By Sal Nudo/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Mother and daughter enter the brightly lit Biggby Coffee shop on Mattis Avenue in Champaign. It’s a brisk October evening, 7 p.m., dark outside. Forty-year-old Darla Frye is a sixth-grade teacher at Urbana Middle School who’s taught in the same place for 15 years and has seen her share of discouraging trends in the school system: fewer counselors to assist students in need; shrinking budgets and cut programs; and parents who are indifferent to their kids missing too much school. Darla has a master’s degree from the University of Illinois, her laptop in a bag and, at the moment, a slightly strained look on her tan face. Her sandy hair is pulled back tight.
Whether you walk your child to school or wave to him through the bus window, you’re in good company. Parents across the country are frantically buying that last wide-ruled notebook and package of glue sticks and sending their kids back to school.
We’ve shared articles highlighting several different aspects of heading back to school. Read this week’s roundup for news about school safety, student hunger and tips on starting off the year on the right foot.
Students headed back to school this week – The News-Gazette
“This week marks the start of school for many local students, which has local police reminding motorists to watch out for students and mind local school zones.”
More Than Half Of Teachers Report Buying Hungry Students Food With Their Own Money – The Huffington Post
“We often hear about U.S. teachers being paid poorly for all the work they do to educate children. But did you know that 63 percent of teachers report buying food for the classroom each month with their own money?
Fixed interest rates for student loans will soon be a thing of the past. Last week the House joined the Senate in passing a proposal that would link student loan interest rates to the financial market. According to a recent Bloomberg news article, this means “9 million undergraduates will pay 3.86 percent on their next loan.”
The passage of this bill means that the “380,000 Illinois undergrads getting ready to take out federal loans will see their interest rates drop by 3 percent as a result,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said in a July 26th press release, after the Senate approved the measure. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama this month. While student savings could begin as early as this fall, not everyone is lauding the student loan deal.
The co-founder and director of CU-CitizenAccess was one of three University of Illinois faculty to be honored Tuesday night with a campus-wide award aimed to highlight community engagement projects locally, nationally and globally. Brant Houston, who holds the Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting in the Department of Journalism, launched CU-CitizenAccess in 2009. The award-winning online news and information service is nationally recognized for its focus on investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east Central Illinois. The Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, given annually by the Office of Public Engagement, honors teams and individuals who engage the public to address critical social issues. This year a doctoral student and a team received awards along with the three faculty members.
By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess — A spot check of universities across the Midwest and around the nation has revealed that four-year institutions are inconsistent in their approach to sending out emergency alerts to students and staff. Although universities automatically send out emergency notifications via school email addresses, they vary on their policies and success for text alerts. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 28.5 percent of students receive Illini Alerts via text message. The school sends out notifications to student email accounts and campus phones, and also posts on its Facebook and Twitter pages. However, students must voluntarily sign up to receive text message alerts, referred to as an “opting-in.”
University of Florida students “are automatically enrolled in the system using their cellular telephone number provided during the ISIS course registration process,” according to the university’s alert website.
By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — If an emergency happens on its campus, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville gets the message out to 100 percent of its students via text message. But only about half of the students at Iowa State University would receive an emergency alert via text. And less than one-third of students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign would receive an emergency notification via text message. These percentages of students who receive emergency notifications via text message reflect the inconsistent and patchwork emergency notification systems that U.S. universities and colleges use. In addition, universities vary on how they keep track of who and how many receive these alerts.
By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — A Northern Illinois University lecture hall was the target of a mass shooting in 2008 where five persons were killed and 18 injured before the shooter took his own life. At the time of the shooting, Northern’s students had to voluntarily sign up for emergency text message alerts, which only reached up to 10 percent of the university’s students. Now, Northern is instituting a new emergency notification provider, Everbridge. The new system is not fully implemented, but roughly two-thirds of students receive emergency text messages, officials say. But the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – where the Northern Illinois shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, lived and attended graduate school at the time of the shooting – has not changed its emergency alert system to reach more students via text messages.
By Sean Hermann/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Nearly 400 buildings on the University of Illinois campus at Urbana-Champaign lack the required Building Emergency Action Plans that would instruct faculty, staff and students on what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency. But campus safety officials say they are making steady progress in creating the evacuation plans for the buildings. The current Building Emergency Action Plan initiative on campus began two years ago when Lieutenant Todd Short became director of the Office of Campus Emergency Planning. Short’s goal was to update each building’s plan under the new Building Emergency Action Plan template and to centralize all emergency procedures on campus. “Regardless of the type of emergency that could occur, there are two actionable items – How do we evacuate if we need to get out of the building, and if for whatever reason we cannot evacuate, how do we secure ourselves where we are,” Short said.
By Andrea Baumgartner/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Champaign and Urbana nonprofits in arts education took a hard hit to funding in 2007 as the great recession began. For example, the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation saw its revenue drop from about $310,000 to $295,000 from 2007 to 2008. Similarly, the amount of total individual donations to the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation failed to increase as projected, remaining steady at $45,000. Since then, the foundation has been rebounding, now topping off their revenue from events, special programs and individual donations at around $400,000. But, the foundation’s executive director Gail Rost says that they are still struggling for donations.
By Pam G. Dempsey/Investigative Journalism Education Consortium — More than 20 million college students across the nation will start school this month, just weeks after James Holmes, a Colorado graduate student, allegedly shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes had sought counseling from the University of Colorado at the University of Colorado and at one time, was a successful applicant to the University of Illinois. In another University of Illinois connection, Steven Kazmierczak was a student at the Urbana campus at the time of the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University where he shot and killed five people. With student enrollment on the rise and with students coming in with more severe mental health issues, campus counseling centers are seeing an increase in a demand for services. Carla McCowan is director of the counseling center at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus.