Years ago, as a high school sports reporter, I learned to never underestimate the intelligence and poise of adolescents.

Their brains are still developing and they have plenty of life lessons ahead of them, but they are far more astute than adults think.

Berwyn Mayor Robert J. Lovero was reminded of this when sixth-grade students from Freedom Middle School invited him to attend a presentation last winter.

The students had brainstormed on a community project for Our American Voice, a civics-minded, project-based education program funded by a nonprofit that has been implemented in South Berwyn School District 100 and Chicago.

They told the mayor that many classmates were crossing three sets of railroad tracks despite the lowering of crossing gates for approaching and passing freight and Metra trains about a block away from school on Ridgeland Avenue near 31st Street.  

“Kids are ducking under the gates,” said Mylee Puerta, 12, adding that most disregard lowered gates when they run late for school.

Surveys the students had distributed to classmates and parents indicated that dozens of students were gambling with their lives by trying to beat the trains. They caught classmates doing so on video.

“It was awful,” social studies teacher Christina Rizzo told me. “There was a freight train, then a [Metra], and the kids were just going.”

The students told the mayor and his public works director they needed a pedestrian overpass to avoid the tracks.

“They actually presented us three drafts of drawings,” Lovero said. “It’s a great project. An ambitious project. It will take a long time to get it done.”

That’s if it can be done. 

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