Strengthening Education In Wyoming

Strengthening Education Reporting is a reporting initiative that focuses on critical problems and successes in Wyoming ‘s education system. 

Wyoming Public Media received a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant to strengthen education reporting in Wyoming as part of the national American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen program. This long term national public media commitment, supported by the CPB, assists public broadcasting stations in reporting on a wide array of education issues that impact on graduation rates in their communities.  

Building a strong education culture in communities starts with public awareness and involvement. Public radio reaches thousands of listeners, and can play a significant role in building awareness and focusing public attention on issues that shape education in Wyoming.

WPM’s long term goal to make this position a permanent part of the network’s reporting team. WPM is looking for support from individuals and entities who have a passion for education, and who want to make a difference in Wyoming’s future. 

Support comes from:

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and from these Wyoming Foundations:

  • Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation
  • John P. Ellbogen Foundation
  • B.F and Rose H. Perkins Foundation
  • Seidler Foundation / Sam and Carol Mavrakis
  • Joe and Arlene Watt Foundation

View information on NPR State Impact Education programs from the following links:
Florida, Indiana, Ohio.

We welcome ideas about stories we can cover.  We also would like to hear your education success stories as well as failures.  If you’d like to share information, please email: aschran1@uwyo.edu, btwo@uwyo.edu and ckuzmych@uwyo.edu

Aaron Schrank

As more schools make safety and security a priority, School Resource Officers—or SROs—have become the fastest growing job in law enforcement. External threats are rare—and most research suggests that putting cops in schools actually has a negative impact on education. But proponents say, the good officers do for schools and communities can’t always be measured. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank spent a day with some SROs and has this report.

Aaron Schrank

In the 2011-2012 school year, Wyoming ranked fourth in the country for sending students to cops and courts. Cheyenne’s Johnson Junior High School referred students to law enforcement at a rate 15 times the national average.  

“I started at Johnson in the fall of 2011,” says Manny Fardella, a School Resource Officer, or SRO, with the Cheyenne Police Department. 

“Johnson was a busy school,” says Fardella. “They did have a lot disturbances and fights. There was some drug activity. There was a whole bunch of things going on.”

This weekend, a Wyoming homeschooling group will hold its annual conference in Powell.

Homeschoolers of Wyoming is a loose-knit, faith-based organization of homeschooling families in the state. There are more than 2,000 home-schooled students in the state, according to some estimates.

“We hold this event annually to encourage the parents who are doing this day-to-day at home, and also to help equip them and answer any questions that they might have,” says Homeschoolers of Wyoming co-president Heather Hager.  

gosarforgovernor.com

The Wyoming State Board of Education reviewed and approved new science standards at their meeting in Laramie last week. The vote was unanimous. The standards will be sent to Governor Matt Mead for a 10-day review. 

The last time the Wyoming State Board of Education revised science standards was in 2003. Board Chairman, Pete Gosar, says since the standards haven't been revised in so long, Wyoming is behind, but he imagines that the new standards will help Wyoming students better compete with others.

Caroline Ballard

  

At the Women in STEM conference, more than 500 middle and high school girls descended on the University of Wyoming campus to learn more about STEM careers. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.  

The girls get to attend three workshops out of a possible 25 options, and choices range from animal husbandry to chemistry and robotics.

Holly Ramseier is a senior in Chemical Engineering at UW, and is helping out today. She says the conference is all about getting your feet wet and seeing what you like. 

Jennifer Becker

At a recent school board meeting, Laramie High School senior Rihanna Kelver showed up to tonight’s school board meeting with a call to action.

“I am asking that the Board take initiative now to protect these students,” Kelver says. “As soon as we lose a student by the 50 percent rate suicide that transgender youth face, the blood will be on our hands.”

Courtesy Tall Truth

A few weeks back, an email landed in parent Annie Band’s inbox asking if she wanted to opt her child out of a presentation.

“My stomach kind of dropped,” Band says.

That’s because she’d heard the speaker’s name—Shelly Donahue—before, and knew she had a controversial way of talking about sex.  

“I’d already watched enough of her videos to know that her message contained a lot of misinformation, outright falsehoods, shaming, damaging language, gender stereotyping,” Band says.

  

A group of Wyoming school districts is requesting to meet with lawmakers this summer to resolve concerns about funding.

In March, the Legislature passed a budget cutting $36 million in K-12 funding over the next two years. That’s a cut of more than one percent.

The decrease was taken out of an adjustment for inflation known as the ‘external cost adjustment.’

Campbell County Superintendent Boyd Brown is one of 28 superintendents who signed a letter asking to be allowed to make their case before the Joint Education Interim Committee.

Wyoming is replacing its current statewide standardized test, and is cutting ties to a testing group in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest as it selects a new vendor. 

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is one of the main providers of multi-state tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Wyoming has been a member of the consortium since 2010. While it doesn't currently use the SBAC test, the state will likely consider it, among other options, in the coming months.  

Aaron Schrank

This story is part of the NPR reporting project School Money, a nationwide collaboration between NPR’s Ed Team and 20 member station reporters exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students.

Nine years ago, Mark Shrum moved his family to remote Gillette, Wyoming for two reasons: a coal mine job and good schools.

This March, Shrum was laid off from the Powder River Basin’s Buckskin coal mine, but he’s not leaving.

Aaron Schrank

University of Wyoming senior Ashlee Enos is in a crowded campus ballroom, watching a hip-hop artist from the Crow Nation who goes by the name ‘Supaman’ do his thing.

“I think it’s awesome that we have someone who’s so into the culture, and wants to give cultural awareness to the public,” Enos says.

Enos is a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe. She says there aren’t many others at UW.

“It’s a very small number,” she says. “Maybe less than five.”

Less than one percent of total students here identify solely as American Indian—just 91 of more than 13,000.

via Clear Creek Facebook

A substitute teacher in Johnson County School District claims administrators at Buffalo’s Clear Creek Middle School mishandled an offensive student project.

According to a news release written by teacher John Egan and published on social media this week, the 7th grade social studies project was a cereal box decorated with a picture of a stereotyped Mexican man with a cardboard knife sticking into him. The box was captioned “Can you pin the knife in the Mexican?”

Micah Baldwin, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Last year, when Tongue River High School students Taylor Holiday and Kylee Knobloch were asked to come up with a project for their leadership club, they decided to tackle a real-world problem.

“There was a few kids in our school that seemed to be struggling with drugs a little bit,” says Holiday. “So we thought, ‘what if we could make the change in this school that helped kids get away from issues like that?’”

Tom Kelly via Flickr Creative Commons

UPDATE: Carbon County School District One Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to close Sinclair Elementary.

The Carbon County District One school board will decide Thursday whether or not to close Sinclair Elementary School. 

Superintendent Fletcher Turcato recommended closing the school, which would save the district about $100,000 a year, due to legislative cuts to school funding.

Turcato says it’s not an easy recommendation to make, but it’s necessary after lawmakers cut funding by 1.2 percent over the next two years.

Wyoming Public Media

On Wednesday, March 9, Aaron Schrank hosted a live Twitter chat with Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter. He posed questions about the 2016’s legislative session’s impact on education in the state—including school funding cuts and education-related bills that passed and failed this year.

WEA has been monitoring the session closely. How will the Legislature’s 2016 decisions impact Wyoming’s K-12 education in the years ahead?

The hashtag #WPREdTalk and #wyoedchat allowed for anyone to tweet questions.

WEA

On Wednesday, March 9, from 5:00pm to 5:45pm, Aaron Schrank will be hosting a live Twitter chat with Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter. He'll be posing questions about the 2016’s legislative session’s impact on education in the state—including school funding cuts and education-related bills that passed and failed this year.

WEA has been monitoring the session closely. How will the Legislature’s 2016 decisions impact Wyoming’s K-12 education in the years ahead?

Wyoming State Science Fair

This weekend, students in grades 6-12 will compete in the Wyoming State Science Fair. The Science Fair is a competition where students conduct original scientific research - and collect and analyze data. The students present their findings on a poster and are interviewed by judges in their respective fields. The earlier rounds include individual school competitions, followed by regionals. About 900 students enter in the earlier rounds, but only a third advance to the final round, the State Science Fair.

Courtesy Sherman Indian High School

This is part two of a series. Listen to part one here.

At the start of his senior year at Wyoming Indian High School, Tim O’Neal was struggling.

“I was just drinking, partying, trying to be cool,” says O’Neal. “It messed with my schoolwork. My whole class schedule—all seven classes—I was failing and there was no way I could make up the grades, so I just asked my parents if I would be able to go to a boarding school.”

Miles Bryan

In a classroom at a Riverton activity center kids are sitting in a “connection circle.” They toss a ball around, and whoever has it has got to say what makes them happiest.

“I’m happiest when I am around my family,” one girl says before bouncing the ball to a boy. “I’m happiest when I’m riding my dirt bike,” he replies.

The idea is that if two kids are happy when they are doing the same thing, they make a connection. It wouldn’t feel out of place at an  alternative high school–it’s actually an alternative to juvenile detention.

Jisc, Flickr Creative Commons

At Powell High School, students can blend their classroom learning with an online course or two.

“They could be taking a foreign language such as German that we don’t offer,” says Park County Superintendent Kevin Mitchell. “They could be taking science classes that we don’t offer.”

AARON SCHRANK/WPR

The Albany County School District #1 Board is considering a policy meant to protect the rights of transgender students. The Board has drafted two different proposals to that end.

Both policies would do many of the same things—like require school district staff to address students by the name and pronoun consistent with the gender identity they express at school.

David Amsler via Flickr Creative Commons

Platte County School District is affirming students’ right to pray in school after an incident this year drew the attention of a national Christian legal advocacy group.

In October, some students formed a prayer circle in Glendo High School’s cafeteria. Administrators say a parent lunch monitor and the school principal told the students to pray elsewhere because of concerns about separation of church and state.

Willow Belden

How might Wyoming benefit now that No Child Left Behind has been replaced?  

Comment on this topic on the Wyoming Public Media Facebook page.

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

By contributing your comment, you consent to the possibility of having it read on the air.   

Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr Creative Commons

As the number of people taking the GED exam in Colorado drops, more are traveling to Wyoming to take alternatives to the test.

The GED exam was revamped, computerized and privatized last year. Wyoming offers another test for those seeking an equivalent to a high school diploma—called the HiSET—while Colorado does not.

Kelly Willmarth is program manager of the adult career and education system at Laramie County Community College. She says, so far this year, 30 percent of her HiSET test-takers in Cheyenne were from Colorado. That’s up from 11 percent last year.

Aaron Schrank

With about 600 students, Wyoming Virtual Academy—or WYVA—is the largest online learning program in the state. But the only physical trace of it is a nondescript 3-person office building in Lusk.

“This office here, we have our registrar here, our compliancy coordinator, and myself the operations manager,” says Kristen Stauffer.

She points out a map of Wyoming hanging in the office lobby. It’s dotted with pushpins—each representing a recent WYVA graduate.  

Craig Ferris begins his morning with an unscheduled stop in his black suburban.

"I usually have to come get these guys at least once a week," Ferris says, honking his horn.

Ferris is best known around here as the basketball coach who's led Wyoming Indian High School to four state championships. But he also works for the elementary school as what's called a "home-school coordinator."

The job seems to be equal parts mailman, social worker and taxi driver.

Wyoming Public Media

On November 18, Aaron Schrank hosted a live Twitter chat with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. He posed questions about career readiness, as WDE recently created its Wyoming Career Readiness Council and is working to create a strategic plan to improve career readiness in Wyoming schools. The hashtag #WPREdTalk allowed for anyone to tweet questions.

Read through the Twitter chat below.

Aaron Schrank/WPR

After months of work, a legislative committee decided Tuesday not to make any changes to the way schools are funded. 

The Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration voted not to draft a new school funding bill, but to stick with the model the state has used for the past decade.

Department of Education

This Wednesday, November 18, from 5:45pm to 6:30pm, Aaron Schrank will be hosting a live Twitter chat with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. He'll be posing questions about career readiness, as WDE recently created its Wyoming Career Readiness Council and is working to create a strategic plan to improve career readiness in Wyoming schools.

On Twitter, use the hashtag #WPREdTalk. Anyone can tweet questions using that hashtag, and Aaron will be picking some of those questions to pose to the Superintendent.

Photo by Ikhlasul Amal, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Inside the home of the Williams family, in Centennial, Wyoming, it looks like a cross between a classroom and a call center. Five children, ages six through 16 are wearing headsets and staring at computer screens.

“Mom, what are we doing next?” yells 6-year-old Selah Williams.

“I think we’ll do reading,” says Liz Williams. “Do you want to get your storybook out?”

The Williams kids are full-time students at Wyoming Virtual Academy—or WYVA—one of two statewide virtual public schools in Wyoming. Liz says WYVA allows her to be more hands-on with their learning.

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