High School students all around Virginia are taking classes their schools can’t provide—at least not in the traditional sense. These young people are enrolled in one or more of the 50 courses offered through “Virtual Virginia,” the state’s online public school academy. Fred Echols visited a Virtual Virginia teacher in Roanoke to get a closer look at how online teaching works.
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When it comes to ethnicity, the largest group of people in Virginia-about 20% — trace their ancestry back to Africa, but kids in our schools learn relatively little about African history, arts and culture. Now, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will offer a lively supplement to the curriculum — taking children on a virtual trip to Mali, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sandy Hausman has details.
On this edition of Virginia Conversations, we’re kicking off the unofficial start to summer with your road trip plans. Host May-Lily Lee and guests look at some of the top vacation spots around the state, and find out what’s new at Virginia’s State Parks.
Resources from the program:
Virginia Tourism Corporation
(Including List of Events Around the Commonwealth)
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
(Including List of Virginia’s State Parks)
Legislation to allow government advisory panels to expand the use of electronic meetings for official business is on its way to the General Assembly.
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council has recommended a revision to Virginia’s open-government laws that could potentially allow greater participation statewide and enhance efficiency. The distant meetings could only be held in plain view of the public, who would also be invited to attend.
While remote members of government bodies often take part by phone, the panel can’t act without a physical quorum in one place. The proposal allows STATE subcommittee or advisory panel members who are distant to help make a quorum and vote. Supporters say the panels would be more efficient, benefit from talented people who can’t travel, and provide local public events. But Craig Merritt said the Virginia Press Association prefers only a pilot program.
“Is the quality of interaction between the public and a public body the same—if there is no quorum or core group that is physically assembled for the public to see how people interact with each other, what their body language is, what their response is?”
Council Chair and Senator Richard Stuart countered that the change would not apply to full committees.
“A lot of these meetings will give you the ability to get up and speak and interact with the entire committee. We’re just talking about subcommittees that, in essence, would make a recommendation for us to then have a full debate on the issue.”
To allay VPA concerns, the bill would require audio-visual communication and expire in a year unless renewed.
-by Anne Marie Morgan
Futurologists predicted this day was coming—when children would no longer spend their days in school learning … but work instead in the comfort of their own homes using the latest innovations. But Virginia is still laying the groundwork to make that a reality, and the Senate Finance Committee is examining the cost-effectiveness of virtual schools and how they can provide high-quality education to students.
While several states have adopted Virtual Schools, none has totally submerged its students in a world with no school walls or daily interactions with teachers and others. Allison Powell, the Vice-President for the International Association for K-12 Learning, admits that each state and local jurisdiction will have different needs. States would need universal rules for full implementation and some regions may still have funding challenges based on the variety of schools and courses they offer.
“You do still have the administrative piece of running a school, the instruction is a little bit different, they’re not necessarily using textbooks. Some of these companies do ship out boxes of books and videos, and science kits, and all that kind of stuff as well, so the kid isn’t in these full time programs sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day,” she says.
Powell says many costs are similar to brick and mortar schools ….but without transportation or building expenses. She says another benefit is providing students with alternative teaching methods designed to keep their attention and use individual learning styles.
Week five and day 21 of the Bob and Maureen McDonnell corruption trial has neither the prosecutors nor the judge handling the former governor with care. As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, Monday’s testimony had onlookers grabbing a virtual bag of popcorn and a soft drink waiting for prosecutors to really hone in on the corruption charges.
Governor McDonnell has ceremonially signed into law a bill that provides tax incentives for donations that help low-income children and students with disabilities attend nonpublic schools. The measure received support from only a few Democrats and narrowly passed the divided state Senate.
Under the law, individuals or businesses can receive tax credits worth 65 percent of their donations for private school scholarships, which must go to low-income students. The law is intended to reduce state costs for public education since more students would attend private schools. But the governor said it’s really about helping children succeed regardless of their zip code or parents’ finances.
“We’ve tried a lot the last couple of years as governor to create a world class public education system in Virginia but also to create some options and some choices for young people. Charter schools. College laboratory schools. Virtual schools and now a tuition tax credit bill all that create the range of options for young people and their parents to be able to make an effective choice.”
Opponents argue such measures siphon tax dollars away from public schools, strapping local budgets and hurting students left behind. There’s an annual state cap of $25-million, which would pay for about 7,000 students to attend one year of public school. That’s 2% of Virginia’s poorest students.
Through the use of inexpensive computer software or the toggle of a smart phone switch, anyone can follow another person’s every move. Now, although his bill failed to pass two consecutive years, a Virginia lawmaker is trying once again to place limitations on who can lawfully use electronic devices to track another individual. Delegate Joe May has raised awareness about how easily one’s privacy can be invaded—but some say restrictions could hamper their investigations.
May’s bill was sent back to committee after it sparked debate this legislative session. It restricted tracking a person without a warrant–and this year, would have granted law enforcement agencies exception. But private investigators protested and said it limited their ability to do their job. So May and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science are now revising it, although he says not much will change.
“We have it reduced I guess, to a page or page-and-a-half and you have heard my comment earlier, that some of the other states who have tried it have ended up with pages, and pages, and pages of exceptions, and exclusions, and carve outs until they’re virtually impossible to interpret. Ours is very clean, and the real challenge right now is getting our colleagues comfortable with something that is really, really new,” says May.
May says technology is evolving so quickly that it’s hard to draft legislation that addresses every exception. May sponsored the bill after a constituent complained that his ex-wife had paid a private investigator to track his whereabouts after the two had divorced.
About 40 people rallied at the University of Virginia today to demand that the medical school stop using live cats to teach young physicians and paramedics how to insert a breathing tube into newborn infants.
Dr. Ulka Agarwal stood outside the Rotunda talking with reporters about the campaign mounted by her employer – the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. That group says the University of Virginia should adopt state-of-the-art technology to train doctors and first responders who may someday have to help a newborn baby, struggling to breathe.
“They’re using cats to train the residents to treat humans, and you don’t have to be a doctor to know that the anatomy of a cat or kitten is very different from that of a newborn human, and now that there are lifelike simulators that simulate a newborn, there is just no excuse for still using cats and kittens,” said Agarwal.
She was surrounded by about three dozen people who agreed. “I wanted to be there to show my support for the cats who have no voice, who are being mistreated and brutalized at the medical school,” said Stanardsville resident and cat owner Carol Bratton.
From inside UVA’s Rotunda, pediatrician John Kattwinkel told the media that only three cats are involved, and they’re actually an excellent model for learning to intubate infants. He said the university uses two mannequins for preliminary training, but they’re not ideal. “The reflexes are not there, the feeling the tissues is not there, and it’s a tricky task and it has to be done in 30 seconds, and the mannequin certainly is not an adequate model,” said Kattwinkel.
He says most universities had caved to public pressure rather than stand up for the best teaching techniques, and UVA’s staff veterinarian, Sandy Feldman, insisted the three cats used in training – Alley, Kiki and Fiddle — are anesthetized and do not suffer. “The day after they have this, we give them analgesics for pain, and we give them soft food to eat in case their throat is sore, and then this procedure is not done again for almost a year. These are three cats that we take very good care of, and we like to think that they’re helping us take care of innocent children that are in trouble. Some of these people come into this class. When they have to do this to a live animal, they can’t do it. They freeze up because they’re worried they’re going to do harm. Can you afford to have them freeze up when they’re treating an infant that’s in trouble?” asked Feldman.
Feldman added that several inspectors had certified the humane treatment of the animals, which are purchased from a laboratory supply breeder and are retired after ten years of service.“They live in about 440 square feet of space these three cats, which is substantially larger than my office. They have all kinds of toys. We groom them every day and give them treats. We’ve been visited by the state veterinarian, by the Commonwealth Attorney of Albemarle County, the USDA inspector. They all met the cats. They interacted with the cats. They find absolutely no problem. I’ve worked on racetracks and seen a lot of things. I’ve been in the food animal industry. Let me tell you something. This is nice. If I was a cat, this is the program to be in.”
He said 500 people had trained on the cats since they were acquired in 2004, and he asked the public to put this situation in perspective. “What’s more important – three cats that are very well cared for, or your daughters and sons, your grandchildren?” He suggested animal lovers consider the plight of 7 million feral cats in this country – or the 3.5 million shelter animals euthanized each year, and Kattwinkel proposed they help raise money for development of virtual reality training, which would give health care professionals the real feel of inserting a breathing tube and allow for the permanent retirement of training cats.
— Sandy Hausman
Fifty years ago, broccoli was a vegetable virtually unknown in America, but its popularity has grown steadily. Consumption is up 600%, and Virginia farmers are vowing to get their share of the broccoli business –joining a federally funded campaign to grow more broccoli on the East Coast. Sandy Hausman has details.