ROCK SPRINGS – “What a view” were the first words United States Senator John Barrasso said as he walked through the doors of Black Butte High School on Tuesday.
After Wyoming Governor Matt Mead was part of the official ribbon cutting of the new school last week, the guests continued this week as Sen. John Barrasso made a stop in Rock Springs. Not only did Barrasso tour the school, he also discussed education and got a first-hand report from the students.
Black Butte Principal Mike Maloney told the students they are lucky to live in Wyoming because it is not uncommon to have visitors like the Senator and Governor. Not only is it special to have these important visitors, students also get to interact with them when they visit. Maloney explained in many states; that is unheard of.
During his tour of the school, Barrasso spoke to students in three classes. He said he is impressed with project-based schools such as Black Butte. During last week’s ceremony, it was said several times all students learn differently. On Tuesday, Barrasso also emphasized this but made it a little more personal.
The Senator talked to students about his career as an orthopedic surgeon. He said he learned a lot more by actually performing surgeries. He also told students how his daughter went to a project-based school and shared her journey with them as well.
Not only did Barrasso speak to students, he also listened to students. They spoke to him about some of their projects, asked questions and also spoke to the Senator about concerns they have.
In the first classroom, Cheyenna Biggs talked to Barrasso about the work she did on developing a brochure for Black Butte High School. She explained the process of making the brochure and the important message developed to explain how unique Black Butte is.
Another student told the Senator he was working on a psychology project on how to tell if someone is lying. He told Barrasso about how much he has learned studying the brain and found it fascinating exactly how much really goes on in a person’s head.
In the art classroom, students explained how they recently participated in a Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency bench design project. The students’ designs from Black Butte High School were chosen over other artist’s designs around the area.
Other students explained how they are working on developing a business model. One student was developing a fast food restaurant while other business models included taxidermy and a gun store. They talked to Barrasso about learning things like permits needed, location, marketing and costs. Local business owners will visit the school soon and listen to the student’s business proposals and provide feedback.
Not only did students tell the Senator about some of the things they are learning through project-based education, they were not afraid to ask the tough questions.
One student told Barrasso he has been helping his younger sister with homework and how much the process of doing problems has changed. He asked Barrasso what he thought of Common Core and the learning processes currently in place.
First off, Barrasso thanked the young man for helping his younger sister with her homework and being a positive role model for her. As for the learning strategies such as Common Core, Barrasso said education decisions should be made locally.
“I don’t think someone from Washington D.C. or Cheyenne are the best people to make decisions on education here in Rock Springs,” he said.
While he spoke about the importance of education decisions being made at a local level, Sen. Barrasso added it is important for students to remember they are not only competing against other schools in Wyoming but are competing on a worldwide level. He said it is important to make sure the United States is keeping up with other countries in education.
Another group of students at Black Butte also raised a concern they have. They explained many activities such as recreation, movie theaters and other events cost money many students cannot afford. They also said many of these activities also require transportation. While the students said they understand the importance of getting a job, they added it can be hard to balance school, work and other activities. The students asked Barrasso if there was a way to start a program where students could do these things for half price on the weekends.
While Barrasso said he understood the concerns of the students, he explained there are many things which need to be taken into consideration such as how businesses would be reimbursed for the losses they would have. He also spoke to the students about what goes in to starting a program and how they try to develop programs that provide important opportunities for young people. He spoke about one of these programs he helped start right here in Wyoming.
Barrasso told the students a story about when he was a Wyoming State Legislature. He explained to the students there were times they had extra money to put towards programs. One of his fellow state legislators and popular former Rock Springs resident Tex Boggs got together with Barrasso and other legislators to start developing a program to benefit students. They started a program where the extra money the state legislators had would go into a pot to benefit Wyoming students. This is better known now as the Hathaway Scholarship.
He told the students that many scholarships are very competitive as students from all over the nation compete to get them. He said with the Hathaway Scholarship, Wyoming students only compete against themselves to meet the requirements.
After the small tour and visits to the classrooms, the students and staff met in the gymnasium area where they were presented with one last gift from the Senator. He presented the students and staff of Black Butte High School with a flag that has flown over the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.