Education

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As COVID-19 started shutting down international travel in March, students from Northern Illinois University studying abroad had to be rushed back home.

Anne Seitzinger said she knows it was devastating for them. She’s the director of the study abroad office at NIU.  

Months later, her staff is still helping them deal with the consequences of the abrupt change in plans.

“They're trying to get refunds for the students, and most of them have been able to do that,” she said. “And the ones that haven't been able to tell us about refunds yet, it's sounding positive.”

Spencer Tritt

Illinois recently released guidelines for schools to return in-person this fall. Some concerned parents are choosing to homeschool their kids this year rather than send them back to in-person classes during COVID-19.

Brandi Poreda has homeschooled three of her kids over the last 20 years. She said the biggest advantage of homeschooling is flexibility.

Her first piece of advice to parents homeschooling for the first time? Don’t try to replicate the public school classroom experience.

 As the state lifts more restrictions, moving to Phase Four of the Restore Illinois plan, there are worries about a spike in coronavirus cases.  Hear what some experts are saying,

A Bloomington nursing home was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.  We learn more about what happened there.

And while Illinois lays claim to the Great Emancipator, its past also includes slavery. We'll get a history lesson.  That and more on Statewide.

 

This week's lineup:

'Dear Class of 2020...' | Teachers' Lounge Podcast

Jun 26, 2020
Spencer Tritt

This is a special episode of the show we’re calling “Dear Class of 2020…”  The teachers are gone. This week it’s all about the students graduating after the strangest senior year ever. You’re going to hear four valedictorians give the speeches they would have given, in a normal year, to an auditorium full of their friends and family.

The Class of 2020 valedictorians are:

Xavior Hutsell of Roosevelt High School in Rockford

Nina Mitchell of DeKalb High School

Ashley Althaus of Amboy High School

And, finally, Tessa Harbecke or Sycamore High School

Spencer Tritt

The State guidelines that were announced Tuesday for schools to resume in-person classes this fall need more work. That’s according to one of Illinois’ biggest teachers unions.

The pandemic put schools across the country in a tough position. They know many don’t consider the quality of e-learning equal to that of in-person instruction. But, even with new in-person safety protocols, some parents say they aren’t going to feel comfortable sending their kids to school.

Peter Medlin

The DeKalb School Board held a special meeting today on Juneteenth to ask members of the public to talk about their experiences with racism and inequality in the school system.

The need for more staff diversity was brought up by several speakers. Surveys show racial disparities between the numbers of black students and teachers exist across the country.

When COVID-19 closed campuses across the country, community colleges also had to quickly maneuver to online classes.

Eamon Newman is the assistant dean for online and flexible delivery at Waubonsee Community College.

He said the college was planning to increase the use of alternate instruction. And with in-person classes still uncertain, it’s also expanding flex learning options for students in the fall semester.

The recent marches and rallies for racial justice have taken place in major cities like Chicago and St. Louis. 

But they've also happened in communities notorious for lacking tolerance, including former "sundown towns" that put restrictions on African Americans.

We'll hear how one of those locations - Anna, Illinois - gained that reputation and how recent events have given reasons for optimism. 

Maurice McDavid

This week, we have our first ever returning guest on Teachers’ Lounge: Maurice McDavid. He’s been a teacher and administrator in his hometown of DeKalb for about a decade, but, starting next year, he’s going to be an elementary school principal in West Chicago.

Maurice is a black educator. He talked to host Peter Medlin about what he’s been thinking about during this national movement confronting police brutality and systemic racism in America. And Maurice gave his perspective on the racial inequities rooted in the education system.

Spencer Tritt

Does having more officers in a school automatically mean more safety? More and more school districts are questioning that premise after protests sparked from the killing of George Floyd.

Colleges around the state are working on their plans to host classes on campus this fall. A few outlined their plans while discussing them with the Illinois Board of Higher Education Tuesday.

ELINERIJPERS / VIA FLICKR CC BY 2.0

Illinois schools are now able to welcome students back for some types of in-person learning during the summer. The State Board of Education has issued guidance to districts to offer several programs.

Districts can start offering behind the wheel driving classes and host early childhood interventions, among other things, as long as they follow the rules: only 10 people at a time in one space, they must be six feet apart and be wearing masks.

JUANPABLO RAMIREZ-FRANCO / WNIJ

Watching protests unfold in his hometown of DeKalb, Maurice McDavid saw a black student he taught in the eighth grade leading a march. He remembered rapping with that student in a Black History Month presentation.

“I want all of our students of color to know that their lives matter, that they have value,” he said. “And, if I can just be very honest, as I watched some of the protesting, some of that anger explode out into rioting -- I've thought about the safety of my students.”

Spencer Tritt

From Chicago to DeKalb to West Aurora, some school districts are temporarily stopping meal distribution because of Sunday night’s looting and vandalism. Those actions came after cities saw protests in response to the killing of George Floyd.

The West Aurora School District is suspending its program only for Monday and Tuesday.

With record numbers of workers filing for unemployment during the pandemic, the district has seen a rise in the need for meals for families.

CIRCUIT BREAKER SCHOOL

Media investigations on isolated seclusions and restraint in Illinois sparked controversy and prompted immediate emergency rule changes from the State Board of Education last fall.

The Many Ways To Graduate During A Pandemic

May 29, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has canceled milestones for countless people. Weddings have been pushed back, memorials modified for social distancing and some funerals made digital.

High school graduation is a milestone that may feel a little different for students after e-learning for their final months. In early May, the Illinois State Board of Education made a statement saying schools were not to have typical in-person ceremonies. The board also gave guidelines on how schools can still celebrate.

Marilyn Moltz

Editor’s Note: WNIJ and our podcast Teachers’ Lounge are giving a platform for you to hear some of valedictorian speeches students may not get to give in person this year. It’s called “Dear Class of 2020...” If you want your school to be a part of our special edition show, send us an email at teacherslounge@niu.edu. And thanks!

On this episode of Statewide, a task force has been created to figure out the best way to get students back to college this fall.  We talk with a higher education leader about what's at stake and the challenges ahead.

And, high school seniors missed out on traditional graduation ceremonies.  For valedictorians, that meant not being able to stand in front of their classmates and deliver an address.  But they still have things to say and we'll listen to a few of them.  

Those stories and more on this week's Statewide.

Editor’s Note: WNIJ and our podcast Teachers’ Lounge are giving a platform for you to hear some of those valedictorian speeches. If you want your school to be a part of our special edition show, send us an email at teacherslounge@niu.edu. And thanks!

Justin Saichek

On a new Teachers’ Lounge, seventh grade language arts teacher Justin Saichek AKA The Last Wordbender. Justin is a rapper and spoken word artist who teaches at West Middle School in Rockford.

Justin talked to host Peter Medlin about how he got his rap name, teaching in the same building he went to middle school, coronavirus learning challenges, freestyle rap battles, and they dove deep on Justin’s hip hop career and music influences.

Spencer Tritt

Last October, the State Board of Education showed nearly 2,000 unfilled teaching jobs and nearly 5,000 total education positions. 

 

Bob Sondgeroth is the regional superintendent for Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties. He says it’s likely the pandemic will worsen Illinois’ teacher shortage. 

 

“I honestly think that we're going to have some retirements that we didn't plan on,” he said. “They're going to decide it's not worth the risk.” 

 

Spencer Tritt

Around 60% of DeKalb students qualify as low-income, according to the Illinois Report Card. That means they also qualify for reduced or free meals.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, schools scrambled to keep providing food for students who rely on their district for much more than education.

Peter Medlin

Running is more than exercise, it’s therapy. That’s what Jonah Garcia says. So he’s training now harder than ever. Garcia’s a senior distance runner on Auburn High School’s track & field team in Rockford.

Like so many spring athletes, Jonah had his final high school season stolen by the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he was feeling good about the season and had personal records he figured he could easily break.

“I was hoping to go Division-1 and maybe try and get a scholarship based off of my times this year,” he said.

Spencer Tritt

Coronavirus has highlighted the digital divide among low-income as well as rural students. Schools that don’t send students home with laptops rushed them equipment so they could do their homework online.

School administrators say some parents claim to have internet access, but it may only be through a phone plan. Districts have distributed hot spots for families without a plan or where service is undependable.

Peter Medlin

Illinois students have been e-learning for more than a month now. Reliable internet connectivity is still one of the major hurdles for many rural districts.

Alex Moore is the superintendent at Montmorency. They’re a K-8 district in Whiteside County with around 230 students.

“On a good day, I get four megabytes per second download speed, so I knew that was going to be an issue,” he said. “About half of our families probably have decent internet.”

Even that “good day” download speed doesn’t meet the FCC’s minimum recommendation for e-learning.

On this week's Statewide, a Decatur newspaper tells the view from within a senior living facility that has seen dozens of COVID-19 cases and several deaths.  

College journalists have left campuses, but they are still providing the student's perspective and publishing online.  Also, not everyone who gets sick with COVID-19 winds up in the hospital.  Many are getting help from health care workers while they recover at home. 

Those stories and more on the latest episode of Statewide. 

Jim Kanas

On a new episode of Teachers’ Lounge, roots musician, jazz guitarist & music teacher: Jim Kanas. He’s retiring from DeKalb Public Schools this year and has been an artist-in-residence with the Illinois Arts Council at schools across the state.

Jim talked to host Peter Medlin about e-learning, being an artist outside of the big city, his passion for American music and, obviously, we didn’t have him on without making him play a little something.

Flickr

Illinois Valley Community College recently had servers shut down by a cyberattack.

 

The school hired cybersecurity firms to get to the root of the ransomware and make sure confidential records are safe. 

 

The servers have been down since April 24. The school hopes to have more answers soon on how and why hackers got into their system. 

 

The attack primarily affected the college’s email servers, website and administrative software.

 

Spencer Tritt

Schools across Illinois have shifted to eLearning. But making that dramatic change can be very complicated, especially with schools that serve under-resourced minority populations disproportionately affected by the virus.

Students at Youth Connection Charter Schools in Chicago are often from those groups. Some are homeless or young parents, and many work in essential positions that put their health at risk during the COVID-19 crisis.

Spencer Tritt

It’s unclear what COVID-19’s full impact will be on colleges in the fall. Some are re-tooling schedules in case they need to move online.

And many students are changing their college plans because of the pandemic.

Cathy Cebulski is a counselor at DeKalb High School. She’s been communicating with her students over email since they moved to e-learning.

“If students were planning on going away to college thinking that Mom and Dad both had a job and they're both laid off right now, that certainly is a concern,” said Cebulski.

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