Dual immersion classrooms a hit

JACKSON, Wyo. – Dual-immersion programs have started in several schools in ski towns and resort valleys of the West. In Jackson, Wyo., the program has had to turn away potential students. And in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., many parents want to see more commitment to the program.

In Wyoming, 80 students were taught in both English and Spanish last year at Davey Jackson Elementary School. Students were divided between native English and Spanish speakers.

Parents of children in the program were told by school officials that scores on standardized reading and math tests may lag behind other children at their grade level for the first few years. But, if two sets of parents interviewed by theJackson Hole News&Guide are an indication, parents remain unconcerned.

“In the beginning, it’s tough, but I think they’re on a good path and are going to succeed,” said Edgar Lopez, the father of a girl who spoke mostly Spanish until starting kindergarten.

Parents on both sides say they believe knowing two languages at an early age, and learning to see beyond skin color, will benefit their children immensely.

In California,The Sheet reports a packed meeting in Mammoth Lakes. Most parents apparently were at the meeting to object to the lack of a full-on immersion program, similar to the one in Wyoming. For example, the dual immersion will be added to the sixth grade, but only after school for two days per week.

Not all people think that dual immersion is such a hot idea.The Sheet reports some community sentiment for keeping math and science in English.

Google blamed for Park City accident

PARK CITY, Utah — If somebody gives you bum directions, can you blame that person if you get hurt?

The somebody in this case is Google, which provides mapping directions, and a Los Angeles woman has sued the company, asking for $100,000 in damages after she was hit by a car. She was in Park City, and it was just before dawn in January 2009. The instructions sent her down a busy road without streetlights or a sidewalk.

Writing inThe Washington Post, author Nicholas Carr says the story illustrates a remarkable shift in the way people get around these days, “We may not all be wandering around highways in the dark, but most of us have become dependent on computer-generated maps of one sort or another.”

Carr, the author of a new book calledThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, says there is evidence that our growing reliance on automated GPS directions could end up altering the circuitry in our brain.

He cites a study of London cab drivers that showed them with enlarged portions of their brains that are believed to have to do with navigational skills. He also cites ruminates of a researcher from Canada’s McGill University that speculates that giving into the easy directions of GPS may actually result in more cases of dementia.

As for the pedestrian, maybe she should have heeded the adage: “You get what you pay for.”

Electric co-op tilts against coal power

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The electrical cooperative that serves the Aspen and Vail areas has been getting a new complexion. It has long been considered one of the more progressive co-ops. It encouraged production of renewable energy by members and adopted policies designed to reduce electrical demand.

Still, the co-op remains hitched to coal and in 2004 agreed to become a partner in building a major new coal-fired power plant in Colorado called Comanche III.

But steadily, anti-coal activists have been chipping away at the co-op. They succeeded again this year when an energy consultant from the Aspen area named Dave Munk turned back a 25-year incumbent by garnering 62 percent of the votes.

Munk wants to devote $5 million of the utility’s annual operating revenues into “green” initiatives, compared to the existing $2 million, notesThe Aspen Times.

Counting the noses of this new board, anti-coal activist Auden Schendler sees a slim majority of four votes for green initiatives,

and five votes in some issues. The board has even members.

“I think it’s a brand new day and Holy Cross is going to become, perhaps, internationally known for what it does in the next decade,” Schendler told theAspen Times. He is the executive director of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co.

But the newspaper also consulted an existing member, Tom Turnbull, a rancher from Carbondale, who sees change being more incremental – as it has been. When there are opportunities that make sense, “we jump all over them,” he said.

Steamboat debates security gates

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Lyman Orton charges that calls for a security gate at the entrance to a high-end housing enclave near Steamboat Springs called Catamount smack of snobbery.

“I don’t know who these folks are that keep agitating for a gate, but I hope that they calm down and learn to enjoy what is one of the safest places in the world to live – Routt County,” said Orton in a letter published in theSteamboat Pilot. He accuses the agitators of using “security” as a code word for “letting the rest of us know just how exclusive they are.”

For several decades, Catamount was envisioned as a ski area. Trails were to have descended off the Gore Range and into the lush Yampa River Valley. The flattened ski market of the 1990s finally quelled that idea. Instead, developers created a lake-centered project in the base area.

As an owner, Orton says he and others specifically directed that Catamount would remain an ungated community, because of the negative signal that gates send.

“The heritage and culture of our valley is neighborliness, friendliness and a welcoming attitude,” he writes. “Gated communities send exactly the opposite signal.”

Giant development pitched in Edwards

EDWARDS – Gosh, was it only three years ago that Edwards, located about 10 miles down-valley from Vail, was a poster child of New West extravagances. Officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as a micropolitan, it had become the new locals’ address of prestige, with new shops, schools and everything else.

Now comes a proposal from the Atira Group for 400 more housing units along with 260,000 square feet of commercial space on the former site of a gravel pit.  

Reporting from a recent meeting with neighbors, theVail Dailysays that many perceive the project as a detriment to what they perceive as a lingering semi-rural lifestyle. “This is more like being in Denver’s suburbs than being in the mountains,” said Elizabeth Holland.

Rick Mueller, a developer, argues for economic development. “You’re either growing or you’re dying, and we’re dying,” he said. “People are moving out of the valley.”

The commercial component of the development would cater to health and wellness, and Mueller said that would help diversify the local economy.

Bears figure out cause and effects

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Reports of bears trying to get into homes have grown again this year, and included one rascally cub that figured out how to get into a home and started making a habit of it.

“He circled the house and over and over, banged on every window, and tried every door handle,” Arlene Zopf told theSteamboat Pilot, recounting the third visit.

Libbie Miller, the local state wildlife biologist, advised the homeowners to discourage the bear by stationing a baited pepper barrel on the property. When the bear enters the barrel, it trips a trigger that gives it a blast of pepper spray in the face.

Many of the bear reports involved homes outfitted with exterior doors that use levers instead of knobs. Miller theorized that bears that stand on their hind feet and lean on the windows of doors sometimes brush the handles with their paws when they drop to all fours. Presto, the door opens – and the bears associate cause and effect.

– Allen Best

Whistler reaches out to aging residents

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler has become older but still sees itself as rooted in tourism.Pique Newsmagazine reports that the municipality there has hired a part-time staffer to assess the needs of the growing number of people who are choosing to remain in Whistler during their retirement.

“These are people who have built homes and will not want to leave Whistler, so we’re creating a plan for allowing those people to stay in their homes and age successfully in Whistler,” explained Melissa Deller, who has a degree in gerontology.

Whistler has also retained a consultant described as an “expert in the field of place-based cultural tourism.”

Idaho town gulps above average water

KETCHUM, Idaho – City councilors have been asked to increase the rates for water consumption. The existing rate structure already charges more per quantity of water for higher-volume users, but this proposed rate increase would further penalize large-volume users.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports some pushback from businesses, but also carries an essay from one of the City Council members. Nina Jonas notes that a recent federal government study found that people in the Wood River Valley, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, use 767 gallons per day, compared to the Idaho average of 263 gallons per day and 179 gallons national average.

“It is imperative that we embrace a new yard aesthetic appropriate to Idaho, one that does not require thousands of gallons of water,” writes Jonas.

Frisco still building affordable housing

FRISCO – Despite the slowdown in the economy, several mountain towns have continued their investment in affordable housing. Frisco, for example, has cut a deal with a developer named David O’Neil, who plans to build the first 12 units of what will ultimately be 70 townhomes and single-family houses. Families of four with incomes ranging from $68,000 to $136,000 will be eligible for housing. The units will range from 800 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

– Allen Best