When La Cañada High School junior Allison Mueller got an English assignment to write a persuasive letter about something she wished to advocate for or against, or change, she had no idea what topic to pick.
Then she remembered how, earlier in the school year, she was walking in a crosswalk at Lamour Drive on her way to school when a driver not paying attention to pedestrian traffic nearly hit her.
"When pedestrians are in a crosswalk, cars are supposed to stop, but this woman kept driving," the 16-year-old recalled.
She noticed there was no stop sign in front of the crosswalk, and no signs in the area identifying the heavily trafficked area on Viro Road at Lamour as a school zone.
So while her English classmates penned persuasive letters to Ramen noodle companies or Netflix, Mueller sat down and wrote to the La Cañada Flintridge Public Works Department. Her Dec. 8 letter asked city officials to evaluate the area and its compliance with Caltrans guidelines regarding school crosswalks.
"The safety of children, students and all other members of the community must be one of the most important ideas when it comes to the design of the city," she wrote. "If a stop sign or any other sign marking the crosswalk as a school crosswalk is not put in place, what will happen if someone does get hurt?"
About 10 days later, Mueller got a response.
Interim Public Works Director Jesus Armas thanked the high schooler for her cogent arguments and let her know a traffic engineer had visited the spot and confirmed more signage was needed.
"She made a good argument," he said. "So I recommended we take the corrective actions."
The matter was heard in a Dec. 20 meeting of the city's Public Works and Traffic Commission. There, Mueller learned the city would not only install a stop sign on Lamour Drive at Viro Road, but repaint the crosswalk and install additional school zone signs.
Further, Armas said the department plans to evaluate pedestrian safety conditions at all school sites inside city limits at a Feb. 21 commission meeting.
"I was kind of surprised," Mueller said of the outcome. "I didn't think my voice could have such an impact on the community."
Victor Torres — the LCHS English teacher who's been assigning students to write persuasive letters for more than a decade — said the practice is intended to provide students a sense of agency in the civic process.
"[It] gives many students an initial foray into becoming engaged citizens and into becoming effective advocates before we require this of them as adults," Torres said in an email interview.
Some students write to parents about family issues or advocate for changes in the home. Others address companies or school administrators about unfair practices, while a few, like Mueller, send letters to government agencies. While many get some sort of response, Torres said, not all result in actual changes.
For Mueller, the additional safety measures will make a big difference on her walks to and from school. But more than getting the redress she sought, the teen says she learned an important lesson in the process.
"If you stand up for something you believe in, you can really make a difference," she said.