Archive for the 'Learn' Category

New roads are worth the effort

Lajitas thermThe two hottest months of the year in Big Bend National Park are May and June. Don’t ask me why. My family and I found out the hard way.

Wanting a springtime, family-oriented, “off-the-grid” getaway, I booked a trip to Big Bend for Memorial Day weekend.

On the afternoon we arrived, the thermometer on the west-facing front porch of our vacation rental in Lajitas, Texas, read 120 degrees. That was as high as the thermometer went.

“It’s not that bad,” I explained to the kids. “It’s a dry heat. Plus, there’s a breeze.”

“It feels like we’re standing in front of a giant hair dryer,” one of them observed.

Fortunately, the Rio Grande was a stone’s throw away. And while I was initially concerned about water quality, the elements necessitated a swim across the border.

Mexican bovines met us on the other side. They didn’t mind the heat. They also provided an opportunity for more paternal perspective.

“See, look,” I told the kids. “At least you’re not wearing a black leather bodysuit.”

We spent the next three days taking on Big Bend’s classic hikes. The river trails were scorching. We took a dip in 105-degree hot springs to cool off after a pass through Boquillas Canyon.

The Chisos Mountain trails were doable thanks to a 20-degree temperature differential, but not without a lot of water and salty snacks.

During our 8-mile hike up Emory Peak, a question occurred to me, “As hard as it is to hike this trail, how much harder was it to build?”

I offered the question up to my kids. They nearly backed me off a ledge like I was Scar in The Lion King.

Trails, like roads, don’t happen by chance. They take planning, forethought, execution and effort. They require political will and determination driven by a desire for public good, both present and future.

Just like I’ve never heard the death-bed phrase, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office,” I’ve never heard, “I wish we never built that road.”

Unlike some government-funded “tragedies of the commons,” roads generally generate prosperity. They are usually utilized by a diversity of citizens.

In response to a joint request for help from Kendall County and the City of Boerne, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) spent two years and more than $1 million developing its Kendall Gateway Study.

Extensive citizen feedback was considered to determine ways to increase mobility in our fast-growing county. The data-driven plan is currently before Kendall County’s Commissioners Court and Boerne’s City Council. We need to get something out of the time and money spent.

I know it’s not easy. Someone’s backyard will have a line through it. We still need to put lines on the map, and sooner than later.

Construction won’t start on any proposed roadway for years. No TXDOT funding is yet on the table – and it never will be unless we start pushing for it through the Bexar County-dominated Metropolitan Planning Organization.

But we can’t start pushing for funding until local leaders put lines on a map.

Regional TXDOT Planning Director Jonathan Bean noted recently that Loop 337 around New Braunfels was first placed on a right-of-way map in the 1960s.

Very few people think that road – or any other road, for that matter – is a bad idea now.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

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Two cents’ worth on CVS

sach in black and white
A presentation to Boerne’s Historic Landmark Commission created a firestorm earlier this month. A friend suggested re-naming the group Historic Landmine Commission.

Following the presentation, a rumor spread fast: National pharmacy chain CVS is coming to the corner of Main Street and River Road.

The reality is many hoops of local government stand in CVS’s way. The Commission’s “discussion item” was miles away from a groundbreaking.

When I first heard of CVS going where a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint stood for decades, the idea was anathema to me. I like my barbecue orders taken with a pencil and cut-up copy paper. Riverside Market was a brief stop in Mayberry.

Besides, where else could you buy nightcrawlers for the fish and white bread for the ducks of Cibolo Creek?

The Shell gas station / Riverside Market combination was not what tourism professionals would recommend for a gateway welcome center. But it was Boerne.

And it was also sold in 2012 by the Boerne family who had owned it for years. A San Antonio convenience store operator and then real estate investors have owned it since.

Boerne’s Main Street has long been filled with utility. People needed a livery stable and then automobile repair shops. They needed groceries, medicines, gas and places to stay and eat. All these sprang up at one time or another up and down Main Street from Riverside Market.

Directly across Main Street from Riverside, Sach’s Garage operated as the self-proclaimed “oldest garage in town.” City leaders recently referenced a black and white photo of the garage when the CVS developer asked what building type would fit Boerne’s historic district.

The developer presented renderings of a CVS Pharmacy styled like a 1940s garage to the Historic Landmark Commission two weeks ago. The drawings actually don’t look that bad. They look like an upscale CVS you’d see in Estes Park, CO, or Seaside, FL.

The outcry against CVS seems ubiquitous, but I haven’t heard what people want instead. The hole-in-the-wall is gone. Something else will be built. What should it be?

Public art sculptures? A museum? A gigantic Guadalupe bass with a six foot tall, wide-open mouth for tourists to take selfies in?

How about a restaurant with a deck overlooking Cibolo Creek? Several of those already exist within a stone’s throw of the site. A city park? There’s one across the street. A frozen yogurt shop? There’s one next door. A coffee shop and bakery? Try two doors down.

What about a boutique organic grocery or an outdoor gear outfitter?

Unfortunately, most of these ideas are not financially sustainable at this point. Like other businesses currently along Main, outside sources of income would be required for them to survive. For long-term prosperity, we need more economic viability, not less.

Other questions to ponder: How do we get dry goods and groceries to growing populations on the north and east sides of Boerne? Would it help traffic congestion to the south if we did? Would a series of smaller stores minimize the need for big boxes?

As for Main Street and River Road, an old-fashioned drugstore complete with diner-style grill and soda fountain milkshakes sounds good to me. If CVS will change its exterior to fit our historic district, maybe the pharmacy would retrofit its interior, too.

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

 

Bucket List Includes Rock & Roll Show

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I admit I don’t have much of a bucket list, besides keeping the floors mopped until the kid spills decrease.

And while I was born in Music City the week Elvis died, I don’t consume a lot of new music. My older sons laugh at how few artists are in my repertoire.

And I definitely don’t think of myself as a rocker, unless it’s on the front porch.

Still, I consider one band iconic. While the group is labeled a rock band, its work cuts across genres and decades. With its latest release, the four-man act has had a Billboard chart-topping album in each of the last four decades.

My wife was a fan long before I. So, she wasn’t a tough sell when I asked her to rendezvous with…drumroll, please…U2. “I was going With or Without You,” she said.

U2’s sweeping anthems have captured generations of music lovers. The songs land the band on Super Bowl halftime shows and outsized music festivals. Think “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

U2’s current tour is called eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE. At the concert, we didn’t hear all the classics. We did experience the heart and soul of U2’s vision and its mastery of technology and artistry.

While U2 scales every rhythm and melody to entertain at the highest levels, its lyrics are what draw me in, particularly the Biblical allusions. Lead singer Paul David Hewson (a.k.a. “Bono”) pens them.

“See the bird with a leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out” (from Beautiful Day)

“You broke the bonds, and you loosened chains, carried the cross of my shame” (from I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

Historical references reflect how much attention these guys pay to the world around them. They are always on a mission and are deeply affected by human suffering.

“Sometimes, I wake at four in the morning when all the darkness is swarming, and it covers me in fear…Sometimes, I’m full of anger and grieving, so far away from believing that any song will reappear” (from The Little Things That Give You Away)

Bono’s honesty keeps U2 rolling, real and relevant. He connects grief and terror from his youth with events of today. The death of his mother and the 1972 shootings in Northern Ireland impacted his young innocence.

And now, through experience, Bono entreats Americans to restore the American soul. There’s even a song by that name.

On the new album, he writes, “The slaves are lookin’ for someone to lead them, the master’s lookin’ for someone to need him, the promised land is there for those who need it most, and Lincoln’s ghost said, ‘Get out of your own way.’”

“Free yourself to be yourself,” he encourages in the song, Lights of Home.

“I want to be useful,” Bono said recently in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That is our family prayer… It is not the most grandiose prayer. It is just, ‘we are available for work.’ That is U2’s prayer. We want to be useful, but we want to change the world. And we want to have fun at the same time.”

While making good music, Bono and company appear to be keeping the faith, just not to themselves.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Boerne has welcomed progress before

Land developers often use blank slates for their exploits. They build ground-up on large swaths of vacant property. Think Orlando, Florida, or The Woodlands north of Houston.

Boerne’s different. We have what some fast-developing areas don’t. In a word, we have history. History gives a deeper character that can make growth meaningful, inviting and attractive. Some places must build history around growth. Boerne can shape growth around its history.

Some local businesses are building on Boerne’s past. Cibolo Creek Brewing is bringing Main Street to life like Max Beseler’s “Metropolitan Saloon” did starting in 1891. The saloon occupied the building where The Daily Grind now brews coffee.

Long-time Boerne resident Tommy Mathews is doing something similar in the former Bergmann Lumber building. Tusculum Brewing is “coming soon.”

Down Blanco Road, local florist Urban Flowers occupies a 1951 wood frame structure that builders Robert Thornton and Travis Roberson preserved in their recent commercial revitalization of the Schwarz homestead.

These business leaders don’t see progress as a threat to quality of life. Neither did many of their predecessors.

In Historic Images of Boerne, Garland Perry republished a San Antonio Daily Express article from March 1878 describing the arrival of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad in Boerne.

According to the story, six hundred San Antonians “of almost every imaginable race, color, sex and previous condition of servitude” boarded seven passenger coaches destined for the “mountains” of Boerne.

Riders enjoyed Lone Star beer during the two-hour trip that whistled to a stop at the end of Theissen Street just passed “Cibolo falls,” a series of water chutes downstream from present-day Cibolo Nature Center.

The Boerne brass band played as guests disembarked. Dr. W.G. Kingsbury un-reluctantly welcomed guests to “our little hamlet of Boerne.”

Kingsbury was was once tasked by the governor of Texas to recruit settlers to the state. He had offices in St. Louis, Missouri, and London, England.

According to Kingsbury, it was “so great a luxury to inhale [the] mountain air” that even if guests didn’t eat, they “would go home tonight declaring it the grandest holiday.”

“But such is not our intention,” Kingsbury relieved the audience. “Old men, young men, saints, sinners, Democrats and Republicans” had joined up to organize a barbecue dinner for the guests. The arrival of the rail line had the Boerne-ites in a “state of excitement never witnessed.”

Boerne understood the benefits the iron horse would bring. Travel times to San Antonio would be cut significantly. Greater quantities of goods could be delivered and stored to meet demand. Twice-daily mail and newspaper service would deliver new knowledge.

Kingsbury compared the train’s arrival to the biblical return of the prodigal son:

Let mirth and joy abound.

We once were lost, but now are found.

Our hills are iron bound.

“Go kill the fatted calf,” he urged.

The Daily Express reporter summed up the day’s festivities this way: “Nobody seemed to want to come home…The town was in a frolic, and is liable to keep it up for a day or two longer…If you want to have a jolly time, go to Boerne.”

It doesn’t sound like “Boerne Texas Gone Forever” was charcoaled to the rear of any horse-drawn wagon on the grounds that day.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

7 Ways to Improve Education

You’ve heard of the dog days of summer. Well, welcome to the dog days of school.

Standardized tests are almost done, but the standardized calendar is not. Daylight lingers longer, but attention spans do not. It’s a good time to review what works well and what wears us out.

Boerne ISD has its online parent satisfaction survey open through Friday. Superintendent Tommy Price is also assembling committees to set a new strategic direction for BISD. As the conversations unfold, here are seven ideas for improvement:

  1. Group elementary students by their birth quarter. In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell highlights the significant difference between success rates of people born just after an age cutoff and those born months later.

Teaching to the lowest common denominator is a common temptation in education. Grouping students of like ages, down to the month or quarter of their birth, will challenge high performers and help those who need extra attention.

  1. Teach more values. In a politically correct, pluralistic society, we’re better at teaching skills than values. I want my kids to have both.

If kids get values (honesty, hard work, discipline, service over self, respect for authority, etc.), they will acquire skills, even if it’s after they leave home. Knowledge and information aren’t limiting factors in our interconnected world. Character and wisdom are.

  1. Help kids develop a fierce mastery of technology. Boerne resident Kelly Newcom, author of http://www.BraveParenting.net, says smartphone pitfalls (pornography, bullying, addictive behavior) have dramatically increased incidences of suicide, self-harm and depression among kids nationwide.

Schools should carefully monitor and/or restrict device use on campuses and buses. Reducing dependence on smartphones will help kids master offline communication skills and sharpen the original supercomputer: the human brain.

  1. Transition to school uniforms. As decorum slides in our image-obsessed society, a move in the other direction would serve students well.

Uniforms work in third world countries and inner city charter schools. They work in pricey private and parochial schools. They will work in BISD. Let students express their independence and creativity in their work products, not in their attire.

  1. Close the gap between elementary and secondary start times. Elementary students shouldn’t have to go to school in the dark for half the year and then go to bed in the light the other half.

Various issues affect scheduling: bus routes, parental work schedules, morning and evening activities, student performance studies, etc. Still, start times closer to 8:00 am are ideal for all ages.

  1. Shorten middle school block periods. Hour and a half classes are too long, especially for boys. Teachers try to break up the monotony, and block schedules help with moving teachers between campuses, but we need a better way to organize the day.

7. Let the adults be adults. In our “customer is always right” world, the chief / tribesman line can get blurry.

Today, university students sit on regent boards and high schoolers help select principals. A mix of perspectives is beneficial, so long as the wisdom and expectations of the aged prevail.

***

Basic parenting is faltering in some circles. Educators are being asked to pick up the slack. They need our support and encouragement. They also need our input. The dog days of school are a great time to offer it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Leave distracted driving in 2017

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I had to see it for myself. A roadside warning sign in a new development in Boerne, Texas, USA. When my son first sent me an image of it, I thought it was a Photoshop special, an Internet hoax. Surely, it was a farce.

The sign read – not “Slow / Children At Play” – but “Caution / Children Texting.” A walking stick figure with its head down toward an apparent electronic device accompanied the written message.

Welcome to 2018, home of ubiquitous screen staring.

Somewhere in the madness, at least one of us has this resolution: Stop texting and driving.

“It can wait, Dad,” my kids remind me, borrowing a line from AT&T. “Stay alert, stay alive,” a highway department sign reads. “TALK TEXT CRASH,” states another public service message in shaky, haunted house lettering.

To help someone form the habit of buckling his mobile device in the backseat of his car, I offer my top seven reasons to quit driving distracted in the New Year.

Numbers 6 and 7 are self-evident and should be sufficient, but never underestimate a human’s ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

#7. You could hurt yourself. A plea to self-interest seems to be an effective approach in this age. Some cars are self-driving, yes. Others still roll down embankments. Some still land in ravines.

#6. You could hurt someone else. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has plenty of research at https://www.distraction.gov that shows distracted driving is as bad as drunk driving. The only thing worse than injuring yourself would be to injure others and have to live with yourself.

#5. You might misspell your text message. Auto-correct is problem enough when trying to get your point across. Don’t add the distraction of seventy miles per hour. You might accidentally tell a client you hate her, or, worse, you love her.

#4. You might miss a beautiful sunset, a big buck or a billboard advertising your favorite cosmetic surgery.

#3. It’s hard to get a good selfie when you’re texting. There seems to be no limit to our culture’s self-absorption. Remember, remote friends once waited weeks for a mailed response. They can wait again. None of us is that important.

#2. It’s the law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, forty-seven states including Texas have banned texting while driving. Fourteen states not including Texas have banned all handheld devices while driving. The City of Boerne instituted such a ban for its limits in 2015.

#1. And the number one reason not to text and drive? Drumroll, please…because everyone else does.

Here’s to a Happy (and safe) New Year! As I tell my sixth grade basketball team on a fast break, “Eyes up!”

Read more from Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

Home for the Holidays … and Beyond

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released its annual state of America’s housing report. It shows more young adults’ living with their parents than at any time since World War II.

Half of Americans aged 20 – 24 live at home. And more than a quarter of those aged 25 – 29 bunk up with their folks.

In the past ten years, the number of American adults under age 30 has increased by 5 million, but the number of households headed by adults under 30 has increased by only 200,000.

These statistics are surely triggering Millennial jokes across the country. Comedian John Crist has certainly gotten a good laugh out of his generation. His “Millennial International” spoof is spot on.

At the risk of appearing tacky or insensitive, Crist parodies common “adopt-a-child” advertisements by humanitarian organizations. He offers an opportunity to sponsor a Millennial for $2,900 a month.

“The need is enormous,” a sponsor explains. “There are over ten million Millennials who have graduated with no work ethic, no job, no discernible skills at all. And they have expenses.”

Three stereotypical Gen Y-ers itemize their expenses: housing, student loans, credit card debt, Volkswagen Jetta lease, beard wax, Spotify premium, pet food for a rescue dog, spin cycle membership, Ubers home from a pub crawl, essential oils, Kale Krunch.

The sponsor adopts “Declan” from Beverly Hills (played by Mr. Crist).

The sponsor describes the program: “It’s the same as a traditional sponsorship program except instead of getting – say – a soccer ball for his birthday, he’s getting an Audi.”

Is Declan capable of getting a job with his art degree? Sure, he says.

“But I sort of feel like employment right now would be stifling to my creativity.” He’s an aspiring photographer. He’s also gluten-free, lactose intolerant, allergic to peanuts, and sensitive to pollen.

***

I recently met a gentleman who was helping support his 30-year-old son in Hawaii. The son is an occupational therapist by day and a surfer by afternoon. He isn’t making enough to pay all his expenses.

The man’s other son, 28, had recently moved back in with him. His garage is full of furniture the son had won on a game show while living in California.

All dresser-ed up with nowhere to go.

Many Millennials drive for passion, meaning and authenticity. To them, rolling out in pajamas, facial hair and dreadlocks is not a sign of laziness. It shows you’re being real.

But “real” is not reality. The participation trophy mentality has short-circuited many young people’s understanding of value. Everyone getting a medal is the same as no one getting a medal.

The good news is for every 25-year-old living at home, there’s a 25-year-old contributing mightily, such as one who works for me. She recently juggled two complex jobs at once while we filled an open position.

As in all of life, there is light in darkness and hope amid malaise. There are new opportunities to take responsibility and to learn to add value.

For both Millennials and the generation that raised them.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.


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