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City gives out sections of Wheeler Park bridge

After the Wheeler Park bridge was dismantled at the end of 2018, the city of Flagstaff distributed the pieces of the bridge it made available to the public.

Through the week, City Parks Manager Amy Hagin handed out pieces of wood to the nearly 50 people who signed up to receive a section of the bridge.

For each of those interested, Hagin said, the city offered a one-foot piece with the city's seal burned into it, as well as a two-foot section without the seal that could be used for any purpose.

Cabrina Weems is the granddaughter of Rollin Wheeler, who is the former Flagstaff mayor, citizen of the year, and park namesake. She came to obtain a piece of the bridge, because of its importance to both the city of Flagstaff and her family.

Weems said she didn’t know what she would do with the two-foot section yet, but the branded piece would likely sit atop her mantel.

Weems added she was sad to hear the bridge had to come down, and ever since it was first built, the Wheeler Park bridge had been a great part of Flagstaff.

“A lot of people congregate at the park, and if you’re contemplating life or if you were just out for a stroll downtown,” Weems said, the bridge was there for you.

“It just represents a small-town feel,” Weems said, “People can kind of relate to that, and I think that’s why they appreciate it and why they’re probably sad to see it go.”

Jennifer O’Neil said she was also sad to see the bridge taken down, but wanted a piece of Flagstaff history to remember it by.

O’Neil, who has lived in Flagstaff for about 20 years, said when her son was younger, he could never get enough of playing on the bridge.

When the two of them went to the library, O’Neil said, she and her son would park their car across from city hall in the Wheeler Park parking lot just so they could cross the bridge when they went to the library.

Her son would also always play a game called Poohsticks, made popular from Winnie the Pooh, O’Neil said.

In the game, at least two people throw a stick into the water before running to the downstream side of the bridge to see which one comes out the other side first.

Obviously, the game only worked when the Rio de Flag was flowing, O’Neil said, but the Wheeler Park Bridge was a perfect “Winnie the Pooh bridge.”

O’Neil said she plans to put the branded bridge section in her garden.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Julie Elliot, a Flagstaff resident since 2004, collects a piece of the Wheeler Park bridge that was recently dismantled as an offering to the community from the City of Flagstaff Parks and Recreation Services Wednesday afternoon at the Flagstaff Aquaplex.

Karen Fillerup, who also had picked up two pieces of the bridge, said she was getting a piece of the wood for her husband who played on it as a child.

Both she and her husband grew up in Flagstaff, but Fillerup said she never played on the bridge as a child. Nonetheless, the bridge holds a special place in her heart.

The bridge was the location of her and her husband’s first date, Fillerup said, joking without the bridge, who knows if they would have gotten married.

After making a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream, Fillerup, and her now husband, went to Wheeler Park where they walked on the bridge and got to know each other.

The two married in 2007.

Although the branded section is for her husband, Fillerup also said they haven’t decided what they might do with the second piece of wood. One idea they have considered is simply cutting it into pieces in case other friends want a piece of the bridge.

Adrian Skabelund / ADRIAN SKABELUND Sun Staff Reporter  

Gino Leoni, City Parks Supervisor, holds two pieces of the Wheeler Park Bridge that have been heavily effected by dry rot. Parks department staff plan to preserve the pieces for themselves, perhaps mounting them on the wall of the city parks building. 

But Hagin said the city parks department won’t be giving out every section of the bridge. After dismantling it, Hagin said they decided they would keep a section of the bridge for themselves as well.

Instead of a pristine branded piece, however, Hagin said the parks staff decided to keep a section had been nearly destroyed by dry rot, which they will likely mount on the wall of the city’s parks building.

Updated for correction at 10:37 a.m. on Feb. 4. 


Local
Girls from across northern Arizona participate in chess tournament

Shantia Nez, 12, a seventh grader from Kaibeto Boarding School, concentrated on her opponent’s move.

Bishop overpowered pawn.

“I like the curiosity of what’s going to happen next,” Nez said.

Nez was one of more than 70 players at the fifth annual Flagstaff All-Girls Chess Tournament at Coconino Community College Saturday, Jan. 26. The tournament was an opportunity for girls and women across northern Arizona to test their chess skills and learn about the importance of women and minorities involved in career fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

“This is the only girl’s tournament we have all year,” Bill Cheney, director of the Northern Arizona Chess Center, said. “We want to encourage our girls in STEM fields, to show them they can do it.”

CCC President Colleen Smith gave an opening welcome to start the event. She shared with players and families how much she admired them for spending their Saturday participating in the tournament. She also said that the skills they are developing from playing chess will help them be successful in their education and in various careers.

In addition to the tournament, the players and their families participated in several STEM-related activities, like challenging one another to who could make the most effective catapult and who could build the tallest tower out of sticks and marshmallows. Lowell Observatory also was on hand with the “Cosmic Cart” to show scientific concepts about the planets.

“Chess is considered to be ‘the ultimate sport of the mind,’ and in this age of mobile phones, apps and automation, it’s refreshing to offer students an opportunity to focus on a task, strategize and interact with their fellow chess opponents throughout the match,” said Gonzalo Perez, CCC Associate Provost. “These skills prove vital when pursuing studies in the STEM fields. The coursework is rigorous and requires students to spend additional time formulating their ideas and thoughts.”

Perez said that, although women account for about 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, they hold only 25 percent of the computer and mathematical jobs and about 15 percent of the engineering jobs. He also said that minorities represent about 29 percent of the U.S. workforce, but hold only about 15 percent of the computing jobs and 12 percent of the engineering jobs.

Perez presides over the Southern Nevada and Northern Arizona Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) grant at CCC. The grant is a nationally recognized program that supports minority student participation in STEM. CCC LSAMP representatives Vidal Mendoza and Kenisha Manley shared information, with the help of CCC student volunteers, about STEM-related careers.

During the event, the players were split into five categories: Kindergarten through first grade; second through third grade; fourth through fifth grade; sixth through 12th grade; and adult. The players went through four rounds before winners in each category were announced and awards were handed out.

“We [had] some grandmothers playing,” Cheney said, smiling.

Nez said she became interested in chess in third grade because her sister played chess. Although she said her seriousness about the sport was “so-so,” she carried with her a playbook and logged each move she made during her games.

As for her future, Nez said, “I want to be an anesthesiologist,” adding that she’s always been good at math and science.

Schoolmate, Brianna Altisi, 14, eighth grade, said of her introduction to chess, “I wanted to try something new.”

She added that she appreciates the focus the game creates.

“It feels like you’re in the moment,” Altisi said.

Altisi’s father, Benjamin, said, “It’s an opportunity for them to learn and accomplish something and what it is to be in a competition and strategizing.”

Of his daughter’s competitive spirit, he said, “I’m proud of her.”

He also said that he tries to push all of his children toward the sciences and math because the future will require those skills.

Hailey Willie, 7, second-grader from Naatsis’aan Community School near Navajo Mountain, quickly breezed through the first two rounds.

“I won,” she said, shyly, adding that she likes practicing.

Her father, Rick Neztsosie, the chess coach at the school, said, “The sooner they start, the better they are later on.”

His school’s youngest competitor is in kindergarten. He added that he finds the students who get into chess find an ability to “calm things down” and focus more. If they can focus more at chess, they can focus more on their school work.

“It definitely helps sharpen their education,” Neztsosie said.

Nez, Altisi and Willie all plan to attend the statewide Arizona Scholastic State Chess Championships in April, but first they must qualify a “slot” at a regional qualifier. The Northern Arizona Scholastic Chess Championships and Regional Qualifier for the state championships will be Saturday, Feb. 9, beginning at 9 a.m., at Coconino High School, 2801 N. Izabel St., in Flagstaff.

For more information about the Northern Arizona Chess Center, visit nazchesscenter.org. For more information about STEM at CCC, visit www.coconino.edu/lsamp.


News
LAUNCH seeking support for preschool pilot program

LAUNCH Flagstaff approached both the Flagstaff City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday with one central message: the community needs more quality preschool options.

To advance world class education, which is LAUNCH's stated mission, the organization is seeking supporters for a pilot program to improve preschool education within Flagstaff Unified School District boundaries by providing full-day, year-round preschool to 4-year-olds from low-income families.

These are the children who fall in the gap between federally funded and private schools either because of space or financial limitations, Paul Kulpinski, partnership director of LAUNCH, said.

“There are a lot of really excellent programs in operation, but without some coordinated infrastructure at the community level, we have some gaps,” Kulpinski said.

The report revealed children from low-income families enter kindergarten 14 months behind their peers in pre-literacy skills and that only 45 percent of Flagstaff 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood programming. Capacity plays a role in this percentage because, in the Flagstaff area, there are 2.6 children per each space of existing capacity.

Kulpinski said this report is just the start of a conversation on improving preschool education in Flagstaff. He is already working on updates to the report – scheduled to be released to the public this week – using feedback from the council and supervisors.

LAUNCH has been working on this report since September, when it met with representatives from the City of Tempe to discuss Tempe PRE, a two-year preschool pilot program that started in 2017 for children at or below the 200 percent poverty level.

The report explained, “The City of Tempe provides a relevant example of what might be done in a partnership between educators and local governments.”

With Tempe PRE as a guide, LAUNCH and various local educational partners used census data to determine that there are currently more than 100 eligible children not served in the FUSD boundary area. Based on data from the City of Tempe and feedback from the council and supervisors, to accommodate the approximately 80 students likely to participate, Flagstaff would need at least four additional classrooms.

The program would create these new classrooms using Quality First’s guidelines for four- or five-star-rated preschool classrooms. As such, they would require at least one certified teacher, an assistant teacher and a maximum of 18 students. The report currently states that remodeling classrooms would occur from July to December 2019, with the first classes to begin in January 2020.

“Children are being lost every year we wait, so we really can’t afford to wait much longer,” Kulpinski told the Supervisors.

BENEFITS

The benefits of more accessible, quality preschool extend beyond more educated children, Tuesday’s presenters said.

In addition to increased school readiness, educational attainment and earning potential, quality preschool can improve the health and well-being of these children – and their community.

Preschool involvement assists in a child’s development of social and emotional skills, said Robert Kelty, principal of Puente de Hozho Elementary. Knowing how to play and interact with peers is just as meaningful to schools as early literacy skills, he said.

Steve Peru, president of the United Way of Northern Arizona, described the program would even help parents achieve their own goals.

“High quality preschool can also help improve family and parenting skills, in addition to the availability of parents to work or invest in personal development during the day,” he said.

CHALLENGES

Both the city and county expressed their support of this program; however, a project of this scale, even in its planning stages, is full of challenges, including funding and expansiveness, that must be considered before financial support can be allocated.

At an estimated $750,000 per year to maintain these new preschool classrooms and curriculums, cost is a huge factor to success. LAUNCH has been approaching entities like the city and county to engage them in the conversation; Kulpinski says LAUNCH will accept financial contributions of any amount, based on an organization’s ability and willingness to participate.

“In the process of the conversations, participation is organically identified,” he said. “It then becomes an investment that is willingly made, rather than coming from compliance with a request.”

Although these costs seem high at first, the report suggests that the long-term return on investment would range from $8.60 to $16 per dollar invested, due to a more educated workforce with the potential for higher incomes.

Mayor Coral Evans described that, from the city’s perspective, investing in education can be a preventative effort in the social justice area.

“Traditionally, education has not been a city role, but the issues that are created by the lack of education and the lack of access to education usually fall on the city.”

To meet the financial needs of this program will require overwhelming community support, another potential challenge.

Kulpinski said a consensus among community members that quality preschool is a priority is essential.

But the definition of the community itself was also a concern. Supervisors noted that schools throughout the county, not just those within the city, are in need of similar resources.

Supervisor Matt Ryan said, “The concept of building a pilot is good and yet we also have the broader community to think about. … The needs go beyond Flag Unified's boundaries.”

COMMUNITY-WIDE SUPPORT

Peru described the program as the perfect collective impact project because every community member will have a role to play in its success.

A variety of organizations already came together to create the initial report, including local academic institutions, the AZ Community Foundation of Flagstaff, Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, the NARBHA Institute and the Wharton Foundation.

Kulpinski said, “It’s a community-owned effort, rather than one organization being the owner of it. There is shared collaboration, shared accountability and shared success.”

Though these presentations are just a starting point, LAUNCH still has much to do if the first steps, classroom remodels, are to begin in July as scheduled.


AP
Virginia's Gov. Northam says that wasn't him in racist photo

RICHMOND, Va. — Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Virginia's embattled governor on Saturday vowed to remain in office after disavowing a blatantly racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

In a tumultuous 24 hours, Gov. Ralph Northam posted a video on Twitter on Friday apologizing for the photograph that featured what appeared to be a man in blackface and a second person cloaked in Klu Klux Klan garb. He said that he could not "undo the harm my behavior caused then and today."

But by Saturday, he said he was not in the photo and had apologized a day earlier for "content" that was on his profile page in the yearbook. The governor said he had not seen the photo before Friday, since he had not purchased the commemorative book or been involved in its preparation more than three decades ago.

"I am not in that photograph," he told reporters gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, calling the shot offensive and horrific.

While talking with reporters, Northam disclosed that he once had used shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume he fashioned for a 1984 dance contest in Texas when he was in the U.S. Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn't understand "the harmful legacy of an action like that."

His refusal to step down could signal a potentially long and bruising fight between Northam and his former supporters.

Shortly after he spoke, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez issued a statement calling on the governor to step aside. Since Friday, groups calling for his resignation included the Virginia Democratic Party and the state House Democratic Caucus. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged him to resign, as have many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.

"His past and recent actions have led to pain and a loss of trust with Virginians. He is no longer the best person to lead our state," the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement.

If Northam does resign, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state's history. In a statement, Fairfax said the state needs leaders who can unite people, but he stopped short of calling for Northam's departure. Referring to Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said he "cannot condone actions from his past" that at least "suggest a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation."

Northam conceded Saturday that people might have difficulty believing his shifting statements.

Northam was pushed repeatedly by reporters to explain why he issued an apology Friday if he wasn't in the photograph.

"My first intention ... was to reach out and apologize," he said, adding that he recognized that people would be offended by the photo. But after studying the picture and consulting with classmates, "I am convinced that is not my picture."

Walt Broadnax, one of two black students who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School with Northam, said by phone Saturday he also didn't buy the class's 1984 yearbook or see it until decades after it was published.

Broadnax defended his former classmate and said he's not a racist, adding that the school would not have tolerated someone going to a party in blackface.

It remained unclear whether Northam's remarks would calm the torrent of criticism that threatens to undermine his administration.

The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. An Associated Press reporter later saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.

In an initial apology about the photograph on Friday, Northam called the costume he wore "clearly racist and offensive," but he didn't say which one he had worn.

He later issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term."

"I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," said Northam, whose term is set to end in 2022.

The scars from centuries of racial oppression are still raw in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.

Virginians continue to struggle with the state's legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and Massive Resistance, the anti-school segregation push. Heated debates about the Confederate statues are ongoing after a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. A state holiday honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson is a perennial source of discontent.

Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead-up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.

"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.

Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.

Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.