Drugs in school and other public areas, traffic and bullying were topics of discussion at the Sultan City Council meeting last week, as teenagers from the Sultan Boys & Girls Club came forward to voice their concerns about the community.
Five Sultan-area teens addressed council at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, in city hall during the time set aside for public comment, each highlighting an issue they feel negatively impacts the health and vibrancy of the community. Some carried posters they made at the club, which imparted messages like "When people in town don't feel safe, that's not OKGÇ¥ and "Don't do drugs, give hugs.GÇ¥
Twelve-year-old Ashlynn Steele voiced concerns about road safety and traffic. She referenced two key areas she considers to be problematic.
"There's a road across the railroad tracks next to the highway, and people speed down that to get ahead of traffic,GÇ¥ Steele said. "I'm thinking that kids that live there might not be the safest if people just speed down that all the time.GÇ¥
Steele was referring to lower Fern Bluff Road, which is often used as an eastbound bypass route during times of congestion on U.S. 2. The residential roadway is home to several small farms, and connects to U.S. 2 approximately 1 1/2 miles from the western city limits.
Next, Steele zeroed in on the crowding that occurs on Old Owen Road, which can make exiting the Sultan Red Apple parking lot very difficult.
"It takes like 20 minutes to get out onto the highway,GÇ¥ Steele said. "I see that as a big problem for the public.GÇ¥
Joyce Camacho, 13, spoke about drug abuse. She told council she recently had a relative who passed away from a drug overdose; something she doesn't want other people to have to experience. She outlined some of the harmful effects of using drugs, including health problems and death.
"I don't want anyone to lose anyone else by drugs, at all, ever again,GÇ¥ Camacho said.
Gage Berini, 12, also addressed drug abuse, recounting a personal experience where he and a friend witnessed more than one person in possession of drugs at one of Sultan's popular parks. Sometimes when he's walking around town, he said, he doesn't feel safe.
Katherine Johnson, 12, and Brendan Frye, 14, spoke about bullying in the Sultan School District. Frye referenced an incident that occurred in January 2013, where a Sultan Middle School student attempted suicide as a result of excessive bullying. He reported that although the situation has improved since then, the bullying problem still exists.
"When observing bullying, the victim is usually someone vulnerable. This victim, for whatever reason, will not speak up about the bullying. This occurs when the bully is someone popular within the school,GÇ¥ Frye said. "Popularity is a have or have-not system. When at the lower end of the spectrum, you become an easy target.GÇ¥
Frye said he knows victims of bullying and has been a victim himself.
"Thankfully, there are more good kids than bad kids. When a victim needs support, they have someone to turn to,GÇ¥ Frye said. "This does not solve the problem of bullying; there should never be a victim.GÇ¥
Conrad Reisch, 13, had concerns about drug and alcohol abuse at the high school. He said alcoholic beverages can easily masquerade as innocuous substances. Vodka, for example, when poured into a water bottle, doesn't look out of the ordinary.
"Kids somehow get a hold of it,GÇ¥ Reisch said. "We need to somehow fix that.GÇ¥
During council feedback, councilmembers thanked the teens for voicing their concerns. Mayor Carolyn Eslick encouraged them to attend a Sultan School Board meeting to talk about the issues related to the Sultan School District.
Councilmember Jeffrey Beeler addressed the traffic concerns. In addition to serving on the council, Beeler sits on the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition. He responded directly to Steele's comments about unsafe roadways and poor traffic conditions. The intersection of Old Owen Road and U.S. 2 was discussed during a recent coalition meeting, Beeler said.
"That intersection is one of the big topics that we were just discussing here a week ago; how Old Owen Road, especially on Friday nights and Sundays, gets really, really crowded, and it's kind of a pest,GÇ¥ Beeler said. "Because if you're at the Red Apple and you're trying to get out, like you mentioned, it's really difficult.GÇ¥
He also said the coalition has been looking for ways to decrease the amount of traffic using lower Fern Bluff Road as a U.S. 2 bypass route. He acknowledged that drivers frequently exceed the speed limit on lower Fern Bluff, and said they are currently working with the state to implement measures that would diminish the road's accessibility from U.S. 2 in hopes of restoring it as a local access route.
"So we're working on that,GÇ¥ Beeler said. "I'm glad you brought that up.GÇ¥
Sultan City Council student representative Vernon Johnson commended the teens for speaking to the council. A Sultan High School senior, Johnson was appointed student representative by Eslick in July.
"One thing that I've realized in problems like these, is that adults and teachers can't regulate everything,GÇ¥ Johnson said. "If you guys want real change, it starts with you guys.GÇ¥
Sultan Boys & Girls Club teen director Ruth Shapovalov encouraged the teens to speak, and provided transportation to and from the meeting. Shapovalov was inspired by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County's recently established youth council, meant to address what makes communities unhealthy. She decided to task her teens with presenting to Sultan's elected officials as a way to get them to be proactive. She said her goal was to demonstrate to the students what they think is important to city officials, and that their voices can be a powerful tool to invoke change.
"My goal with these kids is to turn out decision-makers and problem-solvers who are strong and confident, and above the influence,GÇ¥ Shapovalov said.Photos by Chris Hendrickson
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