Monday, January 15, 2018
West Shores High School principal Richard Pimentel slips on a cowboy hat before stepping outside. It is a nod to fashion as a response to the region’s harsh desert sun.
The school sits about halfway up the western side of California’s Salton Sea. Modern buildings, concrete patios and walkways and an artificial turf sports field stand in stark contrast to the desert community that surrounds the campus.
Tumbleweed and sand are common fixtures of the town’s yards.
“We are about 30 miles from anywhere,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel’s manner is relaxed and comfortable as he walks among his students during lunchtime.
A smile, a question or a joke come easily.
“They’re my kids,” Pimentel said. “You have to take responsibility and ownership of that. These folks have entrusted me with the welfare of their kids. It’s a big deal.”
Dust swirls in windy desert valley
Pimentel can guide and encourage, but he cannot shield his students from the dust that swirls in this windy desert valley.
“Any time there’s any kind of a wind, you see the dust clouds,” Pimentel said.
The dust in those clouds contribute to the Imperial Valley’s highest in the state asthma rates, and most people who live here expect things to get worse. That is because the Salton Sea is shrinking, exposing thousands of acres of possibly toxic lakebed to the hot sun and the region’s powerful winds.
Inside the nurse’s office at West Shores High, Pimentel unlocks a metal cabinet. It contains plastic bags from more than 40 of his students who need to bring prescription medicine to school so they can cope with their asthma.
He holds one up and looks through the translucent material.
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