Illinois COVID-19

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Back in March 2020, Taylor Boelte was finishing up her nursing clinical shift when the hospital told her she wasn’t allowed to come back. Not just her, all nursing students had their clinicals cut short as COVID-19 spread across the country. 

 

“Clearly the hospitals weren't prepared, and we weren't really expecting for COVID to have this impact,” said Boelte. “It just kind of came all quickly but I don't really remember there being like a huge panic beforehand. I think it all just came at once.”

 

Spencer Tritt

Illinois made it a high school graduation requirement this year for seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

Taylor Leach

This Week: Another edition of Student Teachers’ Lounge! Host Peter Medlin talked to Taylor Leach, who has experienced the pandemic as both a student and as a teacher. She just graduated with a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and finished up student teaching at Kingston Elementary School in Genoa, Illinois.

Spencer Tritt

During the pandemic, schools are seeing a significant teacher shortage, especially a lack of substitutes. They typically see a surge of subs and new teachers in January as winter graduates enter the job market.

But in 2021, it’s unclear if that boost will come for Illinois schools suffering staff shortages due to COVID-19.

On a special Christmas Day edition of Teachers’ Lounge: Rod Genandt. He’s been teaching 4th grade at Forreston Grade School for over 40 years in his hometown of Forreston, Illinois. He’s taught kids, he’s taught the kids of those kids and maybe even the kids of those kids before all is said and done.

He talked to host Peter Medlin about that, about the lack of men teaching grade school, how to create a safe and comfortable classroom for kids in a time it’s so hard to feel safe and comfortable.

Susan Stephens

Just a quick drool and you'll get results back in 24 hours. Northern Illinois University will begin using the SHIELD Illinois rapid COVID-19 tests in January. The saliva tests were developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Barrie Bode is the director of COVID-19 facilities at NIU. He says just remember not to eat, drink or use mouthwash within an hour of a saliva test.

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Mike McHale. He’s a professor at Rockford University and a math and physics teacher at Byron High School. Mike is also a cross country coach and we talk about running during the COVID-19 season. He and host Peter Medlin chat about the potential closure of the Byron Nuclear Generating Station and the effect it could have on the school, community -- and his own personal connection to the plant.

Spencer Tritt

Most Illinois students have been learning remotely for some if not the entire fall.

Students of all grade levels are struggling with the academic and emotional stress of remote learning in a pandemic.

School districts have offered additional social-emotional support to try and help them manage the array of challenges.

Spencer Tritt

“Are you there?” Jen Cotovsky types into the Google Meet chatbox. Still no response. Then, finally, a new message pops up from the student on her caseload. Cotovsky is a social worker for DeKalb High School.

The student has their camera and microphone off, so the chatbox is the only way to talk right now. Those are the most challenging meetings she has with students. At this point, she’s used to talking to high schoolers with their camera off.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

This brings the total number of cases in Winnebago County to 18,804. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell also said there were seven new deaths.

“We must remember that as we go through all of this and we look optimistically to the vaccine, that it’s through this pandemic we have lost a significant number of our residents,” she said. 

Peter Medlin

A new report reflects on the long-term cost of cutting education funding during past recessions and how Illinois can learn from those mistakes during the COVID recession.

The Partnership for College Completion argues that recessions are a rare opportunity to make college access and cost more equitable.

Mike Abrahamson is the Partnership’s policy manager. He believes the future of Illinois’ economy depends on how Illinois devotes funding to education now, when dollars are scarce and there could be budget cuts for schools around the corner.

Spencer Tritt

Illinois has had a shortage of teachers for years now, and that extends to substitutes. But, during the pandemic, that pool of subs has dwindled even further. That made it challenging for in-person schools to have socially-distanced classrooms staffed at all.

Chris Mehochko is the regional superintendent for Kendall and Grundy counties. Regional education offices serve as the hub for subs, helping them with licensing and background checks.

Spencer Tritt

Illinois is in the middle of a severe teacher shortage, which also extends to substitute teachers. That problem has gotten much worse during the pandemic.

Amanda Christensen is the DeKalb County Regional Superintendent. Her office is the hub for subs, helping with background checks and licenses.

“I think that there's a greater drain on the system, and we certainly are not keeping up with the need,” she said.

Susan Stephens

The Kishwaukee College Board voted to extend its president’s contract through 2024. It gives Laurie Borowicz a $10,000 base salary increase to $200,000 per year. The college also upped her employer contribution retirement match from 1-1 to 2-1.

Bob Johnson is the president of the Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees. He said she deserved the upgrades.

Winnebago High School Athletics

For the first time in over 20 years, cross country coaches Janet and Joe Erb were nowhere to be seen at the regional meet for the Winnebago High School girls team. Then again, some of their runners weren’t there either.

Just days before regionals, members of the team and coaching staff came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Goodly Creatures, LLC

This week’s episode is with Katrina Syrris. She leads a double life. By day, Katrina is a high school theater teacher at St. Edward Central Catholic. By night and weekends, she owns and operates Goodly Creatures -- her theater production company.

She’s a producer, a director, a playwright -- the list goes on and on. 

Host Peter Medlin talked to Katrina about being an artist during the pandemic. Goodly Creatures lost their studio space during COVID so she’s had to pivot online both for her theater company and her high school classes.

Rep. Jeff Keicher

Illinois residents voted down the proposed graduated income tax plan. Some education experts were hopeful those extra funds could help restore a portion of funds lost due to pandemic revenue shortfalls.

State Representative Jeff Keicher wasn’t surprised the graduated income tax amendment failed. The Sycamore Republican says it was a matter of a lack of trust in the legislature and Governor J.B. Pritzker to spend that money wisely. He sits on the higher-ed finance committee.

Peter Medlin

DeKalb County -- like many counties across the country -- shattered early voting and vote-by-mail records. But that doesn’t mean the polls have slowed down on Election Day, amid COVID-19 safety measures.

Election judges at some precincts said that by noon they were closing in on full-day totals from the 2016 election.

“This is actually one of my first times voting,” said LeShawn Jackson. He was a part of protests in DeKalb this summer.

The movement for racial justice and police reform was a major reason he needed to cast his ballot. 

Every year, tens of thousands of Illinois college students who qualify and apply for a Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant receive nothing. The need-based aid is "first come, first-served" and the state runs out of money well short of meeting the demand.

DePaul University

This week, an election-focused episode with Dr. Christina Rivers, associate professor of political science at DePaul University. She studies voting rights, African American politics and she’s taught several inside-out classes at the Stateville Correctional Center with students on the inside and DePaul students.

Join host Peter Medlin for a discussion on how different school re-opening plans are playing out throughout northern Illinois. Hear from parents and teachers about the challenges of incorporating different learning options during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

SD209

Students in the Proviso School District are still learning remotely as COVID-19 case rates go up across Illinois. But their teachers are now working inside the district’s school buildings, despite safety concerns and the Teachers’ Union filing of an Unfair Labor Practice & Grievance against the district.

 

Almost 300 Proviso teachers have been back for a week now. Maggie Riley -- she’s the president of the Proviso Teachers’ Union -- said the conditions are exactly what they were worried about. 

 

719 Northern Illinois University freshmen received the Huskie Pledge grant this fall, during the first semester it was offered. It covers remaining tuition and fees for Illinois residents with a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school and whose family income is no more than $75,000.

Sol Jensen is the VP of enrollment management, marketing and communications at NIU.

Jenna Dooley

Northern Illinois University is expanding COVID-19 testing efforts into what some might consider an unexpected place: wastewater.

Dr. Barrie Bode was the longtime chair of NIU’s Department of Biological Studies. Now he has a new title he could have never anticipated: director of COVID-19 facilities.

Partnered with the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District, Bode is building a lab and assembling a team to implement a new component in the university’s surveillance testing plan.

Peter Medlin

Over the summer, the school year was still in limbo and racial tensions were running high in Rockford as well as communities across the country. A former student reached out to Amanda Becker with a simple question: “Mrs. Becker, how are you going to teach about this?”

Becker is a history teacher at Auburn High School and a Rockford historian. Her answer was a philosophy she learned from her own teaching mentors.

“The best thing to do is to let the kids talk. That's it. Don't teach them anything. Let the kids talk,” she said.

Judith Meyer

Our guest this episode is Judith Meyer, she’s an artist -- a painter, to be exact -- and art professor at Rock Valley College.

Judith talked to host Peter Medlin about how to virtually teach about art, the unexpected places around the world her art has gone to, what she's been working on during the pandemic, creativity as a spiritual exercise and so much more.

Peter Medlin

On a new episode of Teachers’ Lounge, we have Jason Cavanaugh. He’s a high school math teacher and baseball coach in Sycamore.

They’re learning remotely. So, Jason is going into his empty, retrofitted math class to teach kids who are at home. Obviously, he’s never done this before, the students haven’t either. And, as you can imagine, the technology is not always flawless.

Peter Medlin

More than 40 schools in Winnebago County have reported positive COVID-19 cases. Close to half of those are Rockford Public Schools. 

Dr. Sandra Martell is the director of the Winnebago County Health Department. She recently stressed that despite cases appearing in schools, the department doesn’t believe students and staff are transmitting the virus while at school. 

Victoria Lunacek

The majority of Illinois students are still learning remotely so there hasn’t been much need for school buses. Unfortunately, that means in many school districts there has been no need for bus drivers either.

Ladel Cass is a northern Illinois general manager at busing provider First Student.

He oversees 10 districts and says only around 30% are driving their normal routes right now.

And for the ones that are picking up and dropping off students as usual, they’ve had to make some major changes.

Wikipedia Commons

Illinois has devoted more than $230 million across every county in the state for COVID-19 contact tracing.

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