SWEETWATER COUNTY — The students who are in school now will be the leaders of society during the 2045-2075 time frame. Looking ahead to the year 2050 locally, community and government leaders see changes coming to the educational system and the county.
What officials do not see in Sweetwater County’s future is Green River and Rock Springs expanding enough to become one big city. Some see trona still playing a huge role in Sweetwater County’s economic future.
Education—Back to the future
Sweetwater County School District No. 2 (SCSD No. 2) Superintendent Craig Barringer said his expectation for 2050 is that the early grades, K-6, will remain with essentially the same curriculum as at present, since students need the basics in reading, writing, math and science. Pre-school will likely become more information-oriented, though. Moreover, Barringer said grades 7-12 are likely going to see some changes, with students having to learn and absorb more than is the case at present.
“Education will become more personalized, always with teachers, but with instruction more individualized. Teachers will be facilitators,” Barringer suggested. The online learning which the COVID-19 Coronavirus has made necessary will continue long after the virus has disappeared.
Some educational components that were part of college curricula for their parents and grandparents will be routine material for grade 7-12 students by 2050. As science and technology advance, there will simply be more to learn.
Business internships for high school students will become more common, as will internships with different community agencies and healthcare providers. Learning will be substantially more hands-on than was the case in the 20th and early 21st centuries. These changes are already taking place, Barringer said. Business leaders will be looking to hire graduates who already have experience in their fields, rather than hiring grads who have only raw talent to offer and a wish to gain experience.
In fact, Barringer said he hopes to see some of these initiatives get going within the next five years, and be well-established by 2050.
Barringer said he expects there to be a strong need for a social-emotional component in the curriculum. The Green River superintendent, from Libby, Montana, originally, expressed concern that individualized instruction, with students being more isolated from one another, will need to work at developing socialization skills which their parents and grandparents learned as a matter of course in their large-group classrooms.
In the work world you have to possess an ability to work with others, including with people you don’t agree with on different issues.SCSD No. 2 Superintendent Craig Barringer
In addition to being a Rock Springs City Councilor, David Tate is also the Community Relations Director for Western Wyoming Community College. Tate said he expects “tons and tons of online learning by 2050” both at the college level and among K-12 students. There will always be a need in some disciplines such as nursing and biology for hands-on training, Tate said, but for other disciplines in-classroom teaching may well be the exception rather than the rule.
Tate’s only concern with that future scenario echoed Barringer’s concern.
“With at-home schooling, you don’t learn socialization skills that you need in the work world,” Tate said.
He added that students will have to learn socialization skills in a broader context, through community activities as much as at school.
Be those socialization concerns what they are, or will be, it appears that by 2050 the idea of grade school students being together in a classroom with 25-35 other students, sitting at desks, all day, every weekday, may be as much a part of mid-21st century nostalgia as the one-room schoolhouse has been for the past several decades.
Two cities to share and share alike?
One question that pops up every now and then is if Rock Springs and Green River are ever likely to expand outward and meet somewhere along Interstate 80, becoming essentially one community and merging into one city.
The answer to that question is no, according to Rock Springs City Planner Laura Leigh. Local geography with White Mountain, along with the need for Anadarko and the Bureau of Land Management to release lands, would have to be prerequisites for any physical joining together of Rock Springs and Green River. Leigh expressed strong doubts that anything like that would ever happen, given local geography, since White Mountain certainly isn’t going anywhere.
“Most of Rock Springs’ expansion is toward the east, while Green River is primarily expanding toward the west,” Leigh said.
However, Leigh envisions a future in which the two cities will share more in the way of infrastructure.
Both Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo and Green River Mayor Pete Rust agree with Leigh. The mayors both wondered why in blazes Rock Springs and Green River do not do a better job of sharing resources, and as a result, lower costs to taxpayers through economies of scale and scope. Both mayors said that by 2050 they expect the two cities to be operating more as one unit, even if not joined communally and politically.
“We have the same services, but they are managed differently,” Kaumo said. “We need to centralize resources and have more accountability to taxpayers…For example, with firefighting, having three different entities – Rock Springs, Green River and the county -doesn’t make sense. We need to share our resources, pool our resources, buy in volume and reduce costs through economies of scope. Supplies aren’t cheap.”
Kaumo went on to suggest that even Wamsutter, Farson, Bairoil, and Granger could benefit from a greater cooperation among county towns and cities operating as more of a complete package.
“We need to overcome territorialism,” Rust said. The Green River mayor went on to suggest, as an example, that Rock Springs and Green River could do recycling in an economic way, with solid waste disposal becoming more of a countywide, single service.
“Intergovernmental cooperation needs to be expanded,” Rust said. “Governmental entities are going to have to become more interdependent by 2050.”
Leigh concurred. “There will be a lot more connectivity between the communities in infrastructure by 2050,” she said. “Socially, Rock Springs and Green River are a (single) community.”
Sweetwater County to become the best version of itself
United States Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) summed up the future prospects for Sweetwater County in an optimistic way:
“Former President Theodore Roosevelt famously visited Wyoming in 1903,” Barrasso began.. “On his visit, he was quoted saying ‘People of Wyoming, I believe in you and your future. The government can only supplement…the work of the individual, and the work of the individual depends upon the character of the individual.’
“President Roosevelt was right to believe in the people of Wyoming and our future,” Barrasso continued. “This is especially true in Sweetwater County. For decades, the people of Sweetwater County have led the way in energy production and mineral extraction – in particular trona. Looking ahead to the year 2050, I am confident Sweetwater County will continue to lead America’s soda ash production.”
“Wyoming has proved to be a world leader in innovation and research—specifically in the energy industry. There is no question that new technology will play a huge role in shaping Wyoming’s economy in 2050. In 30 years, I believe there will also be new technologies in medical research that will help increase the quality of life for many in Wyoming. This is something we can truly all look forward to.”
With his background as a medical doctor prior to his entrance into politics, Barrasso should know.
“In the years ahead, we will continue to face enormous challenges and must make the best decisions possible for our communities,” Barrasso added.
“Dealing with these issues will require bold leadership. Fortunately, Sweetwater County is full of promising young leaders who are ready and willing to fill that role. Every year I make it a priority to visit with as many Sweetwater County students as I can,” Barrasso said. “Whether it’s at a school assembly, or a speech and debate competition, I always come away impressed by the ideas, talent and dedication these students possess. I have great faith that the future of Sweetwater County, and all of Wyoming, will be prosperous in their capable hands.”
This is the end of Part 4 in a four-part series on the Looking Toward Sweetwater County’s Future: What Will 2050 Look Like? To read Part 1 click here; for Part 2 click here, to read Part 3 click here.