Illinois Education

Spencer Tritt

Only weeks from the first day of school, some districts are reversing course and choosing not to have any in-person instruction right away.

Several teachers’ unions are calling on their schools to start the year virtually. Educators in Elmhurst are opposing their district’s back-to-school plan.

Max Schoenberg is the president of the Elmhurst Teachers’ Council. He says Elmhurst District 205’s plan would bring hundreds of students back into its buildings.

Peter Medlin

Rockford Public Schools just became the latest district to release a plan for reopening.

No matter the grade level, parents can choose full-time remote learning.

But in-person will look different depending on a student’s age.

The elementary school option will be all day, five days a week.

Heidi Dettman is the executive director of academics.

“The biggest reason is because of how critical their time with their teachers is at this developmental stage,” said Dettman.

Public Health Educator Weighs In On School Reopening

Jul 24, 2020
Spencer Tritt

The Illinois Federation of Teachers recently urged higher-ed and K-12 schools to start their semesters completely online. Many schools are releasing reopening protocols to return partially in-person during the pandemic.

Beth Squires is a professor at Northern Illinois University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

She said, to open in-person, schools must first be able to guarantee that students wear a mask, keep at least six feet apart and wash their hands regularly.

On a new Teachers’ Lounge, host Peter Medlin sat down digitally with Ayla Peczkowski. She taught English & Special Ed at the Roosevelt Community Education Center in Rockford. Now she’s going to be in an administrative role at East High School, also in Rockford.

They talked about Ayla’s mixed feelings about schools reopening, teaching her students about news literacy during the pandemic and much more.

This episode goes in depth on what goes into a reopening plan. And there’s a story highlighting the struggles international students have faced during COVID-19.

Spencer Tritt

It’s just less than a month before the first day of school, and DeKalb is releasing their plans to reopen amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Students returning will see a different kind of classroom from what they left in March when schools shut down.

Schools are enforcing health and safety guidelines to try and limit the spread of coronavirus. Students will be required to wear masks. Classrooms will be reoriented to account for social distancing.

DeKalb’s plan uses a hybrid in-person and online format.

Spencer Tritt

School districts across Illinois are starting to release reopening plans for this fall.

Many parents are uncomfortable with their kids going back to school during the pandemic. They worry if social distancing is possible and if younger students will struggle to wear a mask all day. But not all.

Of the seven people in Renee Olson’s house, nearly all of them have had COVID-19. After quarantining inside for weeks, she still has a cough but said she feels about 95% back to normal.

niu.edu

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.

'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.

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.

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.”

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!

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.

Pixabay

In Illinois, public college and university students and their guardians will soon have a better idea of how much they’ve borrowed -- and an estimate of how much they’ll be paying back per month.

That’s thanks to a state pilot program. The letters relay information on federal, private and institutional loans.

Bobbi Smith is the interim director of financial aid at Western Illinois University.

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.

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.

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.

Evadne Bowlin

This week, the Teachers’ Lounge is actually a Student Teachers’ Lounge. We have DeKalb Founders Elementary student teacher & Northern Illinois University senior, Evadne Bowlin.

Evadne talked to host Peter Medlin about how coronavirus affects her both as a student-teacher and just as a college student. We also got into her journey to education and how she’s kind of been a student teacher since the 7th grade.

Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, DePaul professor Dr. Christina Rivers started teaching a different kind of law and politics course.

About half of the class is made up of typical DePaul students and the other students are serving time at the Stateville Correctional Center. The class is held inside the maximum security prison.

Her class does a group project where they create a policy proposal. Half of the projects students presented were about voting rights and education in the first year at Stateville.

Pages