Dubois K-12: A Hidden Gem

Two substitute teachers tell what they’ve found. It’s remarkable.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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SchoolHouse
Schoolhouse cabin at the Dubois Museum

Think of a schoolhouse in Wyoming, in the middle of nowhere. Drafty logs and a sod roof, maybe? One room, full of kids who have dirty faces and scraped knees, most of them destined for a life of pitching hay? Maybe one headed for college?

I didn’t ask my teacher friends, Karen and Lori, what they expected to find when they volunteered to substitute at the Dubois school. I asked what they found. It was nothing at all like Little House on the Prairie.

They started with the basics: the stuff. Not only is the K-12 school building brand new, everything else is state of the art, said Lori, who previously taught elementary school in a “fairly affluent town” south of Boston.

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The actual K-12 school in Dubois

In Dubois, every student has a portable computer of some kind. Elementary-school students were taking Chromebooks to art class, she told me. Back in Massachusetts, “each kid there didn’t have his own computer.”

My friend Karen has taught junior-high school biology in Dubois, and she’s waiting to teach more classes. She also still has her appointment as an assistant professor of microbiology at Louisiana State University, and she teaches online courses for a Louisiana college, working from her home just outside Dubois. (See “Best Internet Anywhere” and “Consultant’s Dream Come True.”)

“The science labs [in Dubois] were incredible,” she told me. “The fume hoods were better than we had at LSU. I’ve never seen microscopes that advanced in high school.”

Not only do they have the high-tech microscopes; the students know how to use them. She found they also knew a surprising amount about the bacteria they could see through the lens.  They had learned to extract DNA from strawberries.

The equipment, of course, is only the sizzle. The meat of the issue is the class size, which in a town of 1,000 is very small.

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Lori teaching. (Why the funny hats? It was Dr. Seuss Day.)

The kids at primary level are “sweet and eager to learn,” Lori told me, but as anywhere, there are always a few “who need extra attention. With only 7 or 9 kids in a class, it’s easier to do that.”

The junior high classes are about the same size. Karen spoke about the pleasure of being able to interact with each student in the lab, to get each of them excited and motivated. “Also, I was surprised at the level of respect in the classroom,” she said. “They’re all so polite. It was amazing.”

Clearly this is an environment that takes teaching seriously, and gives it latitude.

In Massachusetts where Lori taught full-time, she told me that basically all a substitute teacher had to do was show up in the morning. To substitute here in Dubois, not only did she have to fill out an application, she had to document her certification to teach, to be fingerprinted, and to take a course on the Wyoming and US Constitutions.

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Sign in the corridor outside a classroom.

When she arrives early in the morning, a lesson plan is waiting for her. “I’m not just going in to babysit,” Lori said. “I’m teaching them.”

The full-time teachers seem happy, she told me, not overloaded or stressed. “You get to think up the curriculum design and plan your own courses,” she added. “It’s amazing. Wonderful.”

Another advantage occurred to me recently: For a high school student with good grades in this remote little town in the least densely populated state in the lower 48, getting into college outside Wyoming must be a slam-dunk, because all colleges want to optimize their “mix.” A good applicant from Dubois must be unusually interesting and attractive compared to one from Boston or New York City. (What’s more, I’ve heard that there are more college scholarships available around here than applicants to receive them.)

I mentioned the college-admissions benefit to a good friend whose high school-aged son went to Oxford, England, for a summer program last year. “I know,” he said with a smile.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois WY: Consultant’s Dream Come True

Is the ability to work from Dubois a stroke of genius, or just a stroke of incredible good luck?

As the owner of Recreational Resources LLC of Dubois, Rick Collignon putters away all day on his computer, fax, and cell phone. What the folks on the other end of the line may not realize is that during a conference call he may be on horseback at an altitude of around 10,000 feet, nowhere near the rest of the office.

CollignonThis avid outdoorsman has the best of both worlds. He spends his free time fishing, hiking, and hunting in Wyoming, in the Wind River Valley, but spends some of his working hours as a consultant to the Fish and Game Department for a different state–South Dakota.

Rick is a great example of how the high-quality Internet service in Dubois allows residents here to succeed as consultants and business owners from what looks on the map like the middle of nowhere.  Like so much else about living in Dubois, this arrangement suits only a specific kind of personality.

“Telecommuting requires a certain type of person to be successful,” says Rick. “A tremendous amount of self-discipline and drive, good organizational skills, and the ability to work alone a vast majority of the time.”

As with any job, he adds, you must make your work time accommodate your clients’ hours. So you can find yourself talking to DC in the early AM and the West Coast late into the evening. It’s also about your creativity, he adds: The ability to not only think outside the box but also to create a marketable product—yourself. What can you offer that beats the next guy?

Another important key factor is to maintain your network of business relationships, to assure that you’re in the right place at the right time to win the deal, even if that place is one of the most remote in the lower 48 states.

And place is important to the mix. Another key to successful telecommuting is to locate yourself in an area–be it city or country, mountains or beach—that will put you in the most productive frame of mind, whatever that means for you. If you can’t maintain the focus of your thoughts in the city, then perhaps solitude is the key.

It certainly has been for Rick. After months of hard work (predominantly over the phone or email), he successfully negotiated the Missouri River Land Transfer for the State of South Dakota. His success enabled Rick and his wife to purchase the KOA campground in Dubois and revamp the facility–something they are both enjoying.

cid_836“Dubois is one of those places,” as he put it, “where a consultant has all the quality access and communication links to the world through the Web needed to successfully compete in today’s markets, while providing an outstanding life space which stimulates those invaluable creative talents needed to excel in this line of work.”

I also telecommuted from Dubois for 8 years before I retired last June, and obviously I continue to take advantage of the great Internet here. Everything Rick says rings true, and he and I are hardly the only people around here who are taking advantage of the opportunity.

The cost of living is low, the quality of life high. Just a few weeks ago, the financial website bankrate.com designated Wyoming the best state to retire for the second year in a row. The factors it cited (low taxes and prices, low crime rates, beautiful environment) are just as important to self-employed individuals who work on the Internet as they are for retirees. And the Internet here, as I keep saying, is second to none.

For people whose hearts sing at the thought of mountain peaks, open skies, and true solitude and serenity right out the back door, is the ability to work from Dubois a stroke of genius or just a stroke of incredible good luck?

I don’t know how Rick would answer. As for me, I put it down to the grace of God, and give thanks every morning when I look out the window.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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