Aaron Schrank

Education Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: aschran1@uwyo.edu

Before joining WPR, Aaron worked as a freelance reporter in Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in audio journalism from the University of Southern California. His radio work has aired on programs including NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Public Radio International’s The World. Aaron has roots in Phoenix, Arizona, Southern Illinois and New Jersey. When not reporting, he spends time hiking, camping, traveling and exploring film, music and food.

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As 1,600 first-year students descend upon the University of Wyoming this weekend, administrators are working hard to make a good first impression.

New students attend an orientation program called “Cowboy Connect.” Events and info-sessions are designed to prepare them for the academic and social changes that come with college life.

Recently, UW has put more focus on trying to increase retention rates. That’s the number of freshman students who return their sophomore year.

Aaron Schrank/WPR

Wyoming students who graduated high school in 2015 scored slightly higher on the ACT exam than last year’s seniors.

That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the test’s developer, ACT, Inc. Wyoming uses the ACT college entrance exam to measure student achievement.

The average composite score for Wyoming students was 20.2 out of 36—which puts the state in sixth place out of the 13 states where all students are required the ACT.

Wyoming Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Brent Bacon says that’s a slight increase from last year.

via Facebook

Wyoming students are heading back to school—and many will be welcomed into brand new buildings. The state is kicking off the school year with about $70 million in new education facilities—from a new elementary school in Casper to a new high school in Rock Springs.

Since 2002, Wyoming has put more than $3.5 billion into building and maintaining schools

School Facilities Department Director Bill Panos says this is the highest level of spending on school construction in Wyoming’s history.

Aaron Schrank

Fiorella Lazarte is an early literacy coordinator with Jackson’s Teton Literacy Center. Today, she’s driving across town to the home of one her 5-year-old students. 

“We’re going to Camilo’s home,” says Lazarte. “They live in the Virginian Apartments. And the Virginian Apartments itself is an area where the working class lives.”

Alliance for Historic Wyoming via Flickr Creative Commons

Officials at Albany County School District One are considering a new policy to protect and support transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The proposed policy would prevent schools in Laramie and surrounding areas from requiring students to use restrooms or play on sports teams that conflict with the gender identity they express at school.

District assistant superintendent Mike Hamel says the policy lays a broad framework for supporting and protecting transgender students on a case-by case basis, stressing privacy.

The percentage of Wyoming high school students scoring proficient or advanced on this year’s ACT is slightly lower than last year--but only by a couple of percentage points. 

That’s according to statewide high school assessment data released Tuesday by the Wyoming Department of Education.

"It is very stable," says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. "Not up, not down--from last year."

Aaron Schrank

Pope's Environmental Message Can Be Challenging For Coal Country Catholics

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is getting a thorough reading here in Wyoming—the country’s top coal-producing state. The letter presents a moral framework for approaching issues like global climate change. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, it’s a difficult subject for Catholics in the Cowboy State.   

via Defiance Against Natrona County Dress Code Facebook page

The Natrona County School Board approved a new dress code policy in June.

Trustee Rita Walsh says the District wanted policies to be more consistent across its schools—and to encourage “professional dress.”

“Our goal is to make prepared graduates—to make—as you come to school—your focus is education and learning,” Walsh says.

Aaron Schrank

Tonight’s class on the new papal encyclical at St. Paul’s Newman Center Catholic church in Laramie begins, well, in the beginning. Before parishioners dive into the Pope’s message, they read aloud from the creation story in Genesis.

The Pope’s letter began drawing a flurry of praise and condemnation before it was officially published. The teacher here, Father Rob Spaulding, points out that a draft was leaked to the press a few days early.

“So clearly it was something there was great interest about,” Spaulding says.

As Wyoming lawmakers revamp the state’s school funding model, they are touting data that suggests money spent on schools has paid off when it comes to global competitiveness in science and math.

That data comes from a study that compared scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress—or NAEP—with those on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—or TIMMS.

www.uwyo.edu

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to finalize UW’s 2017-2018 state budget request.

The University is asking the state for about $155 million more dollars to pay for ongoing projects, one-time expenses and campus construction during the two-year period. That’s on top of the more than $200 million dollars UW receives in state appropriations each year.

Jimmy Emerson via Flickr Creative Commons

The City of Riverton will hold a peace march this Saturday to celebrate tolerance and equality in the wake of the shooting of two Native American men by a white city parks worker last month.

Both victims were sleeping inside the Center of Hope detox center when they were attacked. James "Sonny" Goggles, Jr., 50, was seriously injured and Stallone Trosper, 29, died.

The event was organized by Ron Howard, an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who teaches preschool on the Wind River Reservation.

Aaron Schrank

On July 18, a white city parks employee walked into Riverton’s Center of Hope detoxification center with a .40-caliber handgun and shot two Native American men in the head while they slept.

The confessed shooter, 32-year-old Roy Clyde, told police he was targeting transients who he perceived as a nuisance to the city’s public spaces.

Aaron Schrank/WPR

Thanks to the Pope’s environmental encyclical, some Wyoming Catholics are studying big issues like global climate change for the first time. Laramie’s St. Paul’s Newman Center is hosting a 4-week course this summer to dig in to the document.

Aaron Schrank

Ryan Reed loves rodeo. And each July, he makes a pilgrimage here, to the so-called “Daddy of ‘Em All” in Cheyenne.

“You just feel like you’re on hallowed ground when you’re here.” Reed says.

Roaming the Frontier Days midway, this amateur steer wrestler and calf roper is like a kid in a candy store. 

“Yesterday, during the bareback bronc, I actually got some dirt flung on me,” says Reed. “I really felt like I’d been hit by some special dirt or something. That’s just kind of the feeling I have about the place.”

Wyoming Department of Education

Three years after Wyoming adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, schools here are still struggling to teach to the new standards. That’s according to survey results released this week by the Wyoming Department of Education.

Only about 1,000 teachers, 54 principals and 28 curriculum directors responded to the department’s survey. WDE acknowledged the response rate was low, but the information is helpful.

Courtesy Annie E. Casey Foundation

Wyoming has improved in national child well-being rankings over the past year, but still ranks very low when it comes to child health. That’s according the Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday by the Annie. E Casey Foundation.

Wyoming saw improvements in economic well-being, education and family & community concerns—and rose from 19th to 16th place overall in the annual rankings. But the Cowboy State still ranks 45th in the nation for child health.

Aaron Schrank

A look at what our news team has been up to during Cheyenne Frontier Days as well as the various stories being gathered and experienced. 

Wally Gobetz via Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. House and Senate will soon begin negotiations to reconcile two different bills that would rewrite the federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ education law.

The law has not been updated in 14 years. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—which was last revamped with NCLB in 2001. Last week, the House passed its own Republican-backed bill.

If Congress comes together on a bill that President Obama will sign, it would mean big changes for Wyoming.

Flickr Creative Commons

Results released Thursday by the Wyoming Department of Education show that students performed worse on this year’s standardized test than they did last year.

The Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students—or PAWS—measures students’ aptitude in math, reading and science.  The test is taken by students in grades 3 through 8.

Last year, 58 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient on reading. This year, less than 52 percent did. Math scores didn’t drop as sharply as reading—and actually rose slightly for some grade levels.

Commons

Plague Vaccine Could Bring Black Footed Ferrets Back To Meeteetse

A plague vaccine might help bring one of the most endangered mammals in North America back to Northwest Wyoming where they were discovered. Black Footed Ferrets may be restored to the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse, because their food, prairie dogs, are coming back.

Courtesy Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust

 

 

Kelly Matthews teaches special education at Jackson’s Colter Elementary School. She rents a studio apartment in town—above a garage workspace.

“It’s not an optimal place, but it’s a roof,” Matthews says.

Matthews makes $67,000 a year. That’s more than the $58,000 average for Wyoming teachers, but it’s not enough to get Matthews into a 2-bedroom place for her and her 8-year-old-son.

“He gets the bedroom, and mom gets the couch,” says Matthews. “I’ve been sleeping on the couch for two years.”

www.uwyo.edu

Future teachers studying at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education will have more help paying for school, thanks to a $1.8 million gift from Ray Kennedy.

Kennedy was a former teacher who retired in Laramie. He died May 1 at age 90. The Raymond D. Kennedy College of Education Scholarship fund represents his life’s savings. 

The College is still determining how exactly the scholarship will be disbursed, but John Stark with the UW Foundation says it will make a big difference for aspiring educators.

Ralph Alswang via Flickr Creative Commons

The White House says neither of the bills in Congress to rewrite the country’s chief federal K-12 education law would do enough to close the achievement gap nationwide.

In Wyoming’s lowest-performing schools, 48 percent of students score proficient in math, compared with 80 percent of students in other schools.

Nationwide, 29 percent of students at low-performing score proficient in math, compared with 65 percent at all other schools. A report released by the White House Monday shows similar gaps exist for reading and graduation rates—in Wyoming and around the country.

J. Stephen Conn via Flickr Creative Commons

Central Wyoming College is home to the state’s only Film & TV program. This summer, that program will become a full-fledged production company to put together a pilot for a crime drama set and shot on and around the Wind River Reservation.

The show will be called “Wind River,” and will star several professional actors from the Riverton area as well as Reservation locals.

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