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‘Rugged individualism’ may contribute to high Mountain West suicide rates, says expert

in Uncategorized/News/Health care
A sense of “rugged individualism” may contribute to the fact that the Mountain West states have some of the highest suicide rates in the nation, according to an expert in Cheyenne.
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By Cowboy State Daily

A sense of “rugged individualism” may contribute to the fact that the Mountain West states have some of the highest suicide rates in the nation, according to an expert in Cheyenne.

Linda Goodman, the chief clinical officer at Peak Wellness Center in Cheyenne, said people suffering from depression or other issues in Wyoming and other rural states resist seeking assistance from counselors.

“The rugged individuality is a big piece of it,” she said. “The mentality that ‘I just need to cowboy up and be tough.’ That rugged individualism says ‘I need to be able to handle my problems by myself.”

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control set Wyoming’s suicide rate at 26.9 per 100,000 people, the third highest ranking in the country. Wyoming joined Montana, Utah, Idaho and Colorado among the states with the 10 highest suicide rates in the nation.

Nationally, suicides have contributed to what was reported in a Detroit newspaper as a reduction in the life expectancy of Americans.

Author Mitch Albom wrote that death rates are rising among working class people who are middle aged and older, largely from what he described as “deaths of despair,” suicides and complications that arise from alcohol and drug abuse among people who believe they cannot achieve the “American dream.”

Goodman said she believes such feelings are often seen among the children of families who survived the Great Depression and World War II and vowed to give their children everything they needed to live the American dream.

“And for some of us, that is looking less and less like the American dream we had envisioned,” she said. “For some Americans today, it means having to let that dream go and if you don’t have the resilience to have another dream that emerges, then you are left with despair.”

Many people found themselves homeless or broke with the turbulent economies of recent years,” Goodman said.

“For people that had the ability to say ‘I’m going to drop back … I’m going to get back on my feet,’ that was fine,” she said. “But for people who did not have that, they turned to ways to avoid having to deal with those problems. That can be through the use of alcohol, it can be through the use of drugs, it can be through depression …”

Goodman said one thing that can help someone suffering from despair is for those people to help others who are less fortunate.

“There’s nothing that will help you more to feel like you have meaning in your life than to help someone else,” she said.

This story has been updated. A previous version of this story misstated the suicide rate.

Spending data provides window into state expenses, but lacks big picture

in Government spending/News
Wyoming’s checkbook contains a mountain of information about state agency spending, but it’s far from a full accounting of Wyoming’s budget
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s checkbook contains a mountain of information about state agency spending, but it’s far from a full accounting of Wyoming’s budget.

“There’s a lot in the checkbook, but there’s also a lot missing,” said Kevin Lewis, an Equality State Taxpayers Association (ESTA) researcher. “The auditor’s office only tracks the checks they write, and some agencies use their own internal accounting system.”

After a years-long legal battle between ESTA, American Transparency and the state, newly elected Wyoming State Auditor, Kristi Racines, released the checkbook shortly after taking office in January. The checkbook contains approximately 4.9 million line items of expenditures made by state agencies during the last six years, but it does not include several spending categories such as state employee salaries or victims’ benefit payments.

Additionally, Lewis said portions of the released information are missing identifying codes.

The coding system is used so the data can be broken down by agency and spending category, but some codes fall short of identifying anything more than the department that ordered the expenditure.

“You’ll frequently see (in the checkbook) Wyoming Department of Transportation only, or Attorney General only,” Lewis said. “In general, you’d like to not have that, because it makes it difficult to figure out where the money is being spent.”

Confidential payments

Releasing information to the public is a complex process, but it boils down to fulfilling information requests, Racines said.

“Payroll is different than writing a check to someone,” she said. “The auditor’s office doesn’t deal with salaries, it deals with paychecks.”

Paychecks can include confidential information about employees, so Racines said her office has to approach releasing paycheck data carefully as some of it might be covered under various confidentiality laws, both state and federal.

Regardless of the hurdles, she said the answer to why payroll information wasn’t in the checkbook is simple.

“It wasn’t in the request,” Racines explained.

If the information were to be requested, she said the office would release the information, but only after they reviewed state and federal statutes and consulted with the Wyoming Attorney General’s office about what portions of the paycheck could be released.

Other confidential categories include victim benefit payments, some law enforcement activities, subsidized adoption payments and benefit payment assistance.

“There’s a lot of categories that might seem obvious,” Racines said. “And some of the categories are not as black and white as they may seem. An expert witness payment may be confidential while a case is ongoing, but not later.”

Because the checkbook is a line-by-line expense report, the auditor said it did not include many payments protected by confidentiality laws. While the payments themselves are confidential, the amount an agency spends on a confidential category is not. 

“The public can request to see how much an agency spent on something like victim’s benefit payments,” Racines explained. “But because that wasn’t in the (checkbook) request, we didn’t include it.”

The auditor’s office handles most of the state’s accounting, but some agencies use their own accounting system.

“We use Wyoming Online Financial System, which is like a gigantic version of QuickBooks,” Racines said. “Some agencies, like the University of Wyoming, have an internal system, though.”

When an agency uses a different system, Racines said she can’t access its records, and therefore, her office couldn’t include its expenditures in the checkbook. In addition to the university, Wyoming Game and Fish and WYDOT expenses were largely absent from the released data as well as Wyoming Pipeline Authority and Wyoming Infrastructure Authority line items.

“The infrastructure authority and the pipeline authority are a little different,” Racines explained. “They’re authorities, not agencies, so my understanding is the state cuts them a check for their budget, because it is appropriated by legislature. Then (the authorities) cut out individual checks.”

Coding system

Wyoming’s agencies use about 6,000 codes to categorize how state money is spent, but the system is old and has not been regularly updated, Racines said.

“Our data is only as good as our codes are,” she explained. “We have a lot of codes that are unused, and some that could maybe be better described.”

Lewis said without better code descriptions, the data reviewers are left to guess at what the state spends money on.

“On one line item, maintenance might be spelled out, but on another it could be just MT, then in another it’s ‘Op & Maint,’” Lewis said. “Spelling and consistency problems aside, the chart of accounts often doesn’t include enough information about the item. We can see the governor’s office spent ‘X’ amount on farm equipment in 2017, but we don’t know why.”

Even with missing codes and jumbled descriptions, Lewis said releasing the checkbook was strong step toward increasing transparency in Wyoming government, but it’s just the start.

“Even though we finally got the checkbook, we only have a little bit of the picture,” Lewis said. “We have a long way to go before we figure out the rest of it.”

Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups

in Economic development/News
Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups
Native American dancers from the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers group perform a women’s traditional dance Wednesday at the University of Wyoming, following the WY-Wind River: Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium. (Photo credit: Ike Fredregill)
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

LARAMIE — Complex bureaucracy could be one of the big hurdles facing Native American entrepreneurship in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a conference here.

Gordon opened the WY-Wind River: Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium on Wednesday at the University of Wyoming with remarks about moving forward together with Wyoming’s Native American population, embracing the outdoors and supporting entrepreneurship. 

“If you want to start a business in this day and age, you have tools … you can tweet to the outside world, you can reach anybody in the world,” Gordon said. “But if your own government is standing in the way of getting things accomplished, it can be really frustrating.”

A streamlined process through the levels of government — tribal, state and federal — needs to be created to facilitate economic growth on the Wind River Reservation and throughout Wyoming, Gordon said.

“In this administration, we want to do everything we can to ensure entrepreneurs can thrive,” he said.

Speaker and moderator Gary Davis, the Native American Financial Services Association executive director and Native Business Magazine publisher, agreed with the governor’s statements and said unity was the key to economic development.

“If we can’t advance together, we can’t advance,” Davis said.

Progress could require difficult conversations, he added, but without them, the Native American community could forget its entrepreneurial roots.

“In the most layman’s terms, economy is to create business that generates revenue, (turning each dollar over) at least seven times … before it leaves the community,” Davis said. “I struggle to think of one community that can say they do that in Indian Country.”

To build a better environment for starting businesses, he said Native Americans need to invest in themselves and seek buy-in from their governments.

“The trick is how do we not foster dependency when advocating for economic development,” Davis added.

Following the presentations, the symposium opened a panel moderated by Davis and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, which featured Native American influencers from around the state and ENDOW Executive Council Member Jerad Stack.

Panelist Cy Lee, an ENDOW executive council member and Wind River Development Fund executive director, discussed the potential for growing the tech industry on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Lee explained a redundancy loop for internet service was under construction on the reservation, which could lead to tech-centric job opportunities for reservation residents.

“When this loop is completed … an industry opens for growth,” he said.

By establishing the redundancy, the area on and around the reservation could have the best internet service stability in the state, Lee said. Internet stability could attract tech companies, opening a currently limited job market for reservation residents.

Another panel member, Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Riverton, touted the success of the Wind River Casino as a tribal entrepreneurial endeavor.

“When I started work (at the casino) in 2005, there were 62 employees,” Clifford said. “Before the economy and state funding crashed, we had over 800 employees. Sixty percent of those were were female. A lot of those workers were single moms and single dads.”

The biggest challenge facing the casino employees was child care, she said. A daycare is currently being developed on the reservation with a programming emphasis on Northern Arapaho culture, Clifford added. When the casino was founded, she said a large portion of the profits were leaving the community. During its expansion, the owners focused on becoming self-reliant.

“We started doing things for ourselves,” Clifford explained.

By doing so, they were able to create more jobs on the reservation and utilize previously abandoned buildings for services such as laundry.

The symposium was hosted by the High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI), and after the panel discussion, HPAIRI Director James Trosper announced a new partnership with the Wyoming Technology Business Center.

The partnership could provide Native American startups access to millions of dollars in micro-grants for market research. Additionally, the business center announced it was kicking off the Wind River Startup Challenge, an economic development initiative modeled after the Fisher Innovation Challenge and designed to financially reward entrepreneurship on the reservation.

The symposium closed with a performance by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers.

Microsoft contributes to computer science training

in News/Technology/Education
Microsoft contributes to computer science training
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Microsoft Corp. will provide more than $95,000 in grant money to the Wyoming Department of Education to provide computer science training for the state’s school districts.

The grant money is part of Microsoft’s TechSpark Initiative to offer computer science program implementation and training through the organization CSforAll — Computer Science for All.

CSforALL strives to make computer science a part of every student’s K-12 education.

The help from Microsoft is especially important now, given that the state Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that districts must offer computer science education to every K-12 student, said Laura Ballard, the Education Department’s supervisor for its student and teacher resource team. The goal must be reached by the 2022-23 school year.

“The timing is perfect,” she said. 

Training will involve several self-assessment and goal-setting activities.

“It will give districts the opportunity to think strategically about how to implement a high quality education in the districts,” Ballard said. 

Dennis Ellis, the manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark program in Wyoming, said in a news release that computer skills will be essential for students seeking jobs in the future.

“Making computer science education an opportunity within reach of every student ensures that Wyoming’s children can be future ready and will make our state attractive to public and private investments that can drive economic growth,” Ellis said.

Computer science education will be the first content area that educators and education officials in Wyoming will implement from the ground up, according to Ballard.

The task can be overwhelming to think about, she said Tuesday.

“When I was talking with some of our partners with Microsoft, they pointed me in the direction of CSforALL training,” she said. “It really is intended to help districts take a systems approach to create a plan to implement computer science.”

This training will help educators create a vision of computer science education and how it fits in their district’s vision for education, Ballard said.

Districts have to apply to attend the training, which will take place one of five locations around the state.

Locations and dates are:

·  Casper:  May 14-15; Oct. 15; and May 20, 2020.

·  Rock Springs: June 4-5; Nov. 14; and June 4, 2020

·  Cheyenne: June 11-12, 2019; Nov. 19, 2019; and June 11, 2020.

·  Worland: Aug. 5-6, 2019; Jan. 7, 2020; and Aug. 6, 2020.

·  Gillette: Sept. 24-25, 2019; Feb. 25, 2020; and Sept. 24, 2020.

School choice, virtual learning broaden options for Wyoming students

in News/Education
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By Annaliese Wiederspahn, Cowboy State Daily

Imagine your seventh grader, headphones on, attending algebra class at your kitchen table. Or watching your fourth grader wrap up a Wyoming history lecture at a coffee shop.

For students at the Wyoming Virtual Academy, all they need to attend class is a computer and a reliable internet connection.

Public school parents, teachers, administrators and students from WYVA joined homeschoolers, private schoolers and school choice advocates for a “Capitol Day” gathering last Friday at the Union Pacific Depot in Cheyenne.

They gathered for breakfast, presentations and a tour of downtown Cheyenne with the goal of supporting school choice and advocating for keeping the variety of educational options available to Wyoming kids as broad as possible.

WYVA is a school without traditional classrooms, a playground, a cafeteria or a gymnasium. The entirely online, tuition-free, full-time public school is a program of Niobrara County School District No. 1 in Lusk, but students log-in to classes from all across Wyoming. Some even attend from beyond Wyoming’s borders.

Celebrating its tenth year in existence, WYVA serves Wyoming students from kindergarten through high school.

“We have ranchers. We have farmers. We have families that travel. We have military families that have done school with us from overseas but they get to continue to have some consistency all the way from (kindergarten) up to (12th grade),” said Jennifer Schultze, a WYVA music teacher. “I think there was that need in our state of giving kids options where they weren’t traveling in a vehicle for an hour or two from the ranch into town.”

The event was hosted by the Wyoming Chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options and attended by several state lawmakers including State Senator Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) and State Representative Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne).

Students, teachers, administrators and parents swapped personal homeschooling and virtual learning stories, while always returning to the same refrain: whatever reason for choosing a particular schooling environment, that choice must be left in the hands of parents. Or, as was emblazoned on the t-shirts handed out at the door: #TrustParents.

“We have these certified teachers who just love the kids and they are really, really great people,” said WYVA Principal Joe Heywood. “I won’t ever leave Wyoming Virtual Academy just because I don’t want to leave this great group of teachers. I found kind of a gold mine of good people.”

Parents and administrators at WYVA say the quality of the teachers and the flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar schools allow kids who might not otherwise make it to graduation day to flourish.

“As a high school teacher, I have watched kids graduate under really challenging circumstances where they may have not been able to before with a family member with cancer, maybe they have a truck driver as a father and they can travel with him,” Schultze said. “We’ve had lots of teen parents that have graduated with us successfully.”

Homeschool mom Amy Nelson says there are lots of different reasons why parents choose to school from home, but whatever the environment, it’s crucial that parents retain the choice of where and how their child is educated.

“Traditional school doesn’t work for everybody,” said Nelson. “For me it was just, this is what I want to do. This is the time I don’t get back with my kids. They are thriving and they are enjoying it. So as long as that’s happening we will continue to make the choice to school at home.”

Range Writing: Colorado Wolf Project’s Deceit

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Writing: Colorado Wolf Project’s Deceit
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project (RMWP) has gone into full-steamroller mode in pushing for wolf reintroduction to western Colorado, recently publishing “Nine myths about gray wolves you shouldn’t believe.”[1]

But readers should beware that RMWP isn’t telling the whole truth when it responds to these supposed myths. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only tackle a few points, but rest assured that RMWP’s response to each of its nine points is oversimplified and misleading.

RMWP: “Gray wolves are extremely wary of humans. They are shy and retiring around people and will avoid them at all costs.”

Reality: Wolves that have no reason to fear humans are not shy and wary. While wolves were under federal protection, our family had wolves in our yard in rural western Wyoming, hundreds of miles south of Yellowstone National Park. That’s not odd for residents living in areas impacted by wolves: wolves created problems by hanging out in residential areas in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Ketchum, Idaho. Even the International Wolf Center acknowledges that human-habituated wolves are a problem.[2]

National park and state wildlife officials have killed wolves because of their bold or aggressive behavior towards humans in the Northern Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes states, as well as in Canada. And although rare, wolves are known to have killed humans in North America and in other countries (with the most recent reported attacks occurring last month in Tajikistan[3]). There are numerous other confirmed attacks on humans in which people were injured, but not killed, throughout the range of wolves.[4]

RMWP: “The truth is, wolf depredations on livestock still accounts for less than 0.1% of all livestock losses in the Northern Rockies, which includes Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Nearly all cattle, 99.9%, die from causes other than wolves. It’s simply a myth to believe that ranchers have much to worry about.”

Reality: {Excuse me while my head explodes.} First, not all livestock in the Northern Rockies graze on range inhabited by wolves, and it is well known that some ranch operations are impacted more than others. And confirmed livestock losses are only a small portion of the true numbers of livestock killed or injured by wolves.[5]

Since I live in the predator zone of Wyoming where wolves can legally be killed at any time, I do not receive reimbursement for livestock killed by wolves, so there is no incentive for me to have depredations confirmed or to report those losses. 

Lastly, the indirect but substantial economic cost of wolves is never discussed by wolf advocates,[6]but I know that after our last surplus-kill event (involving more than a dozen dead sheep and three injured livestock guardian dogs), the weights on our market lambs decreased by 10 pounds per lamb. That was an added economic blow, in addition to the direct losses, vet fees, added labor, and overall stress to both the flock and our family.

RMWP: “Many Coloradans don’t know that there are no established gray wolf packs in Colorado. Indeed, in Colorado, even wide-ranging lone wolves from the Northern Rockies are exceedingly rare.”

Reality: This is the oft-repeated refrain used to justify the release of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, even though a hunter shot and killed a wolf in Wyoming while the reintroduction program was being debated.[7]Colorado may not have any “established gray wolf packs” but every now and then, a wolf gets killed or photographed to prove their presence in the state.[8]Recognizing that dispersing wolves are how wolf populations expand into new areas, Colorado wildlife officials issue public reminders that “it is increasingly likely that the growing wolf populations and range in nearby states will eventually expand across state lines.”[9]

Myth: Gray wolves kill for sport.

RMWP: “Nope, not true. Wild carnivores do not kill for fun; they kill to survive, which typically is very hard for gray wolves. It’s worth remembering that only humans kill for fun.”

Reality: While we can’t tell for sure if the killing is “fun” or “for sport,” wolves – like other wild carnivores (think weasel in a hen house) – do surplus kill. For example, wolves killed 120 rams in one event in Montana,[10]more than 150 sheep in Idaho,[11]and 19 elk in one night in Wyoming.[12]Although some claim that surplus killing is rare, our family has experienced wolves inflicting surplus kills on our domestic sheep flocks twice in the last eight years, so it doesn’t seem all that rare.

RMWP: “Colorado has more public lands and a bigger prey population for gray wolves than anywhere in the world. There is no doubt that Colorado can not only accommodate gray wolves, but we can allow them to peacefully coexist with hunters and ranchers.”

Reality: Peaceful coexistence? That is a fantasy. We coexist, but it is not peaceful, and coexistence is not bloodless (see surplus killing section above). By the very nature of the predator-and-prey relationship, that will never change.


[1]https://blog.rockymountainwolfproject.org/blog/9-myths-about-the-gray-wolf-you-shouldnt-believe

[2]https://www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Too-Close-for-Comfort.pdf

[3]https://www.rferl.org/a/wolves-kill-two-women-in-tajikistan-after-villagers-hunting-rifles-confiscated/29808983.html

[4]https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/wolfrecovery/27/

[5]https://www.jstor.org/stable/40801500?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[6]https://www.beefmagazine.com/pasture-range/wolves-economic-bite-cattle-goes-way-beyond-predation

[7]https://www.amazon.com/Yellowstone-Wolves-Chronicle-Animal-Politics/product-reviews/093992370X

[8]https://www.outtherecolorado.com/are-there-wolves-in-colorado/

[9]https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=5845

[10]https://missoulian.com/news/local/wolves-kill-sheep-at-ranch-near-dillon/article_5ff01772-938f-11de-9aca-001cc4c03286.html

[11]https://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/newshound/2013/08/two-wolves-kill-176-sheep-1-night-near-idaho-falls

[12]https://www.idahostatejournal.com/wolves-kill-elk-but-didn-t-eat-any-meat/article_ee494313-5c20-5353-8452-86477ad7c777.html

LIFT Conference promotes leadership among high schoolers

in Economic development/News
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By Cowboy State Daily

This weekend in Casper, high school students came together to hear from a variety of speakers including Governor Mark Gordon, entrepreneur Jerad Stack, and Leadership Wyoming Executive Director Mandy Fabel, among others, at the second annual LIFT Wyoming Conference.

The conference, hosted at Natrona County High School, invited Wyoming’s future leaders to the table for panel discussions, seminars and networking as the state seeks ways to retain young talent and to encourage Wyoming’s young people to stay and brighten the future of local communities.

From the halls of Casper’s Natrona County High School, Frank Gambinosends us this report.

Sponsoring rodeo teams requires big bucks, but reaches bigger audiences

in Government spending/News/Tourism
Sponsoring rodeo teams requires big bucks, but reaches bigger audiences
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

When it comes to rounding up tourists, one of the best ways to nab their attention is through engaging narratives, according to Wyoming Office of Tourism Executive Director Diane Shober.

“Anytime you’re looking for a pitch into a larger audience, you want to have a compelling story with it,” Shober said. “Team Wyoming is a program built around pro rodeo cowboys and cowgirls. It is a way to take the image of the American cowboy and put a face and story with it.”

Created by the Office of Tourism in 2005, Team Wyoming brings together some of Wyoming’s top rodeo competitors in a marketing campaign focusing on the state’s strong ties to Western culture.“It’s a way to highlight Wyoming in the national conversation,” Shober explained. “We’re really leveraging the world’s love affair with the American cowboy.”

Comprised of seven members, the team competes in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events around the state throughout the year before heading to the National Finals Rodeo to compete and host autograph signings, press events, a trade show and a special breakfast with Wyoming legislators, fans and livestock contractors. 

“(The breakfast) is a salute to Team Wyoming in Las Vegas where the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) is held,” Shober explained. “We celebrate the team, the Wyoming contractors that provide livestock for rodeo events and any folks in Wyoming that are hired to work (at NFR).”

The price of publicity is not cheap, however, and in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Office of Tourism wrote checks to the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas for more than $20,000 each, according to information released in Wyoming’s checkbook by Wyoming State Auditor Kristi Racines.

“Twenty thousand dollars would be a lot for a breakfast, but those line items also include hotel rooms and rodeo tickets,” Shober said. “Back then, it was cheaper to buy bulk packages and provide them to people who wanted to attend the breakfast and rodeo, so there is a revenue component that is not reflected by those expenditures.”

From 2013 to 2015, the Office of Tourism provided interested parties with package deals purchased from the casino, she said. Sold at cost, the money was used to refund the Office of Tourism’s overall costs, which were paid for through its general fund.

During the 2013 NFR, the Office of Tourism reported it received about $8,700 in revenue to offset costs of about $23,500. In 2014, the office received approximately $13,200 in revenue during the NFR to offset its cost of about $22,600. And in 2015, the office received about $21,400 in revenue during the NFR, offsetting its cost of about $28,900.

“We have several sponsors for the event,” Shober said. “Over the years, they’ve covered a large portion of the costs. I have a sponsor that is going to cover the entire 2019 NFR event. So even though we pick up the bill, it doesn’t always mean that’s the cost to the Office of Tourism.”

On average, the office sent four to six employees between 2013 and 2015 for about four days of the NFR to promote Wyoming at various events and organize “meet and greets” with Team Wyoming, Shober said. While the employees’ accommodations were expensed to the state, she said additional hotel rooms were purchased from the Office of Tourism by Team Wyoming sponsors and other rodeo affiliates.

“We still do the breakfast annually,” Shober explained. “But we don’t do it at the Gold Coast Casino anymore. And we don’t do packages these days, because now the hotels are getting even stingier with their hotel rooms, and we’re not in the business of doing travel packages that way.”

For the last three years, she said the Team Wyoming breakfast was hosted at The D Hotel in Las Vegas, but the office is looking for a new venue in 2019.

As a whole, Team Wyoming has been a successful investment for the Office of Tourism, Shober said.

“When we started this, social media wasn’t really a thing yet,” she said. “But now, it’s part of the team members’ contracts, and we’ve seen that grow our brand.”

The office reported Team Wyoming’s social media accounts combined have about 100,000 followers. The Team Wyoming Facebook page has about 19,000 followers and posts videos promoting the team, some of which have been viewed more than 100,000 times.

But the big numbers come from the national coverage of the NFR. The Office of Tourism reported the NFR was attended by more than 177,000 people in 2017 and CBS Sports Network estimated each broadcast reached about 633,000 viewers.

“It’s not the rodeo crowd we’re marketing to necessarily — we’re marketing to potential visitors who want to come to the West,” Shober said. “This is about promoting Western culture and really elevating the Wyoming assets. It’s about that whole Western experience.”

Demolition begins on two historic Cheyenne buildings

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Work has begun to destroy two historic buildings in downtown Cheyenne so the city can build a new courthouse.

The 140-year-old Carey Building has been vacant for several years because of damage caused when the roof collapsed. The city bought the building and an adjacent one for $275,000 to provide space for the new court.

The buildings were too damaged to restore, leaving demolition as the city’s only option, said city Councilman Pete Laybourn.

“What happened was the roof failed, there was no repair, the water ran in, the mold grew,” he said. “So you had this perfect mess that really didn’t have another solution, unfortunately.”

Laybourn said the city should probably be more proactive in insisting that building owners maintain their property.

“Property rights are an important thing,” he said. “Property responsibilities go right along with it.”

The buildings feature an historic facade that is also being demolished, but that would have been a good addition to the new courthouse, said Brian Snyder, the owner of Bohemian Metals, a business on the same block as the Carey Building.

However, Laybourn said it would have been too expensive to save just the facade.

Computer standards to get another look in Riverton meeting

in News/Education
Wyoming computer science standards in K-12 education
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Eric Trowbridge understands the importance of a computer science education.

As chief executive officer of The Array School of Design & Technology, a private school in Cheyenne, he oversees a computer training program that includes teaching web development and coding for students 17 years and older. 

“It’s not a question of how important it is to the future; it is the future,” Trowbridge said of computer technology. “Every bit of the future for Wyoming is going to require computer science skills. If you do not know 20 to 25 years from now how to talk to computers, how to write code, you will not have a job.  Plain and simple.”

A big step toward this future will occur at 8 a.m. April 25, when the State Board of Education considers Wyoming’s draft K-12 computer science standards during its meeting in Riverton, he said. 

“Adopting the standards will put Wyoming at the top of all states for developing such a K-12 program in computer science,” Trowbridge said. 

Wyoming is believed to be the first state to have such standards. Standards were developed after the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2018 to require all public schools to offer a computer science education to K-12 students by the 2022-23 school year. They must be ready for implementation.

The Legislature’s action is a “leapfrog moment,” Trowbridge said. “Wyoming has been so far behind in (computer education); to jump ahead is a pioneering (move) that no one else has done before. We’re no longer the caboose.”

The Wyoming Department of Education organized a Standards Review Committee about a year ago in response to the legislation. The committee, made up of educators statewide, developed content and performance standards, which outline what to teach in each grade.

When the Education Department presented proposed standards to the Wyoming State Board of Education for approval at a meeting on March 21, the day ended with the standards left in limbo. While many who attended supported the standards, many others, notably other educators, took exception to the proposal and said the standards were too complex and would overwhelm overburdened teachers.

Others questioned the cost of implementation, estimated at $12.3 million, given the fact no extra funding was made available to put the standards in place.

The state board then rejected two proposals, one to approve the standards as submitted and another to send them back to the education agency for more work. Instead, the board directed the Standards Review Committee to keep working before the board’s April 25 meeting.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” Trowbridge said, adding that the move would water down the standards.  “We literally are putting it in a trash bag and throwing it out the window.”

But Walt Wilcox, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board’s action should not be seen as opposition to the standards, but instead as allowing more time to study ways to put them in place.

“No one is opposed to it (computer science standards), not the board or educators,” he said. “They are opposed to not having plans (in place) to do it.”

A lot of concern comes from elementary teachers who have not been taught how to teach the subject, Wilcox said. He pointed out the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are just now putting in place an introductory certification track for teachers in computer science and programming.

“Some teachers are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared wondering how (the standards) will get taught,” he said.

Others against adoption said they worried about what other subjects they would need to scuttle to provide time for the new standards.

The review committee has met once since the March 21 meeting, said Kari Eakins, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Chief Policy Officer.

During that meeting in Lander, “the review committee met consensus and felt like they were able to meet concerns,” she said.  

There will be another public comment period before April 25, she said. If the state board approves the standards, they will go to Gov. Mark Gordon for a 90-day review and for his decision.

“We’re doing something that Wyoming has never done before – adding a content area to the common core of knowledge,” Eakins said. “We are in a little bit of uncharted territory.”

Right now, as far as having enough time to implement the standards, the process is in “safe territory,” she said.

Wyoming State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, supports the standards.

“The standards really reflect what we’re trying to get after,” she said.

Ellis, a member of the Joint Education Committee that sponsored the 2018 legislation, said she was surprised and a little concerned about the outcome of the March 21 meeting and added legislators need to be kept informed about the process.

Wyoming’s students could lead the computer science field if the standards are adopted and if graduates can find places to work, Trowbridge said. 

He noted Array, formed in 2016, has placed 80 percent of its 33 graduates in computer-related jobs in Wyoming within 180 days of graduation. Their starting salaries are about $48,000 a year.  But it hasn’t been easy because tech presence is not that strong in the state, Trowbridge said. 

“If we don’t pass (the standards), we will never be able to recruit tech companies to create the jobs,” Trowbridge said.

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