Midwest Trip, Day Three – Sunday, July 10, 2022
We awoke early and a bit nervous, headed to the first conference session of the day.
We didn’t expect SHSU to be recognized and highlighted during our first event at the Midwest Council of State Governments (CSG) Conference.
The key speaker and presenter, Carl Reynolds, earned his MPA from the LBJ School of Public Policy, received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, and he also worked for the Texas state legislature (Senate) and the State of Texas for a couple of decades. Before speaking, he noted he was happy to see SHSU students at the conference, and further commented on the fact that he had enjoyed his many travels to Huntsville. This helped ease us into the conference!
Reynolds highlighted three major programs led by the CSG Justice Center. These three were:
- Justice Reinvestment Initiative uses tools and data from multiple disciplines to take an evidence-based approach to criminal justice problems. This program is employed in more than 30 states, and it begins with the principle that the people most likely to recidivate are the people most resources should be expended on. Another key aspect of the program is to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners.
- Stepping Up focuses on reducing the number of people with mental health issues who “come in contact with the criminal justice system” and, in particular, reducing the number of people with such issues who are jailed.
- Justice Counts emphasizes the use of data for problem-solving in public affairs, and, by extension, believes that metrics should be simple, feasible, and effective. They study seven major sectors using this data-driven approach: police, prosecution, defense, pretrial/courts, jails, prisons, and community supervision.
The Chair of the Committee, Senator John McCollister (NE), did a superb job of taking questions from the committee—and the floor—and Mr. Reynolds was a wealth of knowledge.
Following the session, we spoke with Mr. Reynolds for a bit, discussed Texas (where he still lives), and even found that we have common friends (Mr. Wayne Scott!).
With its Texas-friendly environment, its emphasis on issues we can relate to (we live in Huntsville, after all!), and the knowledge of the panelists, this was the perfect first panel for us to attend!
Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant
Before continuing our educational journey on expanding our knowledge of state governments, we dove into local cuisine, Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant, to fuel our bodies and brains. The restaurant’s decor gave us a small taste of what the Peruvian culture uses to liven up a space, such as beautiful tapestries with llama designs.
Our aperitivos of fried yuca, papa rellena, and tostones rellenos with either tuna or chicken were all very delightful in their way.
This was my first real experience with Peruvian food, and I was not disappointed. I ordered the fried tilapia, which had a beautifully thin layer of fried batter that–to my delight–did not take away from the flavor of the fish.
The rest of the party ordered more traditional dishes such as Bistec a lo Pobre, Aji de Gallina, Tallarin Verde con Bistec, and a traditional Peruvian breakfast.
All the dishes looked extremely appetizing, and I would personally recommend you all to eat at this restaurant if you ever visit Wichita, Kansas.
Although this was one of the first times that a few of us had Peruvian food, it was delightful! We made our way back to the conference hotel with enough time to prep before breaking off into the different sessions that interested us: Health and Human Services, Education, Midwest-Canada Relations, and the Economic Committee meeting.
Health and Human Services Committee
At the Health and Human Services Committee session, Morgan and I listened to speakers Stephanie Anderson (the program specialist for Wichita Public Schools), Holly Yager (Program Specialist for Wichita Public School Psychologists), and Melissa Zieammermann (Director of Behavior for Wichita Public Schools). They all discussed how they have been implementing mental health practices in local Wichita Public Schools through the Kansas Opportunity Support Program (KOSP).
KOSP offers 24/7 mental health services to children and family members in the public unified school district (USD 259) headquartered in Wichita, KS. To be able to give everyone access to the help they need, the school system is set up with psychologists, counselors, social workers, and even a behavior health school liaison! All faculty and staff receive training at least annually on how to deal with students who want to harm themselves. The program motto is “Stay. Listen. Get Help.”; and, everyone on campus is equipped to watch for the patterns of mental illness.
Not only do they provide round-the-clock mental health professionals, but they also have many other policies and programs in place to aid in determining who is most at risk. These include the Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS), a screening tool that was taken by all 47,000 students and faculty in the district this past year to determine who they thought were most at risk.
KOSP’s work is not so much measured by statistics as it is by the stories they have been told as they implement these services in the school system. For instance, they were able to save a faculty member who was attempting to take their life and would have succeeded without the proper training that others received. This wonderful program improves and saves multiple lives each year in the Wichita Public School District. Hopefully, more programs like the KOSP can be established in other public school districts throughout the country.
While both Ashlyn and Morgan were at the Health and Human Services Committee meeting, Yvette went to the concurrent session of the Education Committee.
A remarkable society strives for making K-12 students’ education a top priority! Unfortunately, with COVID-19, there has been a slump in children’s education. The two keynote speakers, Lindsay Dolce, Chief Advancement Officer of ServeMinnesota, and Wendy Wallace, the Director of Engagement and Development for the National Student Support Accelerator for Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, have one mission: to improve student performance and achievement with high-impact tutoring.
Both Dolce and Wallace discussed and promoted how their respective programs have helped the goal of assisting students in advancing in their studies, despite any disastrous event that may become an obstacle. These are the programs:
- National Student Support Accelerator: Wallace explained the components of this high-impact tutoring program that also provides statistics on how beneficial tutoring is to students. The main points are facilitating implementation with research-based tools; catalyzing the tutoring field by having research and communities of practice; and engaging and activating stakeholders.
- AmeriCorps, ServeMinnesota: In describing this program, Dolce discussed the process of meeting milestones in math and reading to live up to their mission statement, “a future where all children are proficient readers by the end of third grade and algebra-ready by the end of eighth grade.” With the high-quality training, evidence-based interventions, and expert training and coaching, one can see measurable progress in the students’ understanding of the material.
The entire audience, Education Committee members, and legislators peppered the speakers with specific questions that will get the gears turning on applying these tutoring programs to their midwestern states to benefit their students’ education.
This topic is critical since education plays a significant role in our identity. It was heartwarming to know that our passionate government officials play a crucial role and take seriously that role in doing all they can to help our schools.
Midwest-Canada Relations Committee
Like in several other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on United States’ international relations. Laurie Tannous, a cross-border attorney for the Cross-Border Institute, and Christopher Sands, Director of the Canada Institute for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, were the experts on the US-Canada relationship. Quoting President Ronald Reagan, Sands opened with the words many people fear, “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
Following are a few of the general topics both keynote speakers touched on:
- NAFTA: During the pandemic, trading between the Mexico, U.S., and Canada borders “suffered,” as they each implemented their own protection measures. However, the U.S.-Canadian border suffered the most and is still not functioning at full capacity. Despite goods being transported, drivers only ever made it as far as the border. Goods were then stored in a facility before distribution, causing the supply shortage. The biggest takeaway for most legislators was that both governments need to work together through the pandemic and its aftermath and not just for trade purposes.
- Open Border: It boils down to how the U.S. and Canadian governments struggled to compromise and be on the same page. Although they both implemented regulations to respond to COVID-19, they had different requirements and exemptions for travel. They both compared how the Canadian and U.S. governments considered different policies to be essential and how those differences became real issues for citizens of both countries to travel to and from both these countries, even for work. Some legislators expressed concern over borders cutting back hours of operation.
- 9/11: The lessons learned after 9/11 were often used to compare the response of the U.S. government to its COVID-19 response. During 9/11, the U.S. focused on pilot projects and more easily adapted and recovered from that tragedy. Some argued the U.S. should have used a similar approach with COVID-19, keeping in mind that ‘one shoe does not fit all’.
Following the presentation, the committee members continued their meeting by discussing three pending resolutions: (1) Support of the U.S. – Canada Trade Relationship, (2) Protection and Return of Indigenous Remains and Property, and (3) Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, but the resolutions were tabled until there were “enough Canadians” to help answer questions and discuss opinions.
While all the speakers were interesting, I was most interested in meeting Ms. Tannous, who was not only an attorney, but one who specialized in immigration, an area I am interested in.
Opening Reception at Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, and the Lighting Ceremony at the Keeper of the Plains
To close out a great first day of committee meetings covering a wide array of topics, we made a quick wardrobe change, then headed out. Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, just a short bus ride from the conference hotel, was a nice break in scenery from the brick and mortar of the downtown.
The gardens feature 17.5 acres of flora, foliage, towering trees, koi ponds, statuary, and more. We followed the path and crowd toward the main amphitheater and quickly joined the crowd. Much to our surprise, we arrived just in time to see the Wichita War Dancer! Professional Native American performer Greg Victors explained his traditional garb and the process of how it is made. I was fascinated by the bright colors and intricacy of design.
We were amazed when the Wichita War Dancer put down the microphone and began his first dance. This war dance was fast and lively, and the movements allowed for his clothing to be shown off perfectly. Some of us were able to snap some photographs, while others were mesmerized by his routine.
Then, after a few other dances, he gave the audience a call to action, beckoning us to the front to join him in the Snake Dance. Traditionally, this dance was performed by snake dancers to stamp down and level the dance floor for the ritual dancers, held over four days from sunrise to sunset. The Wichita War Dancer instructed us to form a line and follow the leader. Yvette and I stepped up to the call, and Jessica came along with us! We then, as a line, snaked across the lawn with our arms extended, stamping our feet.
The dance was quite fun but also a little confusing when we lost the form of our line! We ended by taking a shot at our best war cries, some of which were good, and some of which could use practice.
We were also able to take a selfie with the Wichita War Dancer and thanked him for teaching us more about the Native American traditions.
The rest of the gardens awaited us, so we made our way along the paths. With some guidance from a staff member, we found the butterfly house filled with native butterflies.
Much like our group of travelers, some of the butterflies were all for the show and ready to pose for the perfect photo, whereas others preferred to not flash their wings around.
The next Wichita stop was the Lighting Ceremony of the Keeper of the Plains, a steel sculpture that is the city’s icon.
The Keeper of the Plains stands above the confluence of the Arkansas and the Little Arkansas rivers with his head held high.
We claimed a spot on the footbridge to watch the lighting of the fires and took advantage of the beautiful sky to capture the moment.
At 9:00 p.m. sharp, flames began to light up on the metal fire pits. They lit up one by one until all five had a blazing fire.
As the festivities came to an end, we strolled back to the hotel, welcoming the beautiful night and cooler breeze, right alongside the Arkansas River.