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Ed Sanders elected chair of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education

Brandon Moseley

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Jasper attorney Charles Edward “Ed” Sanders, Jr. has been elected chair of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE). Sanders was appointed to the Commission in 2012, by then Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey (R).

Alabama is beginning a new quadrennial with many new lawmakers and changes on education committees in the House and Senate.

“I am looking forward to working with all sectors of Alabama’s higher education community to prepare students for entry into a competitive and global workplace,” said Sanders. “In addition to the statutory responsibilities of the Commission, we want to continue to be advocates for higher education and the students we serve.”

“The educational knowledge and legal expertise combined in Chairman Sanders’ leadership skills will serve Alabama well in his role as chairman of the Commission,” said ACHE Executive Director Jim Purcell.

Sanders has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Rhodes College and a law degree from the University of Alabama. He is a general partner with the law firm of Maddox, Thornley and Sanders.

Sanders is the past president of the Walker County Bar Association and serves as a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Jasper.

He and his wife Mary have two children in college.

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education was founded in 1969. The ACHE is the state coordinating board for all public institutions of higher Education. The board is comprised of 12 members from throughout Alabama.

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Alabama farmers are providing students with virtual field trips

Brandon Moseley

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The COVID-19 global pandemic and forced economic shutdown have left most of Alabama’s school children at home; being educated by their parents, with some resources being sent by the school systems. Most parents are struggling to find educational resources to keep their children both learning and engaged. Alabama farmers are coming to the aid of parents by hosting virtual field trips every Friday through May 22.

The Alabama farmers are hosting the virtual field trips through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10:00 a.m.

The first of these programs was held on Friday, April 3rd and addressed peanuts.

Roughly half of the peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.

The farmers explained how peanuts grow, the life cycle of the peanut plants, and how farmers use nature, hard work, and science to turn the legumes into the common household peanut derived food stuff that we all enjoy.

During future presentations will explain when do Alabama farmers grow different fruits and vegetables? What’s the difference between a cow, a bull and a calf? How do farmers get honey from bees? How do farmers raise catfish? And many more interesting topics.

The Alabama farmers will answer all those questions and much more during the Virtual Field Trips offered through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10 a.m. through May 22.

“Parents and their children are making huge adjustments as their homes become classrooms, and we want to help by offering entertaining and educational field trips from some of our farmers,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Department director Jeff Helms. “While these videos will target third through fifth graders, people of all ages will learn more about how farmers grow food, fiber and timber.”

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“For all of the parents who are helping teach kids from home, this virtual field trip will be coming up,” said Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville on social media. “Thank you to all the teachers and parents who have had to adapt to distance learning during these Stay at Home days.”

The farmers are gearing up for their next Virtual Field Trip on April 10. Friday’s topic will be fruits and vegetables.

The list of currently scheduled topics, subject to change, include:

  • April 3 – Peanuts and other row crops.
  • April 10 – Fruits and vegetables.
  • April 17– Beef cattle.
  • April 24 – Honeybees.
  • May 1 – Catfish.
  • May 8 – Greenhouse and nursery products.
  • May 15 – Forestry.
  • May 22 – Cotton and other row crops.

To receive Facebook notifications about the Virtual Field Trips, respond as “Interested” in the event or follow the Alabama Farmers Federation page.

This Virtual Field Trips project was developed in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA).

(Original reporting by Alabama Farmer Federation’s Mary Wilson contributed to this report.)

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Alabama institutions of higher learning respond to COVID-19 pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education reported that throughout Alabama higher education is responding to the call for help during the Coronavirus pandemic. The support has been widespread from food supplies to equipment needs.

“I am heartened by the generosity of college and university staff and students in supporting their community, hospitals and healthcare professionals,” said Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell.

The institutional efforts have expanded beyond the boundaries of converting to online coursework for students into the communities they serve.

Alabama’s community colleges, along with the University of Montevallo and the University of Alabama, have supplied healthcare workers with 3D printed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The University of Montevallo is providing free WIFI to the downtown area of Montevallo. This particularly helps area public school children who are having to now take all of their classes online as Alabama K-12 schools are closed through the end of the year.

The Greek community on the campus of the University of Alabama have donated 5,000 pounds of food to the West Alabama Food Bank.

Outside-the-box-thinking has led chemistry and geoscience professors at Jacksonville State University to help Yellowhammer Brewery and Distillery transition to manufacturing hand sanitizer at the Huntsville-based beer distillery. What was supposed to be spring break for the northeast campus turned into a volunteer effort to analyze the company’s first batch of sanitizer to ensure it met the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) has received medical supplies from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Auburn has donated three ventilators and multiple disposable supplies to EAMC.

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Although athletic games and training are all on hold, the equipment staff members at Auburn have turned their attention to sewing face masks to be used to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

ACHE’s Purcell called the varied efforts of assistance inspiring. “We are benefitting from technology being used in ways never before seen,” he said.

Troy University has partnered with Troy Elementary School for years to develop a community garden. Social distancing has transitioned the garden into the home of a university coordinator who is continuing to offer lessons on nutrition and gardening via Zoom. Troy’s Rosa Parks Museum has gone virtual through tours and resource sharing.

The University of South Alabama is offering the South CARES Student Emergency Fund to direct critical resources to students who have urgent expenses. USA is collaborating with the city of Mobile to provide appointment-only drive through testing for COVID-19. Virtual visits, provided by USA Health, will give patients access to healthcare providers.

Alabama A&M University is maintaining contact with students via telehealth services for those experiencing depression and anxiety related to the Coronavirus disruption of their academic lives.

James E. Purcell is the Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

“ACHE will continue to work with our institutions in innovative ways to assist students and the state’s needs during this pandemic,” Purcell said. “This will be recorded as an impossible semester that has produced many heroes and new life lessons.”

A team of Auburn engineering faculty, students, and alumni developed an accessory that added to a common household CPAP machine turns the CPAP into an emergency life-saving ventilator. The prototype was developed March 20 to 22 by Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. Additional engineering faculty and alumni joined the team to refine the mechanical design, control system, user interface, and alarm to have an improved design finished on Monday.

This is on top of the efforts of researchers, like UAH’s Jerome Baudry and UAB’s Frances Lund, who has been enlisted in the effort to find cures, treatments, and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and the higher education community has risen to the occasion. The brainpower and manpower supplied by Alabama’s colleges and universities demonstrate a willingness to serve and is greatly appreciated during this time of need.”

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UAB students helping healthcare workers

Brandon Moseley

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Most of America is spending more time at home and working to find something to stay occupied as our schools and workplaces are largely shut down in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For America’s hospitals, particularly the intensive care workers, their job has never been more stressful or more important.

215,300 Americans, as of press time, have been confirmed as being COVID-19. For most of them their illness will just mean flulike symptoms and two weeks at their house reading internet news sites and watching way too much bad daytime TV. Unfortunately for nearly ten percent of patients, COVID-19 will mean hospitalization, often in serious or critical condition. Currently 5,004 COVID-19 patients are in the fight of their lives. They can’t win their fight without a lot of help from the skilled doctors and nurses who have made medicine their life’s work.

Students with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Health Services Administration are thanking those healthcare workers on the frontlines, while supporting the local restaurant businesses they love.

Through a partnership with Frontline Foods, the students are independently supporting local clinicians in the fight to keep our communities safe, while simultaneously supporting Birmingham’s local restaurant industry.

Frontline Foods began with independent groups in San Francisco and New York City with the same central idea. They help health care workers and local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, that has already claimed over 5,100 lives.

“As this crisis grows in scope and scale, we want to continue to push that mission forward by boosting the morale of our frontline warriors in need across our communities, all while helping local restaurants and their employees,” said Christina Fortugno, a critical care nurse, second-year Health Administration graduate student and MBA student within the department, and co-organizer of Frontline Foods Alabama.
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Fortugno and Bradley Tipper, another second-year MSHA and Health Informatics graduate student, decided the entire process of donating needed to be as transparent as possible.

100 percent of donations made to the Birmingham chapter of Frontline Foods through World Central Kitchen’s website will be used to sponsor meals prepared by our local restaurant community and delivered to local hospitals.

Fortugno and Tipper say their group will absorb all of the administrative overhead.

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“Being in the Health Services Administration program, we’ve been trained on how to support and help our providers,” Tipper said. “We knew that, even though we were about to leave Birmingham, we wanted to be a part of the solution here.”

In addition to providing meals to health care workers, care packages are another way community members are able to say “thank you” to the doctors, nurses, techs, environmental service workers and others. Care packages contain snacks, goodies and handwritten notes of encouragement, to be delivered to our health care heroes. You can purchase items to be included here.

“We are so inspired by the efforts of these leaders,” said Christy Lemak, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Health Services Administration. “They identified what was needed and quickly went to work to fill those needs right here in our community, and the fact that this helps both frontline caregivers and local restaurants is a fabulous ‘synergy’ that I think everyone can relate with as well. This is what servant leadership looks like. It’s great to see the students take charge in this way.”

Fortugno and Tipper began delivering these meals on March 30 to UAB’s Emergency Department. They hope to exp of COVID=1and their efforts to other Birmingham-area hospitals in the in the coming days and weeks.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and students within UAB’s Department of Health Services Administration certainly have stepped up to offer a kind gesture and boost morale during this time of need. And what a smart idea to order carry-out from local restaurants – small businesses can certainly use (and are appreciative of) the support right now, making this is a ‘win-win’ situation for all.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus task force said recently that he expects “millions” of Americans will get COVID-19. Fauci expects more than 100,000 Americans will die. As these numbers grow, the strain on America’s healthcare workers will only continue to grow.


Based on an original report by UAB’s Adam Pope.

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State Superintendent Mackey addresses concerns about plans for public schools

Josh Moon

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Over the last few days, several public school principals in Alabama — most of them from more rural districts — have spoken with APR about a number of concerns they have about the state’s plan for moving forward with the 2019-2020 school year in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The principals were not angry or even necessarily critical of the guidance being issued from the Alabama State Department of Education and their local school boards. Instead, they were simply worried about the safety of their staff and faculty, and they were confused, in some cases, about what they can and can’t do to protect themselves and their staff and to provide food and coursework to their students. 

With things moving so quickly in such an unprecedented situation, it probably should be expected that communication isn’t always the best. So, state Superintendent Eric Mackey spoke with APR about the specific concerns of the principals and offered helpful guidance to teachers, principals and superintendents on what he and state leaders expect from them moving forward. 

Q: One of the first questions the principals had was about employees and teachers who have underlying health issues that make them more vulnerable to coronavirus. They’re worried about those staff members coming back to work next week, even in a setting without students. Can anything be done to protect them? 

Mackey: Well, of course. We don’t want anyone who has a health condition like that to be put in danger. I know everybody’s anxious, really scared — some maybe more so than they need to be and others not as much as they should. We have about 10 people in here in the office today. We’re being cautious. Washing hands, wiping down with Clorox wipes. We have some people who need to be more scared about it. One of our vital employees has a heart condition, another is a cancer survivor. We’ve told them not to come in. That’s just how it has to be. They can contribute what they can from home. 

And I suggest that be the case for these schools. If you have an employee with an underlying condition, we need to look at ways for them to contribute — if there’s a concern with everyone pulling their own weight — ways that don’t put them at risk and protects them. Because that is absolutely the first priority. Maybe they can’t come in. But someone needs to be calling parents and making sure they have everything. There are ways to do this.    

Q: Another concern is the close quarters of the food prep areas for employees working to get lunches out for kids to pick up. 

Mackey: Yeah, that is something that we’ve worked, something we’ve put a lot of thought into and we are concerned about it. But at the end of the day, these things are a balance. It is very important for us to get the meals out to the kids. We know from the response just how important it is. But in doing so, our people have to follow the standards, and being six feet apart is not always practical. What I want people to do is be safe first. Wear gloves and masks and whatever they can to protect themselves and the area around them. 

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One thing I’m more concerned about right now is that our cafeteria crews won’t be able to keep up with this pace. It’s one thing to have these folks do this work for two or three weeks. But the same men and women can’t do it forever. They need breaks just like everyone. And as this stretches on, we’re going to have to consider changing people out. You might know already, but a cafeteria worker at one of our schools in north Alabama tested positive for (COVID-19) last week. So far, it doesn’t appear as if any other people were infected. But we closed that school down and stopped the meals from there. As this spreads, it was bound to happen, but it’s another indication of just how cautious we all need to be and how real these concerns are.

Q: Because the schools provide meals to any student who asks for one, some of the schools are running low on meals due to kids from other districts and homeschool kids coming in and getting lunches. Can anything be done to alleviate that situation? 

Mackey: There should be some help coming on that. We just received our waiver (Wednesday) to start serving meals for pickup at all of our schools, not just the schools in high-poverty areas. So, we’re going to start rotating the schools that serve, maybe do five in a district and rotate them around each week. That plan is still being worked on. 

Q: Teachers and principals are also very concerned about the process of handing out packets, and then having those packets returned to them. Have you heard this from other folks around the state, and what do you tell them? 

Mackey: I’ve gotten quite a few questions about handling packets. Again, a totally understandable concern. We have people doing really innovative things to get packets to students. Some districts are mailing packets if they can afford it — and I understand that is not cheap and I’m not recommending it. Other districts are running a bus route once per week. And we’ve given advice to them on that: Don’t go in the house, keep your safe distance, handle with gloves, use sanitizer as often as possible. And that’s the main advice we’ve given to our superintendents — figure out a way that keeps you and your people safe.  

Q: It seems as if what you’re saying on almost everything is that this is a unique situation and you’re not going to question people who get the job done the best they can and keep people as safe as possible. Accurate? 

Mackey: Absolutely. One of our biggest issues is always communication, and it’s understandable to a degree. I’m telling superintendents and they’re passing that information on to their principals and they’re implementing things with their teachers and staff. We’ve all played that old game, and we know that information just gets twisted sometimes when it goes through several channels. But know this: Safety is always first. If you’re doing something and you don’t feel it’s safe, back out of it, tell your principal you don’t think it’s safe. Hopefully, we can get that resolved at that level, but if need be, take those concerns higher. Don’t do things that you feel are unsafe for you. That’s not what any of us want. 

Q: Is that same level of flexibility there for the actual school work and how principals and teachers get that handled?

Mackey: It is. I had a principal today ask if it was OK if he told his parents that the kids didn’t have to do the work and they’d receive whatever grade they had going into this. But if they did the work, he was giving out bonus points up to 10 full points on the final average. I told him that was absolutely fine. It doesn’t punish the kids because of this situation and it provides them with incentives to continue doing the work and continue learning. And that’s the key here. 

Q: Has there been any thought to altering the way things are done next year — possibly taking a few weeks at the start of the year for review and to get the students back up to speed — and tinkering with the start and end times? 

Mackey: There have been many, many discussions, and they’re still ongoing. I’ve spoken to a number of legislators who have quite a few ideas. At this point, there are basically three main options we’ve discussed. One that I’ve had from legislators is to extend the school year from 180 to 190 days, which would give us 10 extra days, two full weeks at the start to have a review period. And we can absolutely do that, except that costs money. Someone has to pay for that, and a school day in Alabama costs just under $21 million per day. I don’t see us having an extra $210 million at the end of this coronavirus. A second option that legislators have asked about is giving assessments at the start of the year, and working off those. We actually purchased some really great assessment tools last year. And finally, the third option is to compress the school year and take the first three to four weeks and teach what would have been teaching the final month of this school year. We’re still working through those to see what we think is best.

The main thing I want everyone to understand is that this is an unprecedented event that’s taking place. You go into a school year and you expect to deal with things like tornadoes or ice storms that close schools. But not this. We’re all trying to work our way through it and do what’s right for the students. But we also want our teachers and staff and principals to be safe and protect themselves.

 

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