The first week in October, I traveled across Eastern Montana – 648 miles to be exact with stops in 14 towns: Malta, Glasgow, Scobey, Westby, Plentywood, Culbertson, Sidney, Glendive, Wibaux, Baker, Ekalaka, Broadus, Alzada and Ashland.
Montana is a resource rich state. This includes agriculture as well robust coal, oil and natural gas potential — which directly employs nearly 6,000 Montanans and supports the employment of over 43,000 Montanans, in addition to providing a critical tax base – for our schools, teachers, roads and bridges.
I was on my way from Baker to my first meeting of the day in Ekalaka — when I stopped to Snapchat a quick update on where I was headed next. Snapchat is a new social media application that provides real time updates to followers – 41 percent of all 18 to 34 year olds in our country are using this new app.
If you haven’t heard of it, just ask the next young Montanan you see. The ‘snap’ was simple – it had a timestamp that read “6:00 a.m.” with a video selfie that said I was on my way to the Wagon Wheel Café in Ekalaka.
During breakfast at the Wagon Wheel Café with members of the Ekalaka Airport Board, Carter County Commissioners and Mayor Steve DeFord, Trish, the owner of the cafe came over and mentioned that Kennedy Tooke, a junior at Carter County High had watched my ‘snap’ that morning and wondered if I would stop by the school. I could never turn down an opportunity to visit with Montana’s future leaders at one of our Class C high schools.
Dennis, Trish’s husband, offered to take us to the school via four-wheeler after he was done rounding up his cattle. Ekalaka Public Schools, both the elementary and high school, are impressive places – from the students to the teachers and administration. They are teaching their students how to succeed in a 21st century workplace. When you walk in the doors at Ekalaka Elementary or Carter County High, you can’t help but notice the state of the art infrastructure. The new school was built just last year. Over 90 percent of the funds that built the new school came from pipeline tax revenues.
At the school I met with Ekalaka Superintendent Daniel Schrock, who led the tour. Our first stop was with the newest of school goers — the kindergarteners. When I walked in, all had headphones on and were learning with iPads. The teacher, a Montana native, informed us iPads allowed parents to effectively track the work their kids were doing during the school day.
Everywhere we turned in both schools, we met hardworking students and teachers committed to using technology to advance their classroom learning. Kennedy Tooke guided us to her history class where I took questions about local, state and national issues.
Eastern Montanans are some of the warmest and hardworking folks. There I heard about the important issues facing our communities directly from local elected officials, farmers, ranchers, students and business owners.
The message was resoundingly clear: Montanans want more Montana made solutions not more Washington D.C. bureaucracy.
The honor was mine to see the future leaders of Montana that day in Ekalaka Elementary and Carter County High School. A big thanks to Kennedy for the invitation. It’s a morning I’ll never forget.