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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Boulder City: A proposed study

Complete 31ers Living History Project Dissertation, click here.

Your suggestions, thoughts, ideas and referrals will be appreciated as I continue the study this article introduces.
-Art Lynch

The generation who live through the Great Depression, more specifically the workers and their families who suffered through extreme condition to build the Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) are dying out, and with them the direct history and lineage for the birth of the unique “six companies” town of Boulder City, Nevada.

Massive growth and expansion of the Greater Las Vegas metropolitan are was kept at arms length by direct control or large amounts of unused land by the citizens of Boulder City, and adjacent federal lands. Travels to Boulder City and the Hoover Dam must come through Railroad Pass, creating a clean geographic separation from the cities of Henderson and Las Vegas. The town is not a part of the Las Vegas Valley, as it is located in the sparsely populated El Dorado Valley to the south and east of Las Vegas. Boulder City has limited liquor licenses and continues to ban gaming despite its location a half hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip. Growth is limited and the sale of city land requires a referendum of the citizens. Boulder City’s population is estimated between fourteen thousand and sixteen thousand, despite being one of the largest cities in geography in the nation.

Still, the identity of Boulder City is changing and may be at risk. With consolidation of the school system for Clark County (one of the largest in the nation in both numbers and geography), influx of large numbers of people from other states and the great recession of 2009, local identity may be challenged as what was once its own entity is now referred to as part of ‘suburban Las Vegas’. There was a risk of the erosion of community identity and being absorbed into the “Las Vegas” urban identity. Built as a planned community of green lawns and trees, the southwestern water shortage and county restrictions are contributing to a shift in appearance and change in the very feel of the community. A widening of the highway, the black canyon bridge bypass to the dam, growth on the

One of the decedents of the original settlers, Patty Sullivan, has taken on the task of reversing the trend by preserving history and making it relevant to the children and new citizens of Boulder City. She has extended the annual reunion event for the families of those who settled in the Colorado Basin Project Boulder Dam area in 1931, to include educational outreach, community events and the establishment of a future curriculum for K-12 education at Boulder City Schools.

The approach is challenging students and citizens to become interested and involve in the preservation of the history of their community through interactive narratives.  The “31ers Project” hopes to encourage community engagement and reinforced identity through educational programs and outreach. Her ad hock approach has shown some growth and success but faces major hurdles in the bureaucracy of a countywide school district, teachers who do not live in Boulder City and in a community strapped for cash.

The challenge becomes how to pull the community around a project and then bring the young people into it as a means of enriching their education, while maintaining a greater community identity and historic priority, without relying on large formalized, and therefore expensive, resources.

In 2009 Sullivan, along with volunteers and loose affiliations with specific teachers and individuals working at various organizations, made the first step in expansion from an event for the families of the founders to greater community involvement. The annual luncheon was held at the Boulder City campus satellite of the College of Southern Nevada, preceded by three days of tours, hands on educational events, theater and children’s museum like exhibits toured by select second to fourth grade classrooms. The event itself included living theater reproductions of events by two adults, a second grade class as well as slide shows by the Bureau of Reclamation and scholars. As was the practice in the past, survivors and descendants of the original “31er’s” shared their memories and thoughts.

In her efforts to preserve the history and culture of the community, Sullivan has utilized her position with the city parks and recreation department and her historic ties to the community to engage individuals, groups and organizations in a community based approach to education, rather than an institutional based perspective. In doing so she was free of the restrictions of traditional structured educational hierarchies and organizational structures. Sullivan may, by pursuing her personal belief and dedication to her own family history, be contributing to the democratic base on which education should be based.

The study will examine an Ad Hoc Approach to developing a successful community education outreach program. It will look at the obstacles and best practices in launching a successful school-community outreach partnership. Educational leadership from non-educators who come from a community perspective will be a key part of this study.

The 31ers Community Education Outreach was started organically, but the seeds of the initiative had deep roots in the community. Could this program be used as a model for other communities, or is it unique to the geography, age and position of Boulder City as a community?

Without going through the formal structure, Sullivan and her “team” names and identified a problem in the community, framed the issues, set up and divided into a decision making structure, identified and began outreach to community resources, organized public actions and took the first steps toward crafting a learning community. Her connection in the community led to her active role in gaining needed support from community organizations, official and unofficial leaders, her fellow “31ers” and reaching out to an assortment of individuals in the community with the expertise to help facilitate the 2009 luncheon project, continuation of and future growth of the 31ers project.

The next logical step is movement toward cooperative co-production of educational tools as part of maintaining community identity while also stimulating student involvement, interests and interaction in as wide a variety of fields as possible. Such fields may include history, conservation, engineering, social studies, literature, theater and media. The use of contextual learning through instilling the interactivity of education, as a liberal arts experience in students and faculty alike may be a byproduct of a successful project similar to the “31ers.”

Through a real world contextual approach similar to the 31ers student learn and are reinforced in their understanding of many of the things they also learn in schools: skills and values, science and mathematics, languages and cultures.

School and community partnerships have a lengthy if sometimes ambivalent history.  Of course school is an important part of a community, in fact places a central role in many communities.  John Dewey believed that this collaboration should be active and intentional. 

There are clearly benefits and challenges in developing and encouraging this collaboration. School professionals may be resistant to outsiders with an agenda. Schools have to adhere to curriculum and standards. Community members may come in with their own notions of how to reach goals. In some cases schools may be begging for community participation, while in other cases community agencies or individuals may be inspired by perceived needs.  The process may be through the development of a formal strategic plan, or organically through the enthusiasm and creativity of individuals.  While schools are expert at developing strategy, organic development may be successful if certain characteristics and factors are at play.

This study may raise many questions and bring issues into play including:

The community itself is an educational institution. Should there be a community strategy, based on the local needs, instead of larger school based strategy, to coordinate and make relevant a student’s education?

Is education a one size fits all formula or is it one that varies by and profits from individual communities and circumstances?

What are the values of the community, of groups within the community, of the educators and those directly involved in the 31ers project? How do these values interrelate and interact? Can this be replicated in other communities or projects?

Have the values, priorities and make-up of the community changed sufficiently to make the preservation of history academic instead of a part of their view of their community’s identity?

Can an individual make a difference against larger social structures and ideals?

Arizona side of the river and improved public transportation links lead to an increased perception as a bedroom community to “Sin City.”

A brief review of the 31ers:

Originally, a 31’er was the term used for a person who arrived in the area that would become Boulder City, Nevada back in 1931, prior to serious construction on the Boulder or Black Canyon Dam (later named Hoover Dam). Over time those who worked or lived in the area during the entire time the dam and Boulder City itself were under construction came to known as 31ers. Today, anyone who has lived in Boulder City for at least 31 years or is a descendant of those who worked on the dam or who lived in Boulder city during the building of the dam are eligible to be called a 31er.

The Boulder Canyon Project Act is the name the federal government gave to the entire process of building Hoover Dam and Boulder City. The dam remains the largest water and power projects in US History.

The monumental construction effort resulted in the invention of technology and equipment still used today, and a dam considered one of the major wonders of the modern world. Hoover dam provides power and water for six states, created what for most of a century was the largest man made lake in the world, Lake Mead, and allowed for the growth of what are now the major southwestern cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The 31ers and their families who came to Nevada seeking work during the Great Depression weathered extreme conditions, took on dangerous work and added to the legacy of the American West in a key chapter of how man can overcome obsticles and create a lasting legacy.

First Written December 1, 2011

Sources and where to go for additional information and links:



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