Push on to improve conservation education

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — When NASA reported 2017 to be the second-hottest year on record, the announcement was confirmation of a continuing trend: All 18 of the hottest years in modern history have occurred in the past two decades.

Yet as the globe heats up, no coordinated effort to standardize education on the conservation of natural resources in Michigan’s public schools has appeared, according to state officials and educators.

Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said he believes public schools are failing to properly educate students about conservation.

Eichinger said public education standards heavily emphasize the more rote aspects of science, while he prefers more of a focus on how humans can take better care of their environs.

“I think it’s far more important for us to prepare somebody in their compulsory education less on how many particles make up this, that or the other thing, and talk more about conservation biology and how humans have the potential to impact it,” Eichinger said.

A lack of education in these areas has led to misunderstandings, Eichinger said, using clear-cutting as an example.

Eichinger said people often have a negative reaction to the idea of chopping down large swaths of trees, when in fact, clear-cutting is an important part of a healthy regeneration process within forests.

“Being able to really talk about some of those nuances that happen when you’re talking about conservation — we miss a lot of that,” Eichinger said.

The implementation of environmental education is “hit-or-miss” across the state due to a lack of state oversight, said Kevin Frailey, the education services manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He also serves on the board of the Michigan Science Teachers Association.

This is unlikely to change immediately because standardized tests like the MEAP focus on other aspects of science, technology, engineering and math education and don’t leave much room for variation.

“What the state does do is they create the tests,” Frailey said. “If you’re going to have questions about environmental education on the test, then teachers are more likely to teach that to kids.

“But of course, that’s the question: How do you get environmental education types of questions on the tests?” he said.

The framework for Michigan’s current K-12 Science Standards, adopted in November 2015, do make mention of human impact on Earth’s systems. “Earth and Human Activity” is listed as one of the “core ideas” for earth and space sciences.

However, Gregg Dionne, supervisor of curriculum & instruction for the Department of Education, said local boards of education are the ones that approve curriculum, so the state does not have much say in how thoroughly this subject matter is explored.

School boards “have the authority over implementation — how much time is spent on it, how deep they go into the content, those kinds of things,” Dionne said. “They assess that locally.”

Frailey said this “fragmented” setup sometimes leaves the implementation of environmental education up to individual teachers.

Michigan residents “do think it’s taught in their schools,” Frailey said. “If it is, it’s pretty much the teacher’s choice.”

Frailey said the decision to leave that choice up to the districts reflects Michigan’s historical preference for hands-off governing by the state.

“Michigan is not a state that typically mandates much of anything at the state level — it’s more done at a local level,” Frailey said. “There’s never been a lead at the Department of Education to make environmental [education] or conservation a priority with Michigan students.”

The state’s refusal to mandate environmental education leaves it up to other organizations to push for change.

At the DNR, Frailey is responsible for coordinating educational programs, like Salmon in the Classroom, that bring students in contact with natural resources and environmental studies.

Frailey said he believes students nowadays still have more knowledge about natural resources than in the past. He attributes that in part to a growing awareness among educators of the importance of getting such information out to children.

“I would say kids in school know more about wildlife and the environment than they ever used to,” Frailey said. “I used to go into classrooms 30 years ago and ask kids about wildlife or habitats or whatever, and they would just look at you blankly.

“Nowadays, you go into schools and it seems like kids know so much more of that stuff,” he said.

Barbara Lester, curriculum director of Centreville Public Schools in St. Joseph County, said Centreville students are afforded many opportunities in and out of the classroom to learn about conservation.

Lester said field trips to the Kalamazoo Nature Center and an agricultural science class are among the many ways the district implements environmental education in the curriculum.

“We teach environmental science as part of our curriculum in almost every grade level,” Lester said. “It’s part of biology, it’s part of earth science, it’s part of the elementary curriculum. It’s infused into what we teach in science.”

Lester said she also has seen a definite improvement in students’ understanding of environmental issues in her time as an educator.

Because of that improvement, Frailey said he’s hesitant to connect climate change denial with a lack of standardized environmental education, saying climate change denial is often more of a political issue than an educational one.

“I think people know the science, but the politics sometimes don’t allow them to let the science sink through,” Frailey said.

A 2013 study from Stanford University found that 77 percent of Michiganders believe global warming is happening. The same study found 72 percent of state residents approve of increased consumption taxes on electricity and 23 percent favor increased consumption taxes on gasoline.

Thousands of Michigan kids caught in health insurance gap

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — More than 100,000 Michigan children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance are at risk of losing health insurance.  

The federal government failed to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before Oct. 1. Now it’s uncertain if funding will be restored.

CHIP is an insurance plan for working families, said Meghan Swain, executive director for the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

Most funds provide health care to children through the MIChild program and to pregnant women, said Angela Minicuci, communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services. There are 116,000 Michigan residents  covered by the program.

It’s vitally important to providing health care to children of lower income families, said Emily Schwarzkopf, a health policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“Without it, children would not have access to regular doctors appointments, the ability to get preventive care or immunizations, Schwarzkopf said. “If a kid is sick, they can’t go to the doctor and they can’t get medication.”

The program provides health insurance to almost nine million children. Five states have already run out of the funding but received a little extra money from the federal government to help support the programs, Schwarzkopf said.

Michigan is in somewhat better shape.

“We have funding that will bring us through about April or May of next year,” Minicuci said.

But the agency is preparing to  warn participants of looming changes in early 2018.

“We will need to begin notifying residents that coverage may be ending or changing,” Minicuci said.

CHIP has had bipartisan support in Congress and until now there have been few obstacles to getting the funding reauthorized.

“Should we run out of funding, we would need to do a couple of things,” Minicuci said. That includes asking state lawmakers for new funds or finding another source of them or cutting the program.

“We could partially fund some programs,” she said. “We might need to change the types of coverage that some programs have.”

What happens depends on whatever funding solutions state legislators develop.

“There is the possibility that should we not have federal funding identified and the state is unable to identify funding to cover that CHIP funding, individuals could lose the coverage that they receive through CHIP funding,” she said.

Schwarzkopf said the league hopes if funding is not restored, the state will find a way to pick up the tab.

“Obviously that would be a lot of money that the state would not be receiving from the federal government, so you have to look at what funding is available,” she said.

Michigan protects more than a dozen shipwreck areas

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — More than a dozen underwater preserves along Michigan’s Great Lakes coastlines have been established to protect hundreds of shipwrecks.

The Michigan Underwater Preserves Council lists the following state-designated sites:

— Alger Underwater Preserve, which stretches from just west of Munising to Au Sable Point and includes Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The council says the preserve is the final resting place for at least eight shipwrecks.

— De Tour Passage Underwater Preserve, a narrow strait between the eastern end of the U.P. and Drummond Island, home to more than a dozen wrecks, the council says.

— Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve, where at least eight wrecks and even a sunken Ford Pinto can be found, including one wreck that lies in just 6 feet of water, according to the council.

— Keweenaw Underwater Preserve, which wraps around the U.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Superior, holds about a dozen wrecks and artifacts dating to the 1800s, the council says.

— Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, which the council calls “one of the richest areas in Michigan for shipwreck diving.” The preserve — home to 11 wrecks — is around the North and South Manitou Iislands in Lake Michigan and next to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

— Marquette Underwater Preserve, location of more than a dozen wrecks, is split into two parts. The Marquette section borders 24 miles of U.P. coast, extending into Lake Superior. The second part is around the Huron Islands, rocky outcroppings rising from Lake Superior in Marquette County, the council says.

— Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, which runs along Lake Huron from near Lexington in the south to just north of Forestville in Sanilac County. At least 16 shipwrecks lie within this preserve.

— Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve, on the shores of Lake Michigan, runs southward from the Holland area to near the Indiana border, the council says. About a dozen wrecks are submerged within the preserve.

— Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is in the turbulent waters around Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. “The straits has a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous area to navigate,” the council says. “Over the years large numbers of ships have foundered in the straits. Many have yet to be discovered.”

— Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve, running from the Harbor Beach area to Port Austin, is home to at least 22 major wrecks, according to the council.

— Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve also is home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the first such federal sanctuary in the Great Lakes. Thunder Bay harbors “at least 99 known shipwrecks and possibly another 100,” according to Stephanie Gandulla, volunteer coordinator for the federal sanctuary.

— West Michigan Underwater Preserve, the state’s newest submerged preserve, is the final resting place for at least 10 sunken ships, the council says. The Lake Michigan preserve extends from just north of Big Sable Point near Ludington to just south of Grand Haven.

— Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, west of Sault Ste. Marie, covers the Lake Superior coast west of Whitefish Point and most of Whitefish Bay. The preserve is the graveyard for “a long list of historical shipwreck sites,” the council says.

Shipwrecks also lie in protected waters of the Isle Royale National Park Preserve, which  the National Park Service manages. The federal underwater preserve surrounds Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile-long island in Lake Superior. The frigid waters around the  island hold at least 10 shipwrecks, the council says.

Perfect storm shrinks volunteer corps that protects Michigan shipwrecks

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Silently resting beneath the surface of the Great Lakes, off the shores of many Michigan communities, are hundreds of shipwrecks, protected by the state and a dwindling crew of volunteers.

Michigan has designated 13 underwater preserves, from St. Joseph to the Straits of Mackinac, and from the Thumb to Copper Harbor in the Upper Peninsula. The state also has two federal underwater preserves.

The state preserves, which protect sunken ships and natural features, receive no state money.

So protecting these sunken sanctuaries is left largely to volunteers with the nonprofit Michigan Underwater Preserves Council, which is based in St. Ignace and draws many of  its members from communities near the protected underwater areas.

“Our volunteer corps is not expanding. It’s declining and it’s going to continue to decline,” said Ron Bloomfield, past president of the council. He also spent eight years on the state’s Underwater Salvage and Preserve Committee, an advisory panel.

Volunteers place marker buoys at the sites of shipwrecks, research the sunken ships, promote the preserves and check on the vessels to “make sure people aren’t stealing stuff off the wrecks,” said Bloomfield, who lives in Kawkawlin Township.

The volunteers even raise the money to buy the marker buoys, he said.

“At one time there were approximately 50 to 60 volunteers spread throughout the preserve system,” he said. “I would venture a guess we now have less than 20 active volunteers mostly spread between three preserves, with a few in some of the other area.”

There are a variety of reasons for the shrinking pool of volunteers, Bloomfield said.

Many people move away or get out of diving, he said, and “fewer new divers seem interested in the Great Lakes..

“In addition, our projects are considered to be long-term commitments and the current trend in volunteering is to shy away from long-term commitments and focus on short-term experiences and then move on to the next.

“Couple that with increasing demands on people’s time, and it is one of those cliche ‘perfect storms.’”

Within the preserves are at least 500 shipwrecks, Bloomfield said, and “they’re finding new ones” all the time.

“We have some of the best preserved wooden shipwrecks in the world,” he said.

Michigan’s 13 underwater preserves include more than 7,000 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland, said Dan Friedhoff, the secretary of the Michigan Underwater Preserves Council.

The preserves range from nearly 14 square miles at the Detour Passage Underwater Preserve in the eastern U.P. to 4,300 square miles in Thunder Bay, off the coast of Alpena, said Friedhoff, who lives in St. Ignace.

Thunder Bay is a national marine sanctuary as well as a Michigan underwater preserve, and is jointly managed by the federal and state governments.

The waters around Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior also are under federal protection.

Friedhoff says the council’s “active volunteer base is shrinking, to an alarming point.”

“We have the same issues as most nonprofit organizations. Lots of people are in favor of what you do, but few have time or inclination to get involved,” he said.

After becoming a certified diver in 2001, Friedhoff learned that all Great Lakes wrecks are not the same.

“I quickly became aware of the vast difference between shipwrecks that were discovered and largely stripped before the preservation ethic caught hold, and those that were discovered later, after divers recognized the value in keeping these sites relatively intact,” he said.

And while there has been a significant reduction in the stripping of wrecks, he said, “there is still a lack of understanding that certain traditional diving activities are harmful to old wooden vessels.”

Volunteers have made strides in educating divers about not hooking directly onto wrecks and instead using moorings placed on wreck sites, he said.

“The preserve volunteers also help raise awareness of the damage done by simple acts, like forcing a way through a tight passage or attempting to move artifacts to get a better photo,” he said.

The Michigan Underwater Preserves Council and the individual preserves “work to spread the word that even the smallest artifact needs to be preserved,” he said.

“I think most divers are receptive to the preserve ethic promoted by the preserve system, and increasing peer pressure has gradually reduced the impact of looters.”

Thanks to promotion and protection efforts by the council, the state and local residents, Friedhoff said, “divers come to the Great Lakes from across the country and around the world to see the well-preserved freshwater shipwrecks.”

Volunteers also are important to the success of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, said Stephanie Gandulla, who coordinates volunteer activities at the sanctuary.

Volunteers staff the visitors center, place mooring buoys and help with events and educational activities, including underwater robotic competitions, Gandulla said.

She has the names of about 300 volunteers in her database and has been fortunate to not see a drop off in volunteering, she said. That may be due to the fact that many volunteer tasks at the Thunder Bay facility are less demanding than anchoring buoys, she said.

The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state.

Sandra Clark, director of the state’s Michigan History Center in Lansing, heads  the state’s half of the management team at Thunder Bay.

That team includes a state underwater archeologist, whose responsibilities include preserving the rich maritime history at Thunder Bay, she said.

A shipwreck “is a frozen-in-moment kind of history,” Clark said. “That moment doesn’t get altered.”

Since the creation of the state  preserve at the Straits of Mackinac, area tourism has been up, said Janet Peterson, executive director of the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes, it’s absolutely impacted our community,” Peterson said. “It’s just not as visible. They don’t walk around in their gear.”

But if you look, she said, there are plenty of signs in the summer of divers in the St. Ignace area. She said she’s learned to spot dive decals on vehicles, tourists wearing dive T-shirts and dive gear left to dry outside motel rooms.

Policies that protect high school athletes under scrutiny

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) is fighting a national report that says it isn’t doing enough to protect student athletes.

The claim was in a nationwide study that analyzed policies related to student athletes. The Korey Stringer Institute, a part of the University of Connecticut that advocates for student athletes, ranked Michigan at 41st.

While Michigan scored points for heat exertion policies it has in place, it lost points for not requiring athletic trainers be onsite for contact sport practices, as well as having an undeveloped athletic emergency action plan.

MHSAA says the institute’s method for ranking states is flawed.

“They try to take a one-size-fits-all approach, and basically it’s a one-size-fits-nothing,” said John Johnson, MHSAA’s director of broadcast properties. “There’s lots of things it totally misses the mark on.”

Michigan has a coaches’ education policy and mandatory concussion reporting, two policies that Johnson said aren’t acknowledged in the report.

“There are too many things that vary from state to state, that you can’t just dump it into a matrix and it spits out rankings.”

The reason behind the study is to develop better state policies to address common reasons students die in high school sports, said Samantha Scarneo, the director of sport safety at the institute. The four primary causes of death in high school sports are heat stroke, brain-related trauma, cardiac arrest and a sickle cell trait, she said.

“We appreciate states that aren’t happy with where they are ranked,” Scarneo said. “The purpose of this study was not to point fingers, but to educate parents.”

The rankings were based on public information that the institute compiled. Any policies or laws the state and athletic association mandated for school districts to follow, coupled with how clear the wording of those policies were, helped determine the score each state received.

The ranking relied too much on the same laws standardized across all states, Johnson said. If you think about summer conditioning and climate change, it’s very different for those that practice in the middle of July in Alabama or the end of August in Michigan, he said.

“You’re not going to get that kind of standardization in 50 states on anything,” he said. “Even in Michigan, you can go to DeTour and find completely different weather on any given day than what you find in Detroit or Decatur.”

But the ranking method accounts for these factors, modifying the scores to reflect laws relative to the state, Scarneo said.

“We’re not saying every state has to have the same exact policy. What we’re saying is every state has to have a policy. That’s what sets the standard of care.”

For Michigan’s athletic trainers, the standard of care means taking a proactive role in keeping student athletes healthy. Some cultures promote a win-at-all-cost mentality, Mitch Smelis, who chairs the secondary school committee of the Michigan Athletic Trainers Society, wrote in an email.

“At some point a student’s participation in competitive athletics will come to an end. When that happens, what is the health status and how then are they able to function in society in the years ahead?” he said.

The trainers’ society says it looks at the institute’s report as a bridge to discussion about being more prepared.

“As an organization we look forward to partnering with others across the state,” Gretchen Goodman, the society’s president, wrote in an email, “as we engage in meaningful dialogue and implementation of plans and resources to help promote the safety and well-being of our secondary school athletes.”

In 2011, the Licensure of Athletic Trainers in Michigan was enacted to require that all athletic trainers meet several standards if they want to practice in the state. That includes a degree from an accredited college program, a certification from the Board of Certification and maintaining continuing education every three years.

Between 1982 and 2015, 735 students died as a result of participation in high school sports, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.

MHSAA mandates its members report head injuries and, offers concussion insurance and sideline testing programs. We’ve been at the leading edge of addressing issues like concussions, Johnson said. “We’re not Johnny-come-late to the party when it comes to head issues.”

Johnson says there are enough policies in place that some high school coaches and administrators think MHSAA has too many rules. “So maybe the silver lining in the institute’s ranking is so we can point to it and say ‘here is someone who thinks differently.’ But there’s no way we’re 41st.”

Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Public policy advocates say it’s common sense to raise the age for a person to be tried in Michigan criminal courts as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.

The reason is, young people in adult prisons are at higher risk for sexual assault, restraint, solitary confinement and suicide, they say.

“We are a super-minority in the nation when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Placing them in juvenile facilities also gives them a better chance to rehabilitate, advocates say.

“In contrast, young people in the juvenile justice system have opportunities for education, rehabilitative programs and interventions that may help them to succeed,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, a national public interest law firm.

But county officials are unsure who will pay for the hundreds of 17-year-olds and younger in the adult system who would move to juvenile facilities.

Lowering the age would create a lot of changes to the juvenile justice system, and the counties could be unprepared for those changes, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Currently, the state and the counties are responsible for the upkeep and care of prisons. Counties pay for juvenile facilities.

Bills passed the  House in 2016 to raise the age from 17-years-old to 18-years-old but the Senate is waiting for a cost study commissioned by the Legislature before moving the bills.

The Association of Counties has been worried about the pending bills in the past for monetary reasons. County funding has been down since the 2008 recession, and the state is underfunding county programs, it says.

Furthermore, the  association says the proposed legislation does not require the state to cover additional local costs.

Costs are expected to go up for counties but the actual amount is unknown and will depend on the results of the cost study that was commissioned by the Legislature, Bosworth said.

The cost study is expected to be released within months. The study will look to see if there are savings for treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Since potential costs are unknown, the impact on counties financially is unknown but rural and more northern counties could feel a larger burden, Bosworth said.

The Human Impact Partners, a national public policy research and advocacy group, studied juvenile facilities, adult facilities and community-based programming in Michigan. To house a youth in a juvenile facility costs nearly $179,000 a year while to house a youth in an adult facility it costs just over $40,000 per year.

The counties are worried they won’t be able to adequately fund the transition of prisoners from the adult system to the juvenile system and afford the higher costs of the juvenile system.

Advocates are adamant that the age for adult prisons needs to be raised. Michigan is one of only five states in which the age to be tried as an adult is not 18..

Kids who commit crimes need rehabilitation at a facility equipped to handle their developmental status and recognizes they are not adults, Guevara-Warren said.

“In other parts of our laws, 17-year-olds aren’t old enough to vote, they’re not legally old enough to drop out of school, they’re not old enough to buy fireworks,” Guevara Warren said.

Other reasons to raise the age stem from the more supportive treatment of young people in juvenile systems, which allows them to stay in touch with families and communities.

“It’s designed to help young people with their education and to provide treatment and rehabilitation,” Feierman said. “When the juvenile justice system is really working well, it is an intervention that helps young people. The criminal justice system just isn’t designed to fulfill those goals.”

The battle over raising the age, however, is not about the policy implications but over how to pay for it.

Feierman and Guevara Warren said states are recognizing the age raise is better policy and better financially in the long run.

“Youth prosecuted as adults earn 40 percent less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system which translates in a loss of state tax revenue and economic productivity,” Guevara Warren said.

Michigan optometrist helps the world see

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-one years ago, Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. Since then, he has helped the rest of the world see.

While studying optometry at Ferris State University, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. Edwards is an optometrist in Fowlerville.

Edwards’ first mission was to Haiti in 1986. But that trip was cut short by a social uprising and overthrow of the Haitian government.

Upon returning to Michigan, Edwards realized he wanted to go again.

Continuing to volunteer with VOSH, Edwards has participated in 40 missions. His 41st was planned to be to Nkuru, Kenya, beginning Oct. 26. But reminiscent of that first trip to Haiti, politics and safety again disrupted his travel plans.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in August, accusations were made against the incumbent president of irregularities in ballot counts and interference in the election.

While protesting the election results, 33 civilians were killed as a direct result of police violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report. After an appeal, the Kenya Supreme Court nullified the election, and a new election was planned for the same date in October that the VOSH group was to arrive.

David Muiru is the director of projects for the Nairobi Utumishi Rotary Club and has worked with Nelson to plan VOSH missions to Kenya since 1998.

That inaugural mission was also met with adversity as the American Embassy in Kenya was bombed just months prior to the group’s arrival.

“When Nelson and I chose the date, we thought that the election fever would have settled down,” says Muiru.

The group now plans to arrive in Kenya on Jan. 12, 2018, and stay for 13 days. Muiru says the change was made because political disagreement would not allow the clinic to get the attention it deserves.

Muiru is responsible for ensuring that all the permits and procedures are followed.

The first step, Muiru says, is to notify local medical facilities and apply for the required licenses from the Kenyan medical board. Locally the process begins with contacting the county medical officer to request local doctors and nurses, working with government and police departments, and arranging transportation and lodging.

During the 11-day clinic each doctor will examine and prescribe glasses for about 500 patients. Most patients will receive three pairs of prescription glasses and one pair of sunglasses.

“Because we never know what kind of glasses or prescription requirements a patient might need, we bring between four and five thousand pairs of refurbished eye glasses,” says Nelson.

Any extra glasses are left with local eye care clinics.

If a required prescription is not available, VOSH and its partner Lens Crafters will fill the prescription upon returning to the U.S. and mail the glasses to the patient.

The Illinois chapter of VOSH has gone a step further. During a mission to Guatemala in 2014, the group engineered a field lab capable of completing glasses on location.

Most commonly the glasses are donated through groups such as the Lions Club, according to Daniel Wrubel. Wrubel is the faculty advisor to the Student VOSH program at Ferris State.

“We receive around a third of a million pairs of Lions Club glasses in a year,” he says.

First-year and second-year SVOSH students are responsible for assessing, tagging and verifying prescriptions to be taken on missions. Funds are raised for students in their third year to go on a VOSH trip if they’ve put in enough volunteer hours.

“We raise about $30,000 a year to cover the cost of their trip,” says Wrubel. “Last year I believe they only had to pay the deposit, so around $250.”

That is also the amount of hours that Wrubel estimates he puts in each year preparing for a mission to Dominique. Wrubel has captained the Dominique mission for 21 consecutive years.

Working with VOSH is only one of nearly 40 projects that Muiru works on in Kenya. He credits his education with instilling an understanding of community.

“I can never do enough for my community, I consider it a part of my life,” he says.

For Wrubel, the desire to help others comes from his own problems with sight.

“In school, I was held back, made fun of, because I had trouble reading,” he says. “Fortunately, there was a therapist who helped me. So I can relate to what it’s like to struggle without proper eyesight.”

For Nelson, the gift is not just a chance to see the world, but to see the world differently.

“You make friends and you hear news stories about a country you’ve been to,” he says. “You make a personal connection.”

New ways with wood open up building opportunities

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Steel and concrete would be the classic choices for building a large new laboratory planned at Michigan State University.

But experts in the university’s forestry department are asking, “Why not wood?”

They’re not the only ones with that question as builders nationwide push to build high rises, college laboratories and other large buildings with a construction material typically seen in houses. It’s a trend that could bring new markets for Michigan trees, fight climate change and produce new jobs, experts say.

“We have a tremendous amount of resources here,” said Jon Fosgitt, a member of the Forest Stewards Guild in Michigan. “The challenge is understanding the construction style, but also creating the infrastructure here in the state. We’ve got the resources here and that’s a Michigan-made story.”

Building with wood isn’t new. But a hot new construction technique called cross-laminated timber—CLT, for short—makes it possible to build large buildings out of wood. It’s constructed by bonding several layers of wood panels in alternating directions. The result is a material strong enough to build skyscrapers.

It’s fire resistant as well, said David Neumann, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest marketing specialist. “It has the same strength as concrete, when designed properly.”

Michigan has the trees. But there’s more to it than that to put them to work.

“Here’s the challenge with cross-laminated timber- there’s only two plants in the U.S. that construct it and they are both on the western side of the country,” Fosgitt said. It doesn’t make sense to construct the materials, then ship them across the country when we have all of those resources right here, he said.

One solution is to build a plant here, but even as interest in using cross laminated timber construction grows, it’ll take time for the industry to grow with it.

“I think it’s been taken up quite quickly, considering that there wasn’t even manufacturing in the US recently,” said Jennifer Cover, the president of WoodWorks. “We’re actually seeing it take off at an exponential rate. It’s quite incredible.”

WoodWorks is a nonprofit organization funded by the wood industry and  offers free education and design assistance related to non-residential and multi-family wood buildings.

Even so, the only large construction project considering the use of cross-laminated timber in the state is on Michigan State’s campus.

While the technique is recognized by the 2015 International Building Code, a model that addresses safety and health concerns of buildings, it’s still not the industry standard.

Fosgitt does anticipates a stronger emphasis on training people to build with wood, especially in Michigan.

In fact, one of the strongest drivers for more wood buildings is an environmental one. Wood products store atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. Concrete and steel do not. According to the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, substituting wood could prevent 14 to 31 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

“Obviously the environmental benefits are good because climate change is real,” Fosgitt said. “This is part of a natural solution to climate change.”

Fears of a fire hazard may make wood a less popular choice. But cross-laminated timber doesn’t burn like normal wood because it’s so dense. It also has a faster installation process than concrete or steel, Cover said.

It’s particularly popular on the West Coast due to its flexibility and ability to withstand earthquakes, Fosgitt said. The first all-wood high rise was approved in Portland, Oregon, last June.

While Michigan has no structures built from cross-laminated timber, it does have the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the largest wooden dome in the world. Construction started in 1989 and used large laminated beams, said the university’s associate athletic director, Carl Bammert. It opened in 1991.

The DNR has teamed up with WoodWorks to help train more Michigan builders and architects.

The organization also offers assistance on other wood-building techniques that have been around for longer, like timber that’s put together with nails and glue.

It hosted training sessions for architects and engineers in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor in September. The next step is to get more cros- laminated timber for Michigan builders to work with.

“In the long run, what we’d like to get is a facility to make some of these products out of Michigan wood,” said Richard Bowman, the director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

Fosquitt said that iIf the mass timber industry were to make its way to Michigan, it would put more pressure on the forest resource. But, because Michigan harvests only a fraction of its annual growth, the industry can be managed sustainably.

“And when a building is made from natural products, it smells great too.”

Meanwhile, the newest wall covered by ivy at MSU may not necessarily be brick or concrete.

“MSU has been considering using CLT and other engineered wood products for the new building that is planned,” Richard Kobe, the chair of the university’s forestry department, wrote in an email.

Most Michigan kids lag national average in well-being; African-American students at the bottom

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — African-American children in Michigan score the lowest in the nation in a complex measure of their well-being, a new report shows.

“The data really shows that African-American kids here in Michigan are faring much more poorly compared to African-American kids in every other state in the country,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The Race for Results report, produced by the Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures the well-being children of all races. It takes into account 12 indicators, including education, work experience, family support and neighborhood conditions. It looks at how children progress in education, health, economic security and other spheres.

The scores are based on a scale of one to 1,000.

African-American children in Michigan scored 260, far below the national score for African-American children, which is 369.

“Kids of color fare worse on most indicators compared to their white peers,” Guevara Warren said. “We have a lot of work to do around racial disparity.”

Latino children in Michigan fared better than their national counterparts. They had an index score of 446, which is above 429, the national score. Native American children in Michigan scored 511; the national score for that group is 413.

That said, both the state and national index scores for these minorities come up far short of the national index score for white children. The national score for African-American children is 369. For white children, it is 713.

White children in Michigan, while better off than their minority counterparts in the state, scored 667, below the 713 national average for white children.

Asian/Pacific Islander children in the state scored 804, which was better than the national score of 783.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Education declined to be interviewed about the report. Instead, department communications oficer William DiSessa, emailed this  statement:

“We need to work harder at getting every child to be successful in school, including children of color who have to overcome risk factors like poverty, undernutrition and lack of educational resources. Michigan has begun investing more heavily in early childhood education and programs to help at-risk students in our schools, and providing free nutrient-rich school meals for kids. When Michigan becomes a Top 10 education state in 10 years, it will be the result of these additional resources and greater focus on meeting the needs of our at-risk students.”

Guevara Warren said the League for Public Policy said it’s concerned that the Michigan fourth-grade reading level is low in all racial and ethnic groups. “The biggest and most troubling statistic is the rate of reading for African-American fourth graders in Michigan, which is the lowest rate of reading proficiency for African-Americans in the country.”

The Michigan Education Association says there is hope for the future, especially with the recent passage of a new law that requires school districts to assess the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year and requires districts to develop individual reading plans for deficient students.

“The new third=grade reading law will help make sure students are proficient in reading by the time they reach fourth grade,” said David Crim, a communications consultant at the MEA, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel. “It will take some time, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Guevara Warren said the report looks at 12 indicators because children are impacted by where they live, how much they eat, their families, their education, health care and a variety of other influences.  

“If you’re hungry, you’re not going to read well,” she said. “If you’re stressed out because you live in an area of concentrated poverty with high crime rates, you’re going to have a harder time in school. There are all these things that are interconnected that are important to addressing the whole child.”

Crim said social conditions are huge determinants of success.

“Where a child starts doesn’t have to determine where they end up,” he said. “We need to address social issues that impede student success.”

Plain old conversation works for lakes’ advocates

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Representatives from multiple Great Lakes-based organizations gathered recently in Ann Arbor but not to tackle any threats to the lakes.

They came for happy hour.

“It’s just sort of a casual thing that happens a couple of times a year,” said Kristin Schrader, a communications manager for the Great Lakes Observing System, a regional data-sharing partnership based in Ann Arbor.

It started six years ago, when Schrader was working for Ducks Unlimited. She thought her organization would benefit from conversations with members of other groups – something that happened only at infrequent events with scheduled programs. Schrader wanted an event conducive to casual conversation.

And the Great Lakes Happy Hour was born.

The gathering creates “cross-pollination, in a casual way,” she said. Individuals from nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private firms and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have attended. And the soirees feature a mix of political leanings -– evident in the distinction between self-identifying “conservationists” and “environmentalists.”

Both groups advocate for preservation of natural resources, although environmentalism is often associated with liberal political ideologies and conservation with those of the political right.

Although onlookers might expect some tension there, they won’t find it, said Drew YoungeDyke, a communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

“We’re all looking out for the Great Lakes,” he said. “We’re all about the resource, though we may have come to appreciate that resource from a different perspective.”

Poor weather at the most recent event forced a last-minute change of venue from a beer garden to a local brewery and drew a smaller crowd than usual. Fewer than 10 attended.

The event has drawn audiences of up to 30 in the past.

Schrader said representatives from the Great Lakes Observing System, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Great Lakes Commission and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research attended.

Members of Ducks Unlimited, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the private environmental science firm LimnoTech have come in the past, she said.

YoungeDyke said, “We get together and have a beer, and just kind of discuss the issues that are going on. Pretty informal, but a good spot to kind of get in the loop on what’s coming up.”

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.