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Sense of community makes Casper neighborhood one of magazine’s 50 ‘nicest places’

in Community/News
2332

A Casper neighborhood has been identified by Reader’s Digest magazine as one of the 50 “nicest places in America.”

The neighborhood on south Chestnut Street near Casper College was recognized for its sense of community as described by Danica Sveda, the resident who nominated the area for the honor.

“The area is a diamond in a world of disconnectedness,” she wrote in her nomination to the magazine.

Residents who spoke with Cowboy State Daily agreed with Sveda’s description.

“We actually have a community where neighbors talk to each other, we do things over the summer,” said resident Jason Sawdon, a trooper for the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

“Everybody gets along, everybody just goes up and down (the street) and visits with each other,” said Deby Wolfe. “Everybody’s there to help you out, even when you don’t ask.”

Sveda described a race that occurs in the neighborhood during winter storms to see who can clear the most sidewalks.

“We have a friendly competition,” Sawdon said. “We go out and clear the sidewalks and rake the leaves and help each other out. That’s part of our community is to help each other out. We have a mixture of young and old in this neighborhood. Some people can physically do it and some people can’t. The ones that can help out the ones that can’t.”

Several residents noted that neighborhood children can often be seen playing up and down the streets.“It’s really cool to just watch kids,” said Kaysha Martin. “They just play all over.”

“The kids, they do go and they play everywhere,” Wolfe said. “Everybody’s watching everybody’s kids, so everybody knows that they’re safe.”

Residents also take the time to speak with each other, another fact that contributed to the neighborhood’s ranking.

“I’ve lived all over the country and it’s nice to come home and be able to say hi to my neighbors and be able to talk to them over the fence,” Sawdon said. “We can do that here. We all want to be part of each other’s lives in what little ways that we can.”

Hunting with Heroes brings disabled veterans together for healing, outdoor recreation

in Community/military/News
Hunting with Heroes
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

War is hell, but returning to civilian life can be equally daunting for many military veterans, especially those whose wounds complicate the reintegration process.

Hunting with Heroes seeks to provide disabled veterans an opportunity to heal and re-calibrate in a familiar environment with like-minded people, co-founder Dan Currah said.

“We found very quickly that the hunts were therapeutic for those veterans coming back,” explained Currah, a former U.S. Army signal corps officer. “We didn’t do that as Vietnam veterans. We didn’t associate with other veterans. I think there was a social stigma attached to our service, and for the most part, we just came home and tried to forget it.”

Founded in 2013 by Currah and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Colton Sasser, the Wyoming-based, non-profit organization uses donated game licenses to guide hunts throughout Wyoming. 

Sasser said the experience can be a means for veterans to seize some semblance of normalcy and routine after their world was seemingly upended.

“Some of the best therapy I’ve ever got was hunting or fishing,” he reminisced. “Being out there alone with your thoughts, focused on the task at hand. But, this seems different. It’s more about the camaraderie. The hunting truly is the bonus. It’s the cherry on top.”

From the ashes

While escorting an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team through Afghanistan in 2012, Sasser’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

“We hit that sucker, and it instantly killed my squad leader,” recalled Sasser, who served as an U.S. Army infantryman. “The truck was upside down, and I woke up and knew it was bad.”

The events directly following the attack remain hazy for Sasser, who blacked out several times during the next weeks. But the damage was permanent — traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fused spine and an amputated leg.

Months later while recovering at Fort Sam Houston, a Casper newspaper ran a story about Sasser, a Casper native. Currah, also a Casper native, was living in Texas at the time, but kept up on Wyoming news and read Sasser’s story.

After checking around, Currah and his wife discovered they knew Sasser’s parents from their high school days, so the Currahs asked to visit Sasser in the hospital.

“His dad told me he was off on the weekends with nothing to do,” Currah said. “He’s an avid hunter, and I knew some guys that were doing hog hunts, so we lined him up with some hunts.” 

Sasser said getting away from base was great, but it reminded him how much he missed hunting in Wyoming.

Once medically retired from the military, Sasser returned home and the duo started planning expeditions to help other veterans. 

“(Currah) and I just started talking about it over coffee,” he said. “I knew getting tags would be the hardest thing, because how do you plan a hunt when you don’t know when and where people will draw tags.”

Soon after cementing plans to move forward with the organization, Sasser learned about a Wyoming Game and Fish Department program which allowed people to purchase tags and donate them for re-issuance to disabled veterans and people with permanent disabilities who use wheelchairs.

“The first year we were only planning on doing 10 hunts,” he said. “We ended up doing 17, so it was a success from the outset.” 

In 2018, Hunting with Heroes hosted 230 different hunts and since 2013, Sasser guessed they’ve completed more than 1,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be 50 percent or more disabled with a service-connected disability, and they can apply through the group’s website, www.HuntingWithHeroes.org. The program is open to applicants from around the country, and Sasser said many participants come from out-of-state.

Welcome home

Diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam, Ed Klaput, a retired U.S. Army colonel, sought respite in the solace of the hunt.

“I’ve been undergoing chemo for the last three years, and I’ve been feeling better,” he said. “So, I wanted to get back to hunting elk.”

Klaput lives in Virginia, and without residency, he didn’t have much hope of scoring an elk tag anywhere along the continental divide. While serving, Klaput was stationed in Colorado, and in the late 1990s, he owned a cabin in Wapiti, so he was fond of hunting elk in Rockies. During his time in Wyoming, he became friends with author and former “Outdoor Life” editor Jim Zumbo. Klaput reached out to his friend for ideas about how to get back into the field.

“Zumbo told me about Hunting with Heroes,” he said. “I’d heard of groups like these, but I’d never gone with one.”

In October, Klaput flew out to join Zumbo, Currah and Sasser on an elk and antelope hunt near Rock Springs.

“We went out in the morning, and we weren’t there for too long before we spotted a bull elk,” Klaput remembered. “I lined up my sights, and took him down with a single lung shot. A little later, I got a buck antelope — again with a single lung shot.”

Even among of military-trained shooters and avid hunters, the marksmanship was impressive.

“They now call me Hawkeye, or Hawkeyes, I don’t know which,” Klaput said, chuckling.

Once home, his wife noticed an immediate change in his demeanor.

“She said, ‘You look so good. You’re cured!’” Klaput explained. “It took me out of a definite malaise from depression and the chemo treatments.” 

It wasn’t just the hunt and reconnecting with old friends that pulled the colonel out of his funk. He said Wyoming, its residents and the gratitude shown by tag donors, private land owners and volunteer guides all combined to create the reception Klaput never received on his trip home from Vietnam.

“I can’t put it in words — I could probably put it in tears — but not words,” he said quietly. “The treatment these vets have received from this group and the people of Wyoming is a therapy in and of itself. After 50 years, I felt like I finally received the ‘Welcome home’ we deserved.”

Gambling is booming under the radar, hurting players, state coffers

in Business/News
gambling
2329

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Traditionally, Wyoming takes a conservative stance against the gambling industry, but technological innovations and legal gray areas are moving the state closer to its Wild West roots, a state senator said.

“We really don’t know what’s there, and it varies county to county and town to town,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “You may have a poker game in one town, and the next town over, it isn’t allowed.”

The overview of gambling in Wyoming is further muddied by “skill games,” which are becoming increasingly popular barroom additions across the state.

“We had so-called skill games or gray games come in on what they saw as a crack in the law regarding skill games,” Driskill said. “At this point, there’s probably between 500 to 1,000 of these machines out there that at some point in the past would’ve been deemed illegal.”

A member of the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, Driskill is drafting a bill that would transform the state’s Pari-Mutuel Commission, which currently oversees horse racing and historic horse race gambling ventures, into the Wyoming Gaming Commission, which would oversee gambling on a broader spectrum.

“The attempt at the commission and the new bill are not attempts to expand gaming in Wyoming, merely to define what’s already there,” Driskill said. “It would also create a model that anyone who is gaming in Wyoming would need a permit or a license, so the state knew where and what gaming is occurring.”

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said he’s lobbied for both the alcohol and gaming industries throughout the years, and Wyoming could benefit from an oversight committee.

“There’s nothing keeping bad operators from coming in and setting up shop right now,” Moser explained. “(The Liquor Association) is in a highly regulated industry, and we appreciate oversight, because we serve a product that provides some wonderful benefits when consumed in moderation, much like the gaming industry.”

Many of the skill games currently operating in the state are located in places that serve alcohol, so the operators Moser represents have questions about how to keep it all above board.

“We don’t want our retailers to get in trouble,” he said.

Determining what is legal, however, is complicated, Driskill said.

“Right now, there’s really only two entities that regulate gambling — the county attorneys and the (then-Wyoming) Attorney General,” he said. “Consequently, because of the number of lawsuits in the works by the gaming industry, (the county attorneys) aren’t willing to take it on, because these guys have enough money to take it to court. They don’t want to end up in endless litigation.”

Mired in gray areas and absent the support of county attorneys, gambling is being overlooked by local law enforcement, Driskill added.

“From the testimony we’ve had in the counties, their law enforcement in cities and counties don’t know what’s happening in their boundaries at all,” he said. “It really leaves it to the Wild, Wild West.”

Despite most gambling being illegal throughout the state, games are taking place on a regular basis. But, without oversight, the players bear all the risk.

“The machines that are out there, you don’t know what they’re set at, 1 percent (payout) or 80 percent,” Driskill said. “You really don’t have anywhere to go if someone cheated you in a poker game or to report a bad machine.”

A gaming commission could alleviate many of these problems, but it’s not a new idea.

“Gaming commissions have been proposed in some form for the last decade,” Moser explained. “We’re the only state that doesn’t license bingo or pull tabs, and the skill games are falling into the same area.”

Skill games are typically defined as games in which interaction with the player affects the result, he said.

“They consider video poker as a game of chance,” Moser said. “Games of skill are legal and games of chance are not for the most part.”

Responding to an inquiry from Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigan requesting a formal opinion regarding some machines manufactured by Banilla Games, Attorney General Peter Michael listed ten skill games his office deemed gambling. Those games include:

  • Bathtime Bucks
  • Fruity Sevens 
  • Searing Sevens 
  • Snake Eyes
  • Wheel Deal
  • Spooky’s Loot
  • Mega Money Reel 
  • Lucky Striker 
  • Major Cash
  • Pedro’s Hot Tamales

Moser explained Michael’s formal opinion determined these games were won by chance, rather than the player’s skill.

Despite the list, Driskill said numerous other machines are still in operation.

“These machines are nearly doubling every year,” he said. “The initial numbers right now indicate that the creation of the commission and authority to require licensing would raise $12 million to $15 million for the state.” 

With or without oversight, Driskill said gambling is growing in the Cowboy State.

“The biggest takeaway is whether you’re pro-gaming or against, you’re going to have major expansion in gaming if you don’t do anything with it,” he said.

Bill to authorize nuclear waste storage talks withdrawn

in Energy/News
Wyoming Legislature nuclear waste storage protest
A protest sign lies next to the sign-in sheet at Tuesday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. The committee was to have studied a bill that would authorize the state to negotiate with the federal government over the storage of spent nuclear fuel rods, but the bill was withdrawn without action being taken. (Photo by Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily)
2326

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

CASPER — A measure that would have allowed the state to negotiate with the federal government over the possible storage of spent nuclear fuel rods in Wyoming was removed from consideration Tuesday by a legislative committee.

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Minerals Business and Economic Development Committee agreed to stop work on the bill after its Spent Fuel Rods Subcommittee, formed to examine the issue, met in September.

Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, a chairman of both the committee and subcommittee, told committee members that based on what the subcommittee heard during its meeting, legislative authorization for the state to enter into negotiations over spent nuclear fuel storage is not needed

“I have prepared a bill as the chairman if the committee to give the governor’s office authority to negotiate with (the federal Department of Energy) on this subject,” he said. “I found out that we really don’t need to give the governor’s office the authority, that they have the authority right now. So at this time, I would like to withdraw that bill from the docket.”

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee during their meeting in Casper on Tuesday.
Members of the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee during their meeting in Casper on Tuesday. Committee members were to have reviewed a bill that would authorize the state to negotiate with the federal government over the storage of spent nuclear fuel rods, but a subcommittee formed to examine the issue decided to pull the bill from consideration. (Photo by Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily)



Anderson also told the committee that any negotiations could take five to nine years to complete.

The idea of storing spent nuclear fuel in Wyoming has surfaced several times over the last three decades and each time, it has generated strong opposition.

Opponents to the plan were on hand for Tuesday and said they were prepared to argue that any rewards from accepting spent nuclear fuel would be outweighed by the risks.

 “The biggest issue for me and the state of Nebraska, who says they don’t want a dry cask storage place to get the transportation coming through, it’s the transportation,” said Coleen Whalen, a spokesperson for Wyoming Against Nuclear Dumps. “It’s going to get off on I-80 and I-25 on our teeny little highways“

Whalen said she was pleased the committee killed the bill, but unsure of how the issue would unfold going forward.

“The bill kind of came up quick and the withdrawal of it, I’m glad they are not telling the governor to negotiate, but it could be that they are just moving it out of the public eye,” she said.

Anderson noted that there are no plans for Gov. Mark Gordon to open negotiations with the Department of Energy about the waste storage.

State long-term debt is real issue of concern, legislators say

in Government spending/News
2319

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s short-term revenue and budget problems are not as concerning as the state’s long-term deficit, according to two members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said the Legislature needs to address the fact that for several years, state spending has exceeded income, with the difference being made up through a combination of spending cuts and the use of money from various savings accounts.

Gierau said the state has already made significant reductions in spending to address what is called the “structural deficits.”

“A lot of folks need to realize that … we have less employees in state government than we had eight years ago,” he said. “Government is smaller. Programs are smaller.”

While the state could use about $1.6 billion from its reserve accounts to resolve the issue on a short-term basis, the action would deplete those accounts and the outlook to replace that money is not good.

“Over the next five years, with declining revenues, those ‘rainy day’ funds are anticipated to start to shrink if we keep spending at the same levels,” Gierau said. “And we won’t have money, given our current revenue picture … to replace them.”

The decline in mineral revenue has had a significant impact on the state’s revenues and the Legislature will have to look seriously at some action to deal with issue on a long-term basis, Bebout said.

“The challenge is to not just kick the can down the road,” he said. “I think we need to start making progress on our future to deal with our structural deficit.”

Specifically, the state needs to make plans for the day when mineral revenues no longer contribute a large amount to the state’s income, Bebout said.

“The revenue stream and the way we generate revenue is changing,” he said. “Minerals will not be able to carry the load like they have in the past. We need to be prepared for that and start moving in that direction.”

Several legislative committees are looking at ways to boost the state’s income, including the creation of a statewide lodging tax, an increase in gas taxes, a possible increase in property taxes and a corporate income tax.

Over half of the anticipated deficit spending — $250 million — can be traced to education funding and a legislative committee recently approved a $19 million increase in education spending to account for inflation. Legislators argued the increase must be approved to comply with Wyoming Supreme Court orders regarding school financing.

Bebout said he disagreed with such mandates being handed down by the court and said education spending should be determined by elected officials.

“Quite frankly, I’m tired of the courts dictating how we spend money on education,” he said. “I think it should be up to elected officials, i.e., the Legislature to make those decisions. If you don’t like what we do, you vote us out, rather than have the court tell us what to do.”

The Fallacy of Gold-Standard Predator Research

in Agriculture/Cat Urbigkit/Column/wildlife
sheep
2311

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As a frequent reader of new research on livestock production and carnivore conflicts, I am often reminded of the divide between researchers and practitioners. Papers will explain that research was conducted on sheep, without necessary information about those sheep, which practitioners (livestock producers) know will influence outcomes. For instance, we need to know not just the number of sheep involved, but breed, sex, age, breeding status, etc. because these cohorts may react differently in a given scenario.

Last fall, a new paper was published that cited the need for livestock protection to be more evidence-based, calling for more scientific papers to be based on “gold standards” for scientific research. A previous paper by some of the same co-authors went so far as to call for a halt to lethal control until such gold standards are achieved. Most of the only gold-standard studies cited by these authors are for non-lethal techniques, which are easier to study.

It would seem easy to support the call for “gold standards” but too often scientists fail to recognize the realities and complexities of field situations makes that unattainable, and the policy implications are significant. For example:

• Lethal versus non-lethal: 

Most studies assessing lethal versus non-lethal control of predators only acknowledge non-lethal control when undertaken or funded by government or NGOs. Rarely is there an acknowledgment or assessment of the various non-lethal measures already used by producers prior to lethal control, so it’s not really an accurate or fair assessment.

• Feasibility & Affordability: 

When livestock producers make management decisions, the feasibility and affordability of an action are foremost considerations, yet scientists expend little effort in this sort of assessment for field conditions. Having a great predator deterrent is of little use if it’s not affordable, or is only applicable in limited conditions.

• Gold means controlled:

Gold standard research usually takes place under captive-animal scenarios, where variables can be limited by researchers. This is in contrast to field conditions, where researchers would have little or no control of variables that influence outcomes. Researchers need to understand that difference, and that just because “gold” standards aren’t achieved doesn’t mean field research isn’t valid and useful. Researchers shouldn’t stretch to such broad condemnation as did those calling for a halt to lethal control because “gold” standards weren’t used in the studies they reviewed. That recommendation was simply the reflection of researcher bias.

• Motivations Differ:

Acknowledge the motivations and goals of researcher and livestock producers are not the same thing. Much research is being conducted to reduce conflicts between domestic livestock and wild predators, yet livestock producers are rarely included in study design, and livestock producers readily find flaws in implementing recommendations resulting from the research. Perhaps if livestock producers were more involved in study design, the results could be more readily adopted.

• Partnerships: 

The new paper refers to “livestock owners” only twice; once was to discredit the use of the livestock owner’s “perceived effectiveness” of an intervention, noting “widespread placebo effects, whereby patients feel better simply because they have participated.”

Although in an opening paragraph the authors stated, “Livestock owners, natural resource managers, and decision-makers each have an important role to play in research partnerships to collaboratively guide the testing of predator control interventions,” the paper substantially ignored the livestock owner value and role in such research.

• Animal husbandry ethics:

To achieve gold standard research in this field requires experiments that are ethically questionable. A true test of effectiveness of no-control, non-lethal control, and lethal-control would result in the deaths of domestic animals without intervention to protect them during the research. I, as a livestock producer, find that intolerable and would refuse to participate in such research that would result in pain, suffering and death for the animals I am responsible to tend.

Until researchers bridge the divide between the needs of scientists and the needs of practitioners, I see little room for progress. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Daylight Saving Time Makes Representative Tired of Changing Clocks

in News
Alarm clock
2306

By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

This Sunday at 2 a.m., the clocks get set back one hour to complete the time-honored tradition of daylight saving time. 

Fall back is often seen as the lesser of the two sleep-disrupting time changing evils, but one state representative has had enough of the clock setting altogether and wants Wyoming out.

Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, has pushed a bill in the Legislature to try to change the return to standard time for the past four years. He’s gotten close too.

Related: Daylight Savings bill clears Senate committee

“Last year, it died on the third reading,” Laursen said.

 Legislative records show the bill won final approval from the House but failed in the Senate on a vote of 15 to 15. For those who don’t remember how bills become laws, that’s basically choking in the last inning while the last guy is at bat.

According to Laursen, it is a shame too, because he said he has read studies that show the annual time change has significant impacts on students who must adjust to the earlier mornings in spring.

“It takes about two weeks to recover,” according to Larsen.

And for some people, that groggy pace is real. The Sleep Foundation recommends people start gradually adapting 10 days before the time change by adjusting bedtime and wake up time by about 10-15 minutes each day. 

Have you done that already this year? Laursen suggested probably not, and said he has a simper solution — stop switching to daylight savings time and remain on standard time year-round.

“Just lock the clock,” he said.

He doesn’t see any reason to stay on the existing system.  Research may be on his side. Studies that have shown vehicle crashes increase, heart attacks increase and mental health declines with the switch to daylight saving time, according to Timeanddate.com.

Although Wyomingites often seem independent-minded compared to the rest of the country, on the issue of daylight saving time gives, they hesitate before abandoning the status quo.

“They are independent-minded until you start talking about daylight saving time, then they are like sheep,” Laursen said.

Currently, Hawaii and Arizona are the only states that have done away with daylight saving time. 

The bill Laursen sponsored would require three neighboring states to also abandon daylight savings time before Wyoming could make the shift so the state isn’t an odd duck out.

In addition, the federal government would have to approve any change. Laursen said he just wants to wake people up to the option.

“We should just change it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like it, so it’s a good discussion.”

Laursen has had this discussion for nearly a decade and failed to pass the bill year after year.

“I’m gonna do it again,” Laursen said. 

Targets of online vitriol agree: Digital civility is improving

in News/Technology
digital civility
2304

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, is arguably one of the most active Wyoming politician on social media. 

He boasts around 3,500 likes on his public Facebook page and just over 1,600 followers on his Twitter account. He’s considered “very responsive to messages,” according to his Facebook page. He regularly posts videos of himself chatting in his car about stances he has on various issues, news stories (both political and not) or even fun Wyoming historical facts. 

“I’m the most followed politician in Wyoming,” he said. “Now, you have to remember that it’s Wyoming, so the number isn’t huge. But I do a lot on social media because it’s a great avenue to talk with people.” 

Lindholm regularly engages with his commenters. He takes his social media presence seriously. For the most part, people are kind, even if they don’t always agree with his views. 

As a die-hard Republican, it’s common for Lindholm to have detractors. That’s fine, he has a thick skin and can deal with that. 

The death threats get a little old, though. 

“Absolutely people have said horrible things to me online,” he admitted. “People have found my political page and have called me names and started to send me and my wife nasty messages on our personal accounts. I’ve definitely had death threats, but most of the time I ignore them. A couple years ago, there was a guy out of Pinedale who sent me something and that was the first time I took it as a credible threat.”

It’s not easy being a politician in the social media age. Democrat, Republican or independent, there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with an elected official. 

While some critics might send an email, write a letter or call their elected officials to explain why they disagree, others will personally attack these politicians online. 

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, admitted he used to get an inordinate amount of threatening emails, but thankfully the number has tapered off in the last couple years. He said it wasn’t because people got nicer, unfortunately. They just realized the emails could be traced. 

“When I first proposed the idea of tolling on Interstate 80 eight or nine years ago, I got emails calling me everything but a civilized person,” he said. “I still occasionally get them, but I think the majority of those emails are coming from truckers in other states who drive through Wyoming.”

While the nasty emails have decreased, Von Flatern noted he still gets criticized by constituents in public forums, such as on social media or in comments sections of the state’s newspapers.

Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed that they’re always willing to talk with dissenters, but when people begin to verbally attack them, their families or loved ones, that’s when they shut the conversation down. 

Lindholm compared the current social media landscape to the Wild West, where people are still figuring out how to properly communicate. 

“It’s a cool concept, because we’ve never had such a freedom where we can communicate with elected officials,” he said. “But there are positive and negative aspects to it. You just have to remember the positive.” 

Psychologist Lisa Taylor, who also works as an adjunct professor at Laramie County Community College, did admit that there is a lack of civility online, especially in regards to politics. 

But she actually believes the landscape is getting better, not worse as many would like to believe. Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed. 

All three believe that people are emboldened by the anonymity that the Internet provides, where they can say whatever they want and won’t experience any real consequences. 

“There is a way to fix this issue: we have to find forums to talk about issues in a respectful manner,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we have to agree on these issues, but we can at least disagree in a civil manner and move forward. Maybe we have to recognize that the Internet isn’t the best way to have some of these tough conversations and we have to engage in another way.” 

Taylor pointed to a recent story about talk show host Ellen Degeneres and former president George W. Bush, who were photographed sitting together and laughing at a football game.

Degeneres stated on her television show that she was friendly with the former president and stressed she believes in being kind to everyone, regardless of differences. Taylor agreed with Degeneres and applied that sentiment to citizens engaging with elected officials. 

“You can’t walk into these conversations with the goal of changing someone’s mind,” she said. “You can have a discussion and share why you think they’re wrong, but when you go in with the mindset of completely changing someone else’s opinions, you’re just going to get upset and frustrated.” 

Lindholm, Von Flatern and Taylor agreed that people engaging with others online about a topic they feel passionate about should take a moment to make sure they are clear-minded. 

They should also ask themselves whether they would say something impassioned to the face of the person they are communicating with. If so, the message or comment should be sent. If not, the person should come back later and try to write something passionate, yet polite. 

Lindholm and Von Flatern want constituents to reach out when they agree or disagree about a stance they have. They encourage it. 

But once name-calling, cursing or being a “Billy Badass” (as Lindholm calls it) begins, people shouldn’t be surprised if there’s no response.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that we can agree to disagree,” Taylor said. “I have faith that we can get back to being more civil. We just have to remember things aren’t as black and white as we believe.” 

Charter schools achieve big scores with small classes

in Education/News
Charter School
2290

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A focused curriculum, targeted tutoring and behavioral adjustments all contribute to the above-average statewide education testing scores posted by two Wyoming charter schools, according to their officials.

Of the four charter schools listed in the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (TOPP), two scored far above the state proficiency rate in all categories for the 2018-2019 school year.

The TOPP test is a state-mandated measure of proficiency for public school grades three through 10 in the areas of math, English and science.

Snowy Range Academy, of Laramie, and PODER Academy, of Cheyenne, topped the charts with some of the highest scores and participation rates in the state.

“(TOPP testing) is really like the Super Bowl for us at the end of the year,” PODER Chief Operations Officer Nick Avila said.  “It’s a team effort, and it reflects on the school.”

While some of his educators disagree with tests as a measure of student learning, Avila said everyone at PODER recognizes the importance of TOPP testing and works toward helping their students succeed.

“It’s not really how smart you are, but how well you can take tests,” Avila explained. “We tackle the methodology of good test taking head on.”

It all begins with attitude.

“There’s a few things we do to achieve success with our students: No. 1 is we focus on behavior from the start,” Avila said. “We try to get the kids to engage, to listen, to increase attention span.”

Getting kids to sit still and study may be the obvious approach to improving classroom learning, but PODER doesn’t stop at the classroom.

“The other main component is the parents,” Avila said. “Typically when you have a struggling student, it’s usually something coming from the home.”

As problems are identified with each student, parents are called in to help discover the best solutions. This can mean a parent has to change their work-week plans or even take time off, which ruffles some feathers, but Avila said they are reminded that attending PODER is a choice.

“Our school is not going to work for every student — that’s just a reality,” he said. “But having options out there is really important.”

After aggregating all the state’s TOPP scores, the state’s average proficiency levels are between 40 percent to 60 percent, with about 7,000 students tested.

PODER’s average TOPP score was 77 percent and its lowest was 67 percent for fourth grade English, well above the state’s 49 percent in the same category. PODER’s highest score was 92 percent for fifth grade math, compared to the state’s 55 percent.  

PODER was founded in 2012 and originally offered course instruction for kindergarten through ninth grade. In 2016, the academy responded to parent requests for additional schooling by adding a secondary academy, which serves students through 12th grade. Approximately 300 students attend the school with a near equal split between the elementary and secondary courses.

About 40 miles east on Interstate 80, the Snowy Range Academy, founded in 2001, has about 235 students enrolled and instructs grades kindergarten through eighth. 

Snowy Range Principal John Cowper said the school’s focus on teaching without the social events he said are present in many public curriculums helped Snowy Range top the TOPP tests.

“We do not spend a lot of time with activities in our school that are not academically oriented,” Cowper explained. “Halloween parties, Valentine’s parties, Christmas parties — they don’t exist. We believe in all that, and we celebrate it outside of school. But, school is not the time to take away from instruction in order to do that.”

Awarded a Blue Ribbon for High Performance by the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, Snowy Range has been recognized for its output of high achievers and celebrates that success, Cowper said, but now, the school is changing its focus.

“This last year we were shooting for growth in our students,” he said. “We did see slight growth, but not what we were shooting for, so we will try harder next year.”

Snowy Range defines growth as the difference between individual students’ test scores year to year.

“From the educator end, we have to really make sure we are identifying those students who are low performers and triangulating their performances,” Cowper said. “Then, we create individual plans for those students.”

Plans can include learning interventions during the school day, after-school tutoring and schooling during winter and summer breaks.

When it comes time for TOPP testing, Cowper said he hands out mints to all the students and gives the school a big pep talk. But at the end of the day, the test is not treated as the be-all, end-all indicator of student success. 

“We recognize these test scores are a one-day snapshot in a child’s life,” Cowper said. “It may be their best day or it may not. So, it’s hard to put a lot of emphasis on the test results.”

Snowy Range’s average TOPP score was 83 percent, with its lowest score being 71 percent in fourth grade English. And its highest was 90 percent, which it achieved in third grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math and eighth grade English.

Both Snowy Range and Poder reported 100 percent participation in the TOPP testing, higher than many public schools in their areas with larger student populations.

“Unless we have an exemption from the state, we must find a time to test that child,” Cowper said. “We don’t stop until we have every child on the list tested.”

With fewer students than other public schools in their communities, the charter schools also had smaller test pools. Snowy Range’s smallest test pool was six to nine students for seventh grade English. It’s largest pool was 20 to 29 students for many of its elementary level categories. 

PODER’s smallest pool was also six to nine for all categories tested on the tenth grade level, and its largest was 30 to 39 for the third grade categories.

Looking forward, Avila said PODER’s model is working, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.

“We set our target high, and we achieved that,” he said. “But every year is different for us. If we start seeing our scores slide over time, we’ll reevaluate our approach to the teaching model.”

Although far from the R-word, Wyoming’s economy is slowing

in Economic development/News
Wyoming Economy Chart
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economy continues to grow, but it’s at a slower pace than in the past – raising the question of whether a recession is in the near future. 

Consider this: Wyoming’s number of single-family residential building permits increased by just six in the first eight months of the year over the same period last year. 

That’s according to the Wyoming MACRO Report, a quarterly publication looking at economic and revenue data.

Non-farm employment is up only 1.3 percent in August of this year, compared to August 2018, blunted by 1,400 jobs lost in mining – including coal — and virtually no growth in oil and gas jobs, the report states.

Natural gas production was down 11.2 percent in August compared to August 2018, and coal production was down 8.9 percent in the first eight months of the year. On the other hand, oil production was up 17.3 percent in an August year-over-year comparison, the report said. 

Generally, a recession is defined as a decrease in gross domestic product over two successive quarters. The data in the MACRO report does not show Wyoming in such a contraction.

However, the economy of the state – and the country – haven’t been in a recession for a decade. They may be overdue for one.

“The average economic expansion is much shorter than this,” said Anne Alexander, a University of Wyoming associate vice provost and economist. “It’s now the longest we’ve had. But it’s called a cycle for a reason. They do turn.”

The reasons Wyoming economic growth is decelerating have to do with the trade wars, the headwinds that coal has faced in recent years and the effects of a slower national economy, Alexander said. 

“It’s a combination of national, international and our own state’s circumstances,” she said. 

There is no formula for economists to predict a recession with certainty. But Alexander said it’s more likely than not that the economy headed toward a larger slowdown. 

“The indicators have been pointing to that way for a while,” she said. “The arrival time might already be here or might be early 2020.”

Across the country, manufacturing is downU.S. home sales are steady but prices are down and rail freight volumes are down, she said. 

Wyoming typically gets an advance warning – sometimes six months — before a recession, said Jim Robinson, principal economist for the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division. 

That’s because the national economy often heads south before the state’s. For instance, when the demand for factory goods decreases, it takes some time for manufacturing energy demand to also decline, Robinson said, and Wyoming’s primary export is energy.

Robinson, who helps put together the MACRO and other economic reports, said he is keeping an eye on retail sales in a sector known as discount grocery stores and super centers. Think Walmart or Sam’s Club. 

“That subsector for Wyoming is down 4.5 percent this year,” he said. “That’s consumer spending. That’s important.”

The decrease may have to do with President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, which boosted consumer spending in 2018.

“That’s not happening to the same degree this year,” he said. “But also, consumers are starting to pull back this year.”

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