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Water is the life blood of south-central Idaho. Without water, there is no farm land, no thriving Twin Falls and no Magic Valley.For the second installment in a six-part, photo-heavy series detailing the many ways that water is crucial to sustaining life in the Magic Valley, photographer Pat Sutphin featured aquaculture and explored how the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer is essential to life in the Magic Valley. SEE STORY ON PAGE E1

Castleford is trying a proactive approach to getting children ready for kindergarten

CASTLEFORD — Kindergarten is no longer about nap time and learning how to play with others.

Children are expected to come in with some basic academic skills, such as knowing numbers and letters. But that doesn’t always happen.

To address that, the Castleford School District is taking a proactive approach to reaching 3-to-5-year-olds and their parents to help them prepare. It’s trying out a new initiative: a preschool/kindergarten readiness fair Tuesday in conjunction with the school’s spring music program — a time when parents and young children are likely already at the school.

Finding affordable preschool options — especially, in rural communities like Castleford — can be tough, and some children go without. Idaho is among just seven U.S. states without publicly-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

During the last couple of years, most of Castleford’s kindergarten class has needed a lot of intervention, school assistant principal Dena Allred said, but added students do well at getting up to par.

“We’re not putting blame anywhere,” she said. “We just want to place materials in families’ hands.”

Sometimes, parents aren’t aware of what their children need to know by the time they start school, Allred said. “Kindergarten isn’t nap time anytime, and it is very academic.”

She said it’s helpful for incoming kindergartners to be able to say their numbers from one to 10, say the alphabet and recognize some letters, know some sounds associated with letters, understand rhyming, be able to write their name, know how to color and hold a pencil, and be able to listen to instructions.

“We have been talking about how we’ve noticed how the kids just need to be a little bit better prepared, Allred said. “That can be a hard sell to parents, sometimes, because they’re busy. Sometimes they both work.”

The idea for the readiness fair came after Allred heard an idea for a similar initiative during a school administrators’ meeting in eastern Idaho. She came back to Castleford and asked for permission from the superintendent and school board to give it a try.

At the event, several booths will be set up, focusing on literacy, math and fine motor skills. The College of Southern Idaho’s Head Start program — which serves families living in poverty — will also be in attendance to provide information about preschool.

There will be a drawing for a door prize: educational materials such as flashcards and puzzles — things that are fun, yet educational, Allred said.

Children and their parents will take home educational flyers, such as age-specific information about what children should know, as well as an alphabet foam puzzle, math puzzle and pencils.

They’ll also receive information and a demonstration on an iPad about how to use Smarty Ants, a free Idaho web-based program to help four- and five-year-olds prepare for kindergarten.

Children will participate in activities, too, such as cutting out pictures and coloring. At another table, a teacher will demonstrate ways parents will learn how to use cheap items from a dollar store to help their children with learning.

“Our hope,” Allred said, “is that (parents are) going to be able to work with their children.”

N. Korea to destroy nuke-site tunnels

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Saturday that it will dismantle its nuclear test site in less than two weeks, in a dramatic event that would set up leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with President Donald Trump next month. Trump welcomed the “gracious gesture.”

In a statement carried by state media, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said all of the tunnels at the country’s northeastern testing ground will be destroyed by explosion, and observation and research facilities and ground-based guard units will also be removed.

Kim had already revealed plans to shut the test site by the end of May during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month. Analysts say that while the closure of the site is important, it doesn’t represent a material step toward full denuclearization.

“A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25,” depending on weather, the Foreign Ministry’s statement said, adding that journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain will be invited to witness the dismantling.

The ministry said the North will continue to “promote close contacts and dialogue with the neighboring countries and the international society so as to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and over the globe.”

Trump, in a tweet Saturday, thanked North Korea for its plan to dismantle the nuclear test site, calling it “a very smart and gracious gesture!”

Following the Moon-Kim meeting, Moon’s office said Kim was willing to disclose the process to international experts, but the North’s statement Saturday didn’t address allowing experts on the site.

South Korea had no immediate response to the statement.

The North’s announcement comes days after Washington announced that the historic summit between Kim and Trump will be held June 12 in Singapore.

South Korea has said Kim has genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits. However, there are lingering doubts about whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish the weapons he probably views as his only guarantee of survival.

During their meeting at a border truce village, Moon and Kim vaguely promised to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.

North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of “denuclearization” that bears no resemblance to the American definition. The North has been vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.

Some experts believe Kim may try to drag out the process or seek a deal in which he gives away his intercontinental ballistic missiles but retains some of his shorter-range arsenal in return for a reduced U.S. military presence in the South. This could satisfy Trump but undermine the alliance between Washington and Seoul.

Kim declared his nuclear force as complete in December, following North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test to date in September and three flight tests of ICBMs designed to reach the U.S. mainland.

North Korea announced at a ruling party meeting last month that it was suspending all tests of nuclear devices and ICBMs, as well as the plan to close the nuclear testing ground.

Kim said during the meeting that the nuclear test site’s mission had come “to an end” because the North had completed developing nuclear-capable intermediate-range missiles, ICBMs and other strike means.

The North also said for the first time at the meeting that it had been conducting “subcritical” nuclear tests. These refer to experiments involving a subcritical mass of nuclear materials that allow scientists to examine the performance and safety of weapons without triggering a nuclear chain reaction and explosion.

North Korea’s reference to such activity is designed to communicate that even without underground testing, the country intends to maintain its nuclear arsenal and be a “responsible” steward of those weapons at the same time, said Andrea Berger, a senior analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Still, the closure of the underground testing site could be a useful precedent for Washington and Seoul as they proceed with the nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, analysts say.

“Now that North Korea has accepted in principle that agreements should be verified, U.S. negotiators should hold them to this standard for any subsequent agreement,” said Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before. In June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to show the demolishing of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached an agreement with the U.S. and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package worth about $400 million.

But in September 2008, the North declared that it would resume reprocessing plutonium, complaining that Washington wasn’t fulfilling its promise to remove the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The administration of George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list in October 2008 after the country agreed to continue disabling its nuclear plant. However, a final attempt by Bush to complete an agreement to fully dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program collapsed that December when the North refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods.

The North went on to conduct its second nuclear test in May 2009.

Israel closes key crossing, bombs tunnel

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said Saturday it was shutting down its main cargo crossing into Gaza after Palestinian protesters caused extensive damage to it, and that it had also destroyed an attack tunnel militants dug near its main pedestrian crossing.

The twin developments come ahead of a potentially charged week along the Israel-Gaza border as weekly protests being staged there are expected to culminate with a potential breach of the border and a surge in casualties.

Once again, thousands of Palestinians protested Friday in various locations along the frontier. Later, a group of Palestinians burned a fuel complex and conveyor belt on their side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, causing more than $9 million in damages and disrupting the import of diesel fuel and building materials, the military said. It said the attack rendered the main fuel and gas lines unusable and caused further damage to electrical infrastructure and other vital equipment.

The military said the Kerem Shalom crossing will be closed until further notice and not before the damage is repaired.

A lengthy closing of the crossing would deliver further devastation to Gaza’s already dire humanitarian crisis. The fuel installation is the only way to bring diesel fuel into Gaza for operating generators for hospitals and other key facilities. The military distributed a video showing Palestinians cheering as a fire was set. It was the second such attack on the facility in a week, it said. “Hamas continues to lead the residents of Gaza to destroy the only assistance they receive,” the army said.

Late Saturday, the military carried out several airstrikes in the northern Gaza strip, near the Erez border crossing, to destroy a Hamas tunnel that was being built there. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the tunnel was being tracked for weeks and had been destroyed just a few meters (feet) inside Gaza. It’s the sixth such Hamas tunnel Israel has destroyed in as many months thanks to the military’s new technological means to detect and destroy them.

Hamas called the airstrikes a “failed attempt” to prevent its protests.

“Our people’s response will come on Monday by marching” to the fence, it said in a statement.

Conricus said both incidents proved Israel’s long-standing claim that Hamas, and other militant groups, were merely using the popular mass protests as cover for attacks against Israel. He said the military was doubling its troops along the border in advance of this week’s protests and that Israel would not allow the area to become an active combat zone.

“This really shows the cynicism of the Hamas terror organization toward the citizens they are supposed to care for,” Conricus told reporters. “Hamas is killing Gaza with its terrorist activities against civilian facilities.”

An extended closing of the cargo crossing could be particularly painful. Cooking gas and fuel, which are delivered to Gaza through Kerem Shalom on a daily basis, are the first and most essential items likely to be affected. A fear of shortage had already engulfed Gaza late Saturday, as more cars were lining up at gas station to stock on diesel and gasoline.

The Hamas-run petrol authority in Gaza ordered that cooking gas not be provided to people with canisters on Sunday. “This is to measure how much we have and to see how much this can serve the citizens,” said Khalil Shaqfa of the petrol authority.

Palestinians in Gaza have been staging weekly protests at the border fence against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The demonstrations have been organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, but are fueled by despair among the territory’s 2 million residents. The vast majority are barred from travel and trade, while the blockade has gutted the economy.

A Palestinian was killed and 175 were wounded by Israeli army fire on Friday. The Palestinian health ministry said a teenage boy died Saturday after he was shot in the head by Israeli fire on the Gaza-Israel border.

The death raises to 42 the number of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces since weekly protests began on March 30. More than 1,800 have been wounded. The coming week could see a further uptick in violence, as Palestinians are planning much larger protests to coincide with the United States relocating its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Monday and the 70th anniversary of their “nakba,” or catastrophe — referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation — on Tuesday.

Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking the border. Rights groups say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. During the most recent conflict in 2014, Israel destroyed 32 tunnels and it has placed a high priority on halting the tunnel threat since Hamas infiltrated Israel during the war. Although they did not manage to reach civilian areas, the infiltrations caught Israel off guard, with one attack killing five soldiers, and terrified the local population.

Israel is building a subterranean barrier to detect and prevent attack tunnels. Israel says the barrier, as well as new technological innovations, have rendered the Hamas tunnel project futile.