward a better-informed community, promoting civil discourse and government accountability.

Truth Has a Voice Foundation programs align closely with the mission of The Civic Trust which says “Civics education is an investment in our future… Engaged citizens are our bottom line.”