Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lake Pend Oreille Community College

I keep reading in the paper about the enthusiastic interest that abounds in turning Sandpoint into a college town. I didn't fill out the survey mentioned in the articles, but I would have been proud to add one more vote to the affirmative.

First and foremost, I look at my own experience as a lifelong Sandpoint lover, where only my four college years have kept me away from here. And, even the need to be attending a university failed to keep me from coming back to the farm and to the community I loved so dearly.

Once I'd gotten a full view of what the University of Idaho had to offer for a poor farm girl who depended on the Federal Work-Study program to pay for her board and room, I began to come home every weekend after having made the trip just three times during my first semester. Once I'd gotten my fill of entertaining myself on weekends by smoking L & M cigarettes and playing marathon pinochle games with friends in our cell-block-style dorm, I decided that weekends off and back home on the farm would probably offer a much healthier way to spend my recreational time.

Granted, I could have spent that surplus five or ten dollars a month (after board and room were paid) on movies at the SUB, but, like so many my age, I bought into the faulty notion that to truly grow up was to be seen smoking those cigarettes. I enjoyed my L & M's all through college but finally wised up when a severe sore throat and perennial huffy puffiness on virtually any walk made me lay off from them for a while. That was 37 years ago.

For some reason, I never really found a niche in the Moscow setting. In fact, that still remains one of my major disappointments in life. Yes, I liked my job at the university's radio-television center, I enjoyed meeting new friends and appreciated my education, but the setting and its limitations for the poverty-stricken student did not fit my personal needs.

I have found, over the years in conversations with other locals, that I was not alone among the U of I students who learned every curve and hill along Hwy 95 on their weekend round trips between Moscow and Sandpoint. In many cases, they were farm kids like me. Sandpoint and the farm, where I could spend time outside with the animals and my family each weekend, always tugged at me.

So, when I have read in recent papers about the possibilities of my hometown turning into a full-fledged college town, I get pretty excited and wish this concept could have been formulated a long time ago. I think Sandpoint offers the perfect setting for a small college, and I think a small college would thrive here.

If we're going to attract people to this area, let's attract a venue where virtually everyone in the community can benefit. Naturally, most high school students want to get the heck out of Dodge, but I'm willing to bet that even a portion of our graduating seniors would welcome the opportunity to remain here while engaged in their higher education.

A college atmosphere and its institutional offerings could do nothing but enhance the educational system we now have here in the area. Attracting knowledgeable and talented educators at college levels and picking their brains for ideas could do wonders for enriching the academic programs that already exist and continue to do well in our school system.

As the job market continues to change in this area, so will the educational needs. How nice it would be to have the educational opportunities available almost at our doorstep! Plus, there are a lot of people who just like to have educational opportunities for their own personal enrichment.

Slowly but surely over the years, the opportunities for advanced educational offerings have become more accessible through local outreach from NIC, the University of Idaho and Lewis and Clark State College. It's now time to take that a step further and examine the possibilties for establishing a full-fledged higher education facility here in our area.

I can imagine the difference such an opportunity would have made in my life, when I sought my 4-year college degree. In addition, throughout all those early years when my teaching schedule and extracurricular responsibilities kept me so busy, I had no time to leave town for two months to take summer school classes. Other colleagues were able to do so, but, in my unique case, I advised the drill team for nine years, which required being in town and available for most of the summer months. Then, came my children, and finally came a few opportunities to take advanced education locally.

I hope the local shakers and doers continue moving forward with their ideas of establishing a college community here where lifelong learners of all ages can reap the benefits by learning in one of the most beautiful and stimulating environments one can imagine. It's could be a win-win situation for all involved.

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