GOODING — This isn’t your childhood sandbox.
You don’t sit in it and make sandcastles. Instead, you load a topographic map on a computer and project a 3D image onto the sand. After sculpting it with your hands, you can feel geological features such as mountains and canyons.
In early December, the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding purchased an augmented reality sandbox using a $10,000 grant from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund.
The $7,000 sandbox — a big box on wheels kept in a corner at the school library — mimics how things work in their natural environment. It allows students to have interactive learning experiences about topics such as land forms, the water cycle and erosion.
“It’s more hands-on and makes a lot more sense than a lecture or picture,” school librarian Sharlyn White Jackson said.
Students who are blind or visually impaired can feel features such as a plateau or canyon in the sand. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing can see the natural features in the sandbox “and it explains itself,” White Jackson said.
On Thursday, six high school girls — all of whom are either blind or visually impaired — worked with the sand along with science teacher Rose Crews.
They scooped up sand in their hands and let it run through their fingers. Small clouds of dust flew up.
Crews told students she wants to purchase an option for the sandbox to simulate earthquakes. But in terms of experiencing natural features, “I think your hands will be the best tool,” she said.
During the lesson, one girl said “let’s make a lake.” Another responded, “what shape?”
Conversations frequently started with a phrase like “let me try,” followed by students experimenting with shaping different geological features in the sand.
It was the first time 15-year-old Maizy Wilcox had used the sandbox. She said it helps her understand how mountains develop, as well as differences in elevation.
“I think it’s really neat,” she said. “I’ve never learned anything like it.”
The sandbox uses a Kinect 3D camera, like the ones used for Xbox game consoles. The school uses free, open source software to download topographic maps.
It can also simulate water and students can see the color of the sand change to represent changes in elevation.
“It helps these kids go places they’ve never been,” White Jackson said.
For children who are blind or have vision challenges, they may never see the Grand Canyon, she said, but with the augmented reality sandbox, “they can feel it.”
One of the first topographic maps White Jackson hopes to use with students is of the Snake River Canyon. “We drive over it all the time,” she said.
The sandbox makes abstract concepts easy to see, 18-year-old Taylor Bullock said through an American Sign Language interpreter. That includes how natural features are formed and different climates.
Bullock said she’d love to see a 3D topographic map of Costa Rica because she has heard there are gorgeous mountains there. She’d also like to learn how they developed over time.
The America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program wants to ensure students have the education and skills they need to fill an increasing number of science, technology, engineering and math jobs over the next 10 years, it said in a statement last month.
After local farmers nominate a school for grant funding, the school district must submit an application for a STEM-focused project. A national advisory council chooses the recipients.
At ISDB, school administrators decided to write a grant application for an augmented reality sandbox.
“In the era we’re in, we have to be a little more creative in how we do things,” White Jackson said.
Last year, the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program awarded a total of $2.3 million in grants, it said in a statement. And since 2011, it has awarded more than $14 million to about 750 rural schools.
Back in Gooding, 17-year-old ISDB student Emi Ryland said one of the most interesting things she experienced using the sandbox was “the way the water and the land connects.”
In the future, she’d like to look at a 3D topographic map of Hawaii. “I’d like to see how volcanoes are made.”
WASHINGTON — In bluntly vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.
Trump's contemptuous description of an entire continent startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society."
Trump's comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections as Trump has insisted.
The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a months-long, bitter dispute over protecting the "Dreamers." But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate' s No. 2 Democrat, explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be another way for them to apply. Durbin said people would be allowed to stay in the U.S. who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Trump specifically questioned why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. As for Africa, he asked why more people from "shithole countries" should be allowed into the U.S., the sources said.
The president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Late Thursday, Trump was pushing for "a Great Wall" and criticizing Democrats' stance on immigration, highlighting the difficulties for any negotiations.
"The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process. It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans," he said in a late-night tweet. "We must build a Great Wall ..."
Asked about the earlier remarks insulting other countries, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," he said.
Trump's remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused by his foes of racist attitudes and has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
Trump has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, wasn't born in the United States, has said Mexican immigrants were "bringing crime" and were "rapists" and said there were "very fine people on both sides" after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.
"Racist," tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., after Thursday's story broke. But it wasn't just Democrats objecting.
Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." She said, "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation" and Trump must apologize to the American people "and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
Trump has called himself the "least racist person that you've ever met." He plans to sign a proclamation today honoring Martin Luther King Day.
Critics also have questioned his mental fitness to serve as president, citing his inability to muster some policy details and his tweets asserting his "nuclear button" is bigger than North Korea's. He responded to such criticism with a recent tweet calling himself "a very stable genius" who is "like, really smart."
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly describe the conversation. One said lawmakers in the room were taken aback by Trump's remarks.
The Trump administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States following a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Trump has spoken positively about Haitians in public. During a 2016 campaign event in Miami, he said "the Haitian people deserve better" and told the audience of Haitian-Americans he wanted to "be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion."
The agreement that Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described to Trump also includes his $1.6 billion request for a first installment on his long-sought border wall, aides familiar with the agreement said. They required anonymity because the agreement is not yet public.
Trump's request covers 74 miles of border wall as part of a 10-year, $18 billion proposal.
Democrats had long vowed they wouldn't fund the wall but are accepting the opening request as part of a broader plan that protects from deportation about 800,000 younger immigrants brought to the country as children and now here illegally.
The deal also would include restrictions on a program allowing immigrants to bring some relatives to the U.S.
In an afternoon of drama and confusing developments, four other GOP lawmakers — including hardliners on immigration — were also in Trump's office for Thursday's meeting, a development sources said Durbin and Graham did not expect. It was unclear why the four Republicans were there, and the session did not produce the results the two senators were hoping for.
"There has not been a deal reached yet," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But she added, "We feel like we're close."
The six senators have been meeting for months to find a way to revive protections for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and are here illegally. Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.
Federal agencies will run out of money and have to shut down if lawmakers don't pass legislation extending their financing by Jan. 19. Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes — which Republicans will need to push that legislation through Congress — unless an immigration accord is reached.
WASHINGTON — Rewriting the rules on health care for the poor, the Trump administration said Thursday it will allow states to require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to work, a hotly debated first in the program’s half-century history.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said requiring work or community involvement can make a positive difference in people’s lives and in their health. The goal is to help people move from public assistance into jobs that provide health insurance. “We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome,” she said.
But advocates said work requirements will become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork. Lawsuits are expected as individual states roll out work requirements.
“All of this on paper may sound reasonable, but if you think about the people who are affected, you can see people will fall through the cracks,” said Judy Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.
Created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, Medicaid now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. The federal-state collaboration has become the nation’s largest health insurance program.
Beneficiaries range from pregnant women and newborns to elderly nursing home residents. Medicaid was expanded under former President Barack Obama, with an option allowing states to cover millions more low-income adults. Many of them have jobs that don’t provide health insurance.
People are not legally required to hold a job to be on Medicaid, but states traditionally can seek federal waivers to test new ideas for the program.
Verma stressed that the administration is providing an option for states to require work, not making it mandatory across the country. Her agency spelled out safeguards that states should put in place to get federal approval for their waivers.
States can also require alternatives to work, including volunteering, caregiving, education, job training and even treatment for a substance abuse problem.
The administration said 10 states have applied for waivers involving work requirements or community involvement. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Advocates for low-income people say they expect Kentucky’s waiver to be approved shortly.
In Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer said work requirements could lessen the program’s impact on the state budget. They also hearken back to the program’s original intent, he added, “as temporary assistance to try to help people get back on their feet, not a permanent subsidy for someone’s lifestyle, if they’re capable of working.”
But congressional Democrats said the Trump administration is moving in the wrong direction. “Health care is a right that shouldn’t be contingent on the ideological agendas of politicians,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees Medicaid.
The debate about work requirements doesn’t break neatly along liberal-conservative lines.
A poll last year from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70 percent of the public supported allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work, even as most Americans opposed deep Medicaid cuts sought by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.
Another Kaiser study found that most working-age adults on Medicaid are already employed. Nearly 60 percent work either full time or part time, mainly for employers that don’t offer health insurance.
Most who are not working report reasons such as illness, caring for a family member or going to school. Some Medicaid recipients say the coverage has enabled them to get healthy enough to return to work.
Thursday’s administration guidance spells out safeguards that states should consider in seeking work requirements. These include:
The administration said states must fully comply with federal disability and civil rights laws to accommodate disabled people and prevent those who are medically frail from being denied coverage. States should try to align their Medicaid work requirements with similar conditions in other programs, such as food stamps and cash assistance.
The National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group representing state officials, said in a statement there’s no consensus on whether work requirements are the right approach.
“This is a very complex issue that will require thoughtful and nuanced approaches,” said the group.
Trump’s new direction can be reversed by a future administration. Although waivers can have lasting impact they don’t amount to a permanent change in the program. They’re considered “demonstration programs” to test ideas. The administration says the impact will be closely evaluated.
If you do one thing: Jon and Jenni Jacobson will perform acoustical music from 6 to 8 p.m. at Twin Falls Sandwich Co., 128 Main Ave. N.
TWIN FALLS — As many as 120 minimum-security state prisoners could soon find themselves living and working in the Magic Valley.
The Idaho Department of Correction is interested in reopening a community reentry center in the Twin Falls area, much like the one that closed in 2011, IDOC director Henry Atencio confirmed Tuesday. The proposal has the support of Gov. Butch Otter, who recommended funding for the center in his fiscal year 2019 budget.
It’s thought that the proposed center, which would allow low-risk, low-security inmates to live and work in the community in the months leading up to their release, could help reduce recidivism rates and alleviate the state’s prison overcrowding problem.
The new center would offer roughly the same programming and opportunities as the Twin Falls Community Work Center, which closed after 19 years of operation due to a decreasing demand for work center beds in the state, according to Atencio. The old center employed 13 people at the time of its closure; the new center would likely have between 12 and 15 employees.
The main difference between the two is the building itself: the South Washington St. location of the Twin Falls Community Work Center was leased by the state. However, IDOC hopes to either buy or build any new center in Twin Falls, Atencio said. The governor has requested that $9,114,200 be transferred to the Permanent Building Fund to do so.
The state of Idaho currently has four reentry centers: two in the Boise area, and one each in Idaho Falls and Nampa.
While the centers offer various rehabilitation programs and other means of support, their main draw is the chance for inmates to work in the outside world as they prepare for release — a valuable networking opportunity for incarcerated people, who often struggle to find employment after leaving prison.
“If you’re facilitating contacts with prospective employers, that can be very helpful,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “A job is an important part of successful reintegration.”
An outside job also typically pays higher wages than a job in prison, providing inmates with money that can go toward things like restitution and child support.
“They’re going to make more money in a work center than they will in a job behind a prison fence,” Atencio said. “It’s just a great opportunity to really set up an inmate for a better transition back into our communities.”
Twin Falls Sheriff Tom Carter says he would welcome another reentry center to the area, as his department rarely received calls regarding trouble at the old center.
“I think when inmates get to a position that they land in a work center, they very seldom cause problems,” Carter said. “It gives us somewhat of a heads up on who is coming back into the community.”
Another expected benefit of the proposed center: its potential to alleviate severe overcrowding in state prisons. The new center in Twin Falls would likely have about 120 beds, according to Atencio.
Carter is hopeful that the alleviation effect could trickle down to the Twin Falls County Jail, which has regularly surpassed its capacity in recent months.
“A lot of the inmates we have are state inmates, and that’s because they don’t have a bed to put them in,” Carter said. “This could help some.”
While the addition of 120 new beds in the state could provide some immediate relief to the prison system, the more significant effects of adding a fifth reentry center would likely be felt down the road.
“One of the reason why states are flocking toward the use of specifically designed reentry centers is if we can help offenders address the impediments to reentry, then the recidivism rates are a lot lower,” said Shaun Gann, assistant professor of criminal justice at Boise State University.
“If they are able to successfully reintegrate back into the community, then 5, 6, 10 years down the road we can potentially start seeing less and less incarceration, simply because we have fewer repeat offenders going to prison,” he said.
La Vigne of the Urban Institute acknowledges that reentry centers can provide inmates nearing release with useful tools for reintegration.
But she questions whether dedicating more resources to help low-risk, minimum-security offenders is the most effective use of the state’s money.
“The research tells us that you should focus those resources on people who are at higher risk of recidivism and have greater needs for support,” La Vigne said. For these inmates, she notes, “there’s no step down.”