19-11-13 ARTS Sage Debates.jpg

Sage School ninth-grade students conduct firsthand research at the Lower Granite Dam in Washington in September.

Over the course of the autumn trimester, the students of the Sage School’s eighth- and ninth-grade bracket have been zeroing in their focus on Idaho’s rivers, the dams along them that generate energy and employ locals, and the impact those dams have on the rivers’ dangerously dwindling wild salmon populations.

In particular, activists and biologists have targeted the four dams along the lower Snake River, arguing that by removing those obstructions, salmon populations would begin to recover rapidly. The economic and productive repercussions of this move are subject to some speculation.

The dams have been a source of some controversy in the state for quite a long time. Their effect on salmon has been well-documented and analyzed in great detail, but the dams also generate a fair amount of power, allow barging of grain from Lewiston and provide jobs for many Idahoans.

The pros and cons of the dams, as well as the potential benefits or damages caused by removing them, have laid the groundwork for countless inconclusive debates over the years. The topic has formed the backbone to many a program at The Community Library lately, including a recent screening of the documentary “Dammed to Extinction.”

Having spent months studying the issues, the students of the Sage School will now join the debate themselves. Next Tuesday, Nov. 19, 28 students will each have some time at the podium to argue their points, present their research and provide some youthful insight into this powder-keg topic. Their debate will take place at The Community Library in Ketchum and will be open to public attendance.

Throughout the school year so far, the students have embarked upon several field trips to study the dams, rivers, fish and people involved firsthand.

“Through the field trips, the students were able to meet the different stakeholders on this issue, the people who stand to gain or lose depending on how it turns out,” explained Nathan Kolar, the students’ teacher. “They get to see how the dams work, meet the people who rely upon them, but also the people who want to remove them and how that act could help the ecosystem.

“We want the students to gain knowledge and perspective and hope they can separate themselves and their own opinions from the argument a little. It’s important to be able to see both sides and understand someone we might not agree with, especially on such an important issue as this.”

Each student has been assigned a specific role for the debate, a stance to take regardless of his or her personal opinions. Together, during the hour-long debate, they will aim to present every conceivable angle on the salmon issue.

Following the program, the debaters will take questions from the audience to make the event a proper community conversation.

Learn more about the event and the issue at comlib.org or sageschool.org.

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