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Alexis Barney Named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher Of The Year

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Alexis Barney, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Evansville Elementary School in Natrona County School District #1, was named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher of the Year Tuesday, during the Wyoming Education Summit.

“Congratulations to Alexis on being named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher of the Year,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said. “I find that her passion and charisma are contagious – and I’m excited for her to share that with others over the next year.

“Alexis has the heart, mindset, and drive of an excellent teacher. In this role, she will continue to inspire many as she learns to advocate for excellent teaching and learning,” Balow said.

Barney grew up in Saratoga and graduated from the from the University of Wyoming at Casper with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education in 2016. 

She graduated from Capella University with a master’s degree in Educational Psychology in 2016.

At Evansville Elementary, Barney is the English Language Arts goal team leader and also serves on the school leadership team. She also is the School Transformation team leader and the Lego Robotics coach and Reading Club coordinator.

Barney said her philosophy is grounded in empowering students to be kind and courageous, and creating life-long learners who are inquisitive and excited about the world around them, finding success no matter their circumstances.

“Our attitude is going to be infectious.” Barney said. “I want to empower people to see things in a different light, helping them to find resources, and really turn those ‘can’ts’ into ‘cans.’ ”

She has frequently presented reading strategies with her co-chair at teaching conferences around the state, as well as in Colorado.

“Alexis is without a doubt one of the finest educators I have worked with in my nearly three decades in education,” Wayne Tuttle, Principal of Evansville Elementary school, said. 

“Students thrive in Alexis’ class because of her high expectations, innovative engagement strategies, and relevant learning. When a principal looks for an educator to be an anchor of their school for decades to come, they are searching for someone of Alexis’ quality,” he said.

The Wyoming Teacher of the Year comes with the significant responsibility of representing the teaching profession in Wyoming. 

The Wyoming Teacher of the Year acts as liaison among the teaching community, Wyoming Legislature, Wyoming Department of Education, districts and communities. 

In addition, the Teacher of the Year is an education ambassador to businesses, parents, service organizations, and media, as well an education leader involved in teacher forums and education reform.

“Wyoming has a strong sense of resilience and grit, as a community and as a whole,” Barney said. “And I think Wyoming teachers demonstrate that so well. I want to represent that grit and resilience and bolster that community. We need everyone involved – and to do that, we have to come together as a community. I think I can bring energy and excitement to our teachers.” 

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Documentary To Showcase Wyoming Students On Road Trip; Applicants Needed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The makers of a documentary about a road trip across Wyoming are looking for some Wyoming students to make the trip.

Roadtrip Nation, an online educational documentary series and company, will send Wyoming students out in a green RV to “talk to their heroes, job crushes and anyone who’s generally doing awesome stuff.”

Their experiences will be filmed and turned into a documentary to “inspire people to pursue their interests.”

Topics explored during the Wyoming road trip and documentary will include health care, manufacturing, outdoor recreation, technology and more.

Applications are due by Oct. 4 and the road trip won’t kick off until April, but the schedule might shift due to the coronavirus pandemic. Applicants must be 18-24, but can be in high school, a recent high school graduate or a post-secondary student.

The documentaries are aired on the Roadtrip Nation website and the Wyoming one will likely debut sometime next fall.

Other college road trips have included students from Georgia, California and Texas.

All travel expenses, plus a daily food stipend, are provided by Roadtrip Nation.

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Two LCCC Students Test Positive For COVID

in News/Coronavirus/Education
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Five Laramie County Community College students are in quarantine after two of the students tested positive for coronavirus, the college announced Friday.

LCCC, which started its fall semester on Aug 24, said two students living at the college’s residence hall tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

One student is quarantining in an isolation room at the residence hall and the second is staying at home, the college said in a news release.

Three other students who were in prolonged contact with the two who have tested positive have also been quarantined.

LCCC officials said the college would test all residence hall students and staff for coronavirus Friday and Monday.

News of the positive testing comes on the heels of a decision by University of Wyoming officials to halt the university’s phased-in return to in-person classes until Wednesday. The decision was made because five students tested positive for the virus in one day, the threshold set by university trustees for allowing in-person classes to continue.

Cases have also been reported at Northwest College in Powell and Casper College.

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Wyoming Ranked State With Best Community College System

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is ranked as the state with the best community college system in the nation in a recent study.

Personal finance site WalletHub ranked Wyoming as having the best community college system and ranked Casper College and the Northern Wyoming Community College District (which consists of Sheridan and Gillette colleges) in the top 10 of the best community colleges in the country.

The latter came in at number five, while the former was ranked number 10.

The worst-ranking states included Mississippi (40) and Ohio (41). Ten states, including Utah and Florida, didn’t have enough information to be included in the ranking.

For the state-by-state analysis, WalletHub calculated a weighted average of the scores earned by the community colleges in each state and the number of students enrolled in each school.

For the schools analysis, WalletHub evaluated them based on three factors: cost and financing, education outcomes and career outcomes.

In the schools comparison, Central Wyoming College also ranked high due to its low student default rate.

Of Wyoming’s seven community colleges, Northern Wyoming Community College District ranked highest, while Eastern Wyoming College ranked lowest.

“Free college means more people overall will likely seek out advanced training/learning that will benefit them in the labor market,” Arizona State University professor Molly Ott told WalletHub. “But also, other advantages arise from eliminating tuition, even among those who would’ve gone to college regardless.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday. The story originally identified Northern Wyoming Community College System as “Northwest Wyoming Community College System.”

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Wyoming School Districts Have Option For Surveillance Coronavirus Testing

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s school districts will have the option to have their teachers surveillance tested, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said Wednesday.

During a news conference alongside Gov. Mark Gordon and state public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, Balow discussed updates regarding the reopening of schools later this month.

Gordon announced that school districts that choose to do so can conduct “surveillance testing,” a technique in which random teachers and staff will be tested for coronavirus on a rotating basis. Balow noted the details of the testing have not yet been finalized and more information will be coming soon.

She said the department released information about testing to the districts so everyone could begin planning ahead, but added she couldn’t share more.

Harrist said during a previous news conference that she expected coronavirus cases to pop up in schools as they reopen, although she clarified Wednesday that she doesn’t necessarily expect an outbreak.

All of the state’s school districts have submitted reopening plans to the WDE and more than half have been approved. Balow hoped the rest would be completed by the end of the week.

All of the district have three-tier plans for reopening, and most are slated to open their doors to students for some type of in-person instruction later this month.

Balow reminded that students, staff and faculty will have be distanced or wear masks in instances when they can’t be more than 6 feet apart.

She also thanked the Wyoming High School Activities Association for the work it has done to ensure student athletes’ safety with sports restarting week.

“We’re in a good place, but certainly there will be course corrections,” she said.

Balow noted many school districts in the state are offering some type of hybrid virtual learning options, in the case of parents and families who don’t feel comfortable sending students to in-person classes.

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Gordon: UW Students Could Receive CARES Funds Due To COVID Impact

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming students could receive up to $3,250 in federal coronavirus relief funds to help pay their school expenses in the fall semester, Gov. Mark Gordon announced in a news release Friday.

Gordon has approved $20 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funding to launch a new program for university students affected by the coronavirus. The CARES Wyoming College Grant Program will help stimulate the state’s economy by supporting Wyoming’s workforce through increased student retention and completion at UW, the state’s only public, four-year research university, the release said.

“In this challenging time, it could not be more important that we invest in Wyoming’s future by investing in our college students,” Gordon said in the release. “Students who pause their college education often never return to campus. This is an opportunity to help ensure Wyoming students are able to continue pursuing their educational goals.”

To participate in the program, UW students must be U.S. citizens and have been impacted financially by the coronavirus.

Full-time undergraduate and graduate level students, including both resident and non-resident students, will receive up to $3,250 for the fall semester.

For part-time students, the funding will be prorated according to the number of enrolled hours and all funding will be distributed some time this fall.

All current and new UW students are eligible. The deadline for new students to apply for admission to UW and secure additional funding for the fall semester is Aug. 21.

Students who are already enrolled and qualify for the CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding must apply for these funds on or before Dec. 1.

The university is setting up an online interactive tool for students to determine whether they are eligible to receive funding. Beginning Monday, Aug. 10, full details and application information will be available at www.uwyo.edu/cares.

UW’s fall semester begins Aug. 24, with a mixture of in-person and online courses.

“This plan will help sustain and even grow Wyoming’s talented workforce, critical to the economic future we need after the current financial difficulties,” UW President Ed Seidel said in the release. “Fortunately, we know the character of our Cowboys. Their grit and resilience and determination mean they have what it takes to get back on track, individually and as a university.

“Postsecondary certificate and degree attainment is one of the most critical factors that will assist in the robust and timely economic recovery of Wyoming after the COVID-19 health emergency is over or adequately mitigated,” Seidel added.

While UW has an existing program that awards federal, state and private financial aid to its students, this new round of funding will be awarded in a different manner.

CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding will be distributed as “last-dollar-in” financial aid, after Hathaway merit or need-based aid, Pell grant funds or any other scholarships or grants.

The awards will help cover expenses other than tuition and fees, such as housing and meals, as the pandemic has eroded housing and food security of UW students, the release said. Recipients must commit to comply with UW’s policies to limit the spread of the virus.

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Harrist: People Who Think Wyoming School Health Orders Are “Insidious” Make Me Sad

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist is saddened by people who think that current public health orders, especially those in places for K-12 students, are “something insidious,” she said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Harrist said as schools begin to reopen, it is important that people follow the three recommendations that the state has issued to prevent the spread of the illness: Staying at home when sick, practicing social distancing and using facemasks when social distancing is not possible.

“These three simple tools are the foundation of our public health orders and school plans,” Harrist said. “It does make me sad to know some of these recommendations, some people see them as insidious or more than just using the best tools we have to let children go to class.”

During the talk alongside Gov. Mark Gordon, Harris provided various coronavirus-related updates, such as the fact that the Wyoming Department of Health’s laboratories can now process up to 750 tests or more per day with a “consistent” turnaround time.

Recent wastewater tests in nine communities across the state have also shown signs of the coronavirus. Harrist said the health department would continue looking into this data, hoping it could provide evidence of virus prevalence in certain communities.

But since August has creeped in, Harrist acknowledged that many Wyomingites have been curious about schools resuming for in-person classes and what guidelines their district may install.

“Schools are very important to our communities for many reasons,” she said. “As a pediatrician, I know being in schools…is healthy and helpful for most children. But we need to make sure our children and teachers are safe.”

The entire state can help prevent the spread of the virus and allow children to attend school in person by following the state’s recommendations, Harrist told the viewers.

She expects there will be cases of the coronavirus popping up in schools once classes resume, but following the aforementioned recommendations would keep the numbers lower and more manageable.

If students or school staff do test positive for the virus, health officials will contact the person or their parents and place them in isolation. Officials will also decide who’s been in close contact with the infected person and if they should be isolated.

Schools will be identified, contacted and will work through a plan with their local public health officials.

“We want these decisions to be focused on what’s best for our children, their families, our teachers and our communities,” Harrist said.

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Gordon Allocates Federal Funds To Pay For College For Un(der)Employed Adults

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Adults who are unemployed or underemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic are now eligible for a grant to fund their education at one of the state’s community colleges or the University of Wyoming.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday he will use $7.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to finance the “Adult Education Grant Program.”

The program will provide scholarships to Wyoming adults between the ages of 25 to 64 who are unemployed or underemployed due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

“During this crisis these grants will help impacted workers obtain new skills and advance their careers,” Gordon said in the release. “They will also help Wyoming progress towards its goal of building a highly trained, well-equipped workforce.”

“The Wyoming Community College Commission strongly supports the Governor’s announcement of the Adult Education Grant Program,” Dr. Ben Moritz, Deputy Director of the Commission, said in the release. “Working adults are facing both economic and pandemic-related challenges and need training and education to obtain the skills employers are looking for. This grant program opens up these training opportunities to working adults who need it.”

The funds will be distributed through an application process and officials said an opening date for accepting applications will be announced soon. 

Gordon is continuing to work with the university and state community colleges to develop a program to provide assistance to all students with financial need that have been impacted by the virus.

The Adult Education Grant Program comes on the heels of the recent allocation of $26.5 million to help aid UW with its safe reopening plan and $32.5 million for community colleges for their plans.

The governor has also allocated nearly $51.5 million in federal relief funds to support the operations of K-12 schools around the state. Those funds will support the reopening of schools and include $42.5 million for technology to support distance learning, $7.3 million for personal protective equipment and $1.7 million to bolster food security programs.

These distributions are just a portion of the $1.25 billion Congress allocated Wyoming through the CARES Act.

The Wyoming Legislature passed new laws during a May special session guiding how that money can be spent. To date, Gordon has allocated approximately $710 million to address the impacts of the pandemic.

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Two Wyoming Teachers Receive National Recognition For Work In Science, Math

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming teachers recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

President Donald Trump announced Monday that teachers in Thermopolis and Jackson were among the nation’s 2019 winners, according to a news release from the Wyoming Department of Education.

Aimee Kay, a science teacher at Thermopolis Middle School, and Jennifer Kelley, a math teacher at Jackson Hole High School, were the Wyoming recipients this year.

The award is the highest recognition that K-12 mathematics, science or computer science teachers can receive in the United States. Nominations and awards are facilitated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation.

“The PAEMST award is an honor that has already connected me with a network of exceptional teachers around our state who are willing to share ideas and collaborate, inspiring my continued growth,” Kay said in the news release. “I look forward to connecting with STEM teachers nationally as well. It has validated my efforts as I prepare the next generation of scientists and problem solvers to make the world a better place. Through it, I have also gained more confidence in my methods and a rejuvenated sense of purpose and passion.” 

“This award inspires and encourages me to continue on my amazing journey as an educator,” said Kelly, who teaches Algebra, AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC at JHHS. “ It recognizes my desire to provide the best opportunities for all students to advance their knowledge and excitement in mathematics. It recognizes my desire to provide the best opportunities for all students to advance their knowledge and excitement in mathematics. Being able to help young adults figure out how to self-advocate and become lifelong learners is very rewarding. I am fortunate to work with incredible students and colleagues who continue to motivate me to strive for excellence.”

Each year, up to six finalists in each state are chosen for the award through a rigorous peer review process. The applications are forwarded to the National Science Foundation, where the final selection for the national Presidential Award is made.

Enacted by Congress in 1983, the program authorizes the President to award 108 math and science teachers each year in recognition of their contribution to excellent teaching and learning.

“Aimee and Jennifer set the gold standard when it comes to teaching math and science to students,” Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in the news release. “It is befitting that they are being recognized for this prestigious honor.”

Awardees come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools and schools in four U.S. territories.

Each awardee will receive a certificate signed by Trump and a $10,000 award from NSF. Awardees will also travel to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony at a future date.

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Balow: Learning In Wyoming Schools Will Look Different This Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow expects school life in Wyoming’s 23 districts to be a completely new experience once classes resume later this month.

This will be due to not only the coronavirus pandemic, but also each district’s individualized response to the new state health guidelines.

Balow said as much during an interview on KGAB radio Monday morning with Cheyenne radio host Glenn Woods.

The Wyoming Department of Education has adopted only a few new rules aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus, such as requiring social distancing and the use of face masks, but it is making multiple suggestions to the various school districts regarding reopening plans, Balow said.

Districts will be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to school bus routes, cafeterias and other activities, she said. They can also decide how they will deliver classes and whether or not there will be a mix of online and in-person courses as health orders are updated.

“We might end up seeing an increased number of bus routes and spacing out when the buses can leave because they need to be cleaned,” Balow said during the interview. “As for cafeterias, students may end up eating in classrooms, or there might be staggered lunch schedules. It’s just going to depend on the school, because a district like here in Laramie County is going to look different from a rural one.”

Balow also expects a bit of a catch-up period for students, both academically and socially. However, she’s grateful that students who might come from a background of maltreatment will return to a safe environment at school.

“Some kids took to an alternative learning environment really well and others didn’t, for various reasons,” she said. “But then we had some students who were hard to reach, and those were the ones who kept us up at night. So we could definitely be dealing with some academic gaps and ones caused by severe trauma.”

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