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Education
La Crosse students plant 'edible schoolyard'
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Students from SOTA I, including Lilyann Patros, 10, work to plant a pollinator patch on Thursday. Representatives from GROW La Crosse visited SOTA I/Hamilton Early Learning Center to help kids through the first stage of creating their edible schoolyard.

Even the names are fun to say.

Purple love grass. Brown fox sedge. Hairy beardtongue.

Armed with trowels and enthusiasm, students at Hamilton Early Learning Center and the School of Technology and Arts planted an array of flowers and shrubs Thursday — part of a project meant to make their schoolyard an attractive spot for pollinators and a source of healthy food.

“Research shows that if students are integral in planting and harvesting, they’re much more likely to incorporate healthy foods into their diet,” said Jamie O’Neill, executive director of the nonprofit GROW, which is helping coordinate the project. “Letting them be part of the process is leaps and bound better than just giving them fresh local food. Hopefully, this is something they choose in the future and carry on for a lifetime.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Pollinator-friendly plants, including hairy beardtongue, purple love grass, prairie smoke and goldenrod, are planted by SOTA I students Thursday as part of their edible schoolyard project in cooperation with GROW La Crosse.

After hearing about landscape design from the experts at Coulee Region Ecoscapes, the students had almost complete control of the project.

They spent days selecting which species to plant, considering everything from the amount of sunlight or moisture they need, to their root profile, to their height.

The pollinator patch is at the corner of the schoolyard at Seventh and Johnson streets.

“They needed to be under four feet,” said Elliot Mather, a fourth-grader. Otherwise, “a car coming from over there wouldn’t be able to see a car coming from over there. They could crash, and that would not be good.”

One of the plants, the students were surprised to learn, would have grown to 10 feet.

“We didn’t realize it was a tree,” Elliot said.

After 15 minutes in the pollinator patch, the students had dirt on their hands, knees and faces.

Miya Servais, a fifth-grader, said she was most excited to watch the growth of the prairie smoke plants, which yield hot-pink flowers each summer.

“I hear they’re really pretty,” she said. “I’ve never seen one in person.”

But the plants were selected for more than their looks.

Elliot Luecke, a fourth-grader, said there’s one species that “bees love so much that you can walk up and pet them, and they won’t notice.”

“They’re like: ‘Nectar, nectar, nectar,’” he said.

The pollinator patch is just one phase of Hamilton’s “edible schoolyard” project. The school already has a vegetable garden, planted several years ago with help from GROW, and will be adding raspberry bushes and other plants along the west side of the building.

Mike Lawrence, who teaches fourth and fifth grade, said the school gardens will present more and more learning opportunities as the plants bloom and the seasons change.

He can’t recall the class being this excited for a project.

“As a teacher, this is your dream,” Lawrence said. “We gave them the idea, and they just took it and ran with it.“


Local
Crochet wonder Jonah Larson branches into fashion under mentorship of designer Daniel Sheehan
Contributed 

Crochet kid Jonah Larson has started his own fashion line under the guidance of Atlanta based designer Daniel Sheehan. Sheehan has been mentoring Jonah since the two developed a friendship in February.  

As a child, Daniel Sheehan gravitated toward arts and crafts with his mom over sports with his peers. So in young crochet prodigy Jonah Larson, who shares an equally close bond with his mother, Sheehan found a kindred spirit.

An Atlanta-based fashion designer with big-name clients — Kelly Clarkson and the Zac Brown Band among them — Sheehan began following 11-year-old Jonah’s story in February, after Sheehan’s vintage dealer in New York pulled up the La Crosse boy’s Instagram page, Jonah’s Hands, to show him.

“It was this little boy with this little voice saying, ‘Hello, crochet friends,’ and it stopped me in my tracks,” said 44-year-old Sheehan. “I showed my mom and I had tears in my eyes and she started crying. I sent a message to Jonah saying I wish he would have been my friend when I was 11 years old. ... Within 12 hours I had this beautiful response from Jonah.”

Today, the pair share more than a friendship.

Under Sheehan’s guidance, Jonah — who skyrocketed to fame after the La Crosse Tribune profiled the young speed crocheter in February — has created a fashion line of his own, branching off from a crochet-themed T-shirt collaboration between Jonah’s Hands and Sheehan Company.

Jonah’s line of clothing, available beginning May 19 at jonahhands.com, will feature his own designs, with slogans including “Crochet Away” and “Bro-chet.” A portion of the proceeds will go toward Roots Ethiopia, a nonprofit located in the country where Jonah was born, before being adopted as an infant by parents Jennifer and Christopher.

“It moves me that this child in this stage of the game wants to be charitable,” said Sheehan, who funded both the website and the first round of shirts to get Jonah started.

“Daniel has been a wonderful mentor for me — he taught me all the ropes about being a business owner,” Jonah said. “He’s become more than a fashion designer, he’s become my uncle and our minds fit together perfectly.”

The two started their communication through video chatting in February — Jonah showing off his crochet creations, Sheehan sharing his designs and even sending Jonah a bespoke orange henley.

“We had a common vernacular — we finish each other’s sentences. I heard him describe color and talk about silhouette with such passion,” says Sheehan, who invited Jonah and Jennifer to the Sheehan Company design room in Atlanta last month.

Jonah, precocious and articulate, greeted Sheehan’s staff by saying, “I want everyone to act with integrity today and do a good job, the best you can, and have fun.”

Admiring a tour jacket Sheehan had made, Jonah designed his own, with pockets for crochet hooks and themed patches. After wearing it on his TODAY show appearance April 26, “a little business was born for him,” Sheehan says.

“It’s about Jonah diversifying. Jonah has a message and it’s bigger than crochet,” Sheehan said. “He has a fearless approach to everything he does and he accomplishes the same thing with a crochet hook as he does with a T-shirt.”

The partnership between her son and Sheehan, who is helping the Larson family find a factory to produce the next batch of garments, is “magical,” Jennifer says.

“Jonah’s ability to design comes alive through this mentorship — fashion opens a whole new world for Jonah,” Jennifer said. “(Daniel) has donated an unbelievable amount of resources to us. He makes this really fun for Jonah — it’s not work.”

Sheehan, who has no children, had never taken on a young protege but found in Jonah a strength, sense of compassion and spirit of inclusivity — “He’s taken away the shame associated with going against gender rules” — that inspired him.

Harlem Globetrotter Dragon Taylor pays crochet kid Jonah Larson a visit at Lincoln Middle School

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Eleven-year-old crocheting prodigy Jonah Larson teaches Dragon Taylor, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, his skill Thursday when the basketball team’s representative visited Lincoln Middle School where Larson is a seventh-grader. Larson will be among the spectators for the Harlem Globetrotters upcoming visit to the La Crosse Center on Tuesday, April 16.

“He moved me. He changed my life,” Sheehan said. “He loves me with open arms and there’s no judgment. The strength of what the Larsons do and how they’ve taught Jonah loving and empathy is profound to me. I’ve learned to be a better person through Jonah.”

Sheehan has not, however, learned to be a better crocheter.

“I have to say,” Sheehan admits, “I’m not very good.”

For more information or to purchase clothing from Jonah’s Hands, visit https://jonahhands.com. To view Jonah’s crochet creations, visit www.facebook.com/jonahhands.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Andrew Fischer pitches for Central during Thursday’s game against Logan at Copeland Park.


GOP lawmakers scrap Tony Evers' plans to expand Medicaid, hike taxes, overhaul pot laws

Zimmerman

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted Thursday to strip 131 items from Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget plan, despite Democrats’ pleas to spare one of Evers’ top priorities: a Medicaid expansion that would benefit 82,000 Wisconsinites.

On a party-line 11-4 vote, Republicans also removed from Evers’ budget his plans to hike taxes on large manufacturers and some high earners, overhaul state marijuana laws by legalizing medical marijuana and de-penalize possession of small amounts of the drug, and increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour by 2023.

Shortly before the vote, committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said he sees no path to a compromise on expanding Medicaid.

“From there it simply becomes Medicaid Lite,” Nygren said.

Democrats on the committee said Republican lawmakers are ignoring the health-care funding infusion that Medicaid expansion would direct from Washington, D.C., to their districts — as well as polls showing strong public support for the move.

In a press conference before the session, Democrats displayed a poster breaking down the millions in federal funds that Medicaid expansion would send to districts of GOP lawmakers on the committee. For example, in Sen. Howard Marklein’s district in southwest Wisconsin, the expansion would inject $101 million into hospitals, nursing homes, dentists, mental health care and combating lead poisoning, according to Evers administration figures cited by a liberal group, Protect Our Care.

Evers, in a statement issued after the vote, called rejection of Medicaid expansion “fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.” Evers vowed that the Medicaid expansion fight is far from over, urging constituents to contact their lawmakers and demanding they reverse course.

“All we hear from Republicans is ‘no,’” Evers said. “They refuse to listen to the will of the people or work together, and Wisconsinites will pay the price.”

No specifics on $1.4B hole

Republicans have not detailed how they will account for a $1.4 billion budget hole created by their bid to scrap the Medicaid expansion as well as Evers’ proposals to increase taxes by limiting tax breaks on large manufacturers and on capital gains for high earners.

State government can’t run a deficit, so the gap will need to be filled by cuts from Evers’ proposed spending levels, tax increases or a mix of both.

Republicans have made clear that the budget they pass will spend significantly less than Evers’ $83.5 billion two-year plan. Among the implications of Thursday’s vote are that GOP lawmakers, by removing more than $1 billion in new revenue generated by Evers’ proposals, also are unlikely to back his plan to give a $1.4 billion infusion to K-12 school districts.

In a separate vote Thursday, Republicans on the finance committee also voted 11-4 on party lines to reject Evers’ plan to provide $15 million to boost state aid to counties and municipalities by 2% starting in 2020.

Nygren told reporters it’s “premature” to specify how the Legislature’s budget will differ from Evers’. Nygren said he hopes the budget will provide some level of increased funding for schools, address reimbursement rates for health care providers and solve the state’s transportation funding struggles.

Assembly Republicans have been open to Evers’ plan to raise the gas tax by 8 cents and increase heavy truck and vehicle title fees for a $600 million funding boost for roads, bridges and transit. But as was the case in the state budget debate two years ago, Senate Republicans have said they may not be on board.

Nygren said Republican lawmakers expect to have their budget on Evers’ desk by the end of June. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Evers isn’t backing down on his plan to expand Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health care law. It would extend eligibility to Wisconsinites making between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $12,490 for an individual and $25,750 for a family of four.

The Evers administration says additional federal money obtained through Medicaid expansion would save the state $324 million over two years. That money could be invested in other programs to draw down more federal dollars, the administration says, for a total $1.6 billion in new investment in hospitals, nursing homes, dental care, maternal care and other health services.

‘This is not welfare’

Citing public polls showing solid support for the move, Evers vowed last week to “fight like hell” to preserve the measure under intense opposition from some GOP legislators, especially Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

But Republican lawmakers, decrying it as an “expansion of welfare,” have cited a study saying said it would increase private insurance consumer costs by more than it would save taxpayers.

Nygren also said the 82,000 who would become newly eligible for Medicaid already are eligible for partially subsidized health coverage on the state’s exchange created by the federal health care law.

Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, said he wants to change the health care system but believes that should involve fixing the federal health care law.

“There is a problem to fix,” Zimmerman said. “But throwing more money at it, money from your neighbors, is not the answer.”

Democrats supporting Medicaid expansion have countered with studies suggesting it would lower private health coverage premiums on the individual marketplace while reducing uncompensated care costs to hospitals.

“This is not welfare. It’s good common sense,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

Other Evers proposals scrapped by GOP lawmakers Thursday include:

  • Capping enrollment in the state’s private-school voucher program.
  • Increasing the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to to $10.50 by 2023, then link future increases to inflation.
  • Ending a freeze on property tax levies for counties and municipalities, allowing them to increase their levies by 2%.
  • Permitting Wisconsin residents who are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to get driver’s licenses or state ID cards, which would specify they could not be used as IDs to vote.
  • Granting in-state tuition to Wisconsin high school graduates who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
  • Repealing the state’s minimum markup requirement for fuel sales.
  • Repealing the “right-to-work” law enacted in 2015 that bars requirements for workers to pay fees covering a share of the costs of union representation.