“Race to the Top actually began a race to the bottom”

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For years the U.S. has struggled to climb its rank in the world in education, while simultaneously cutting funding to they public school teachers and faculty they depend on to achieve that goal.

In light of the recent criticism of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, felt it was pertinent to share a clip from an independent project two years ago. Many thanks to Patrick Diegnan, Amy Scott and Max Bawarski, and the principal who allowed me onto the school grounds in Arlington for some of the footage.

Hindus celebrate Diwali in South Jersey

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Many passers-by in Galloway, N.J. saw the lights and heard the sounds coming from inside the Hindu temple, but few ever knew exactly what was going on inside. The temple priest and attendees were thrilled to share the holy festival of Diwali, as well as allow interviews for the write up to help their neighbors get an insight.

Being able to cover other cultures and communities is a challenge for me, and I love doing so. Sometimes, it is even more challenging to cover your own community. One of my many videos from my time with The Press of Atlantic City.


What Muslims in Gainesville said the day of the Quran burning

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Muslim Perspective

A video from September 10, 2010 immediately after the Quran burning was canceled.
A pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. was threatening to burn Qurans and word of his actions gained media attention worldwide. On that day I was walking the streets as a lowly journalism student trying to find a different angle while bumping into the big shots like Reuters, NBC and other TV stations camped outside the church. Right before I took the video, a major news station was interviewing one of the men and basically told him what to say on camera. He then told me he wanted to explain the real story from the Muslim perspective. Originally posted on the website for the Independent Florida Alligator newspaper in Gainesville (www.alligator.org).

Homeless are private citizens too

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As he is taking his rounds through Butler Plaza on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011.

Since I arrived in Gainesville in 2005, I have been completely fascinated with three people. Three homeless people, and by homeless I mean they wander the streets during the day, but they are not all necessarily homeless. They are the underground celebrities. Everyone knows who they are, everyone hears rumors about them or knows something about them, and they all have a (silently agreed upon) nickname. THE bum, the running man, and the whore. If you ask any police officer or any other bum and refer to them by the above-mentioned names, they all know who you are talking about. They are simply known for aimlessly wandering the streets of Gainesville rather than congregating with the rest of the bums in downtown. I do not mean to use bum in a derogatory way.

If you try to find information from the police, as I did, you won’t get far. Yes, they may be homeless, but they have privacy rights too. The police know exactly where they hang out or if they “live” somewhere, but cannot tell you.

He has been my favorite but I have yet to work up the courage to actually converse with him. He is an African-American man, about 5’6″, and smells like he has never had a shower. He wears a navy blue beanie, layers of clothes topped off with a large navy blue hoodie, and sneakers. He used to carry an umbrella and the hoodie has replaced a large, faded, leather Colts jacket. According to the women at the front desk of the GPD station, his jacket was stolen. Who steals from a bum!? They also told me he doesn’t speak to people, but will just sit and mumble to himself. If you watch him as he is walking you will see his lips moving, and if you are near enough you can hear him mumbling. He hangs around Butler Plaza and walks in and out of the stores. He has been spotted sleeping on the bench outside the Walmart. He used to have mid-back-length dreadlocks, with the beanie resting on top like a star on a Christmas tree. In spring of 2008, he cut his hair- I always wanted to find out where and how!- and it has been up to his shoulders ever since.
One day before I leave this city, I will attempt to talk to him.

I was trying to get information from one Alachua County Sherriff’s Office officer:
“She is really skinny, blond, curly hair, and rides around on a bicycle. She’s got really fair skin.”
“Oh you mean the whore?”

My friend and I had always seen her and she was always dressed in new clothes. They ranged from sweatpants, to a mini skirt and boots, to a dress, or just jeans and a nice top.

The women at the GPD desk told me she was rumored to have some kind of illness, they knew it to be a cancer of some sort and she apparently had been getting weaker and thinner recently. A friend who knows a CVS pharmacist revealed about two years ago that the pharmacist had been filling a prescription for her and confirmed that she had an STD of some sort.

I haven’t seen her in over a year, though.
I even walked around Bo Diddley Community Plaza asking about her. Some knew who she was and said she biked by regularly, but had no other information.

Now this guy is just fun. He runs around on SW 20th Ave and SW 34th St and waves at everyone driving by. He is an African-American with a cool afro that is parted in the middle. Each side looks like big fuzzy wings. Maybe to help him run better. He’s always wearing running shorts, or sweatpants and a running shirt.
The Alligator took a video of him in 2009, and wanted to do something around the same time last year, 2010. I was a stringer for the multimedia section and was assigned this task. The funny thing about homeless people is you can’t really find them when you want them. Time is irrelevant to them.

As it turns out the GPD spokeswoman knew a little bit about him. She has participated in local races and apparently so has he. He gets sponsored…probably how he affords to feed himself. His name is supposedly Tinmothy Rogers, but no one can find any solid information on him. An online search revealed he lived somewhere on SW 20th Ave.

I finally found him, but was on my way to work so couldn’t take my video then. I pulled over to talk to him though, as he was running by Mill Run Condominiums.
I asked his name, he replied Timmy. I asked him if he runs in local races and he said yes, and then asked me to turn my radio to 91.3 FM, a Christian station. He said I would find all the answers there.
I tried to ask him where he stayed or if he could meet me the next day at the same place. He said he would meet me at the same place. I waited for two hours, nothing.

I have to admit I was slightly skeptical to begin with. It seemed he didn’t have any way to check time, because when I had asked him to meet me at 4 p.m., he looked at his empty wrist and then said, no problem, 4 o’clock. Made me wonder, but I guess I’ll never know. I even drove around when I was free for the next week to see if I could spot him. No luck.

We may never know their story, but I’ve always wished I would get the opportunity to write it. Let’s see what I can accomplish in the next four months.

From the Teachers

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by A.K.

Public teachers around the state, who should be breathing a sigh of relief when Obama signed a bill giving police and teachers $26 billion in funding to reduce job cuts, are still worried about the Florida mandate to reduce class sizes.

On Aug. 3 a Florida law passed for class sizes be reduced based on grade levels. At the Alachua County School Board meeting on Aug. 3 the debate was whether or not the county should just pay the penalty or find alternatives.

The ACSB posted a notice to local families and students and stated the options for complying with the law.

The ideas listed were combining classes (by age or course), reorganizing/reassigning teachers, or reduction in certain courses, most likely electives, according to Lisa Trout, a math teacher at Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Fla.

Trout taught a mixed class for Calculus, with both honors and International Baccalaureate students. The content overlapped so the classes were combined totaling 20 students. While this seemed like a good idea, it was hard to constantly have to address the two different groups with assignments and required content.

Amy Scott, IB Theory of Knowledge teacher at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami agrees. She previously taught and Advanced Placement/IB class and found balancing the two hard. Because the assignments and requirements are different, it essentially drags down the pace of the class and creates animosity between the two groups, she said.

Alana Knupp, a former biology teacher at Paxon, and Trout’s sister, thinks combining the classes would be one of the better ideas. It teaches tolerance to the advanced students, and encourages the slower ones to work harder.

In the real world, no one is going to wait for you, so the slower students have to realize that,” she said.

Unfortunately the education system has never been funded properly, Knupp said. If they would raise teachers salaries and not spend as much on training, they would attract more options and could be more selective about teachers.

Tallahassee is spending less $ on education than ever–especially in Miami-Dade County–and so all the pressure is now on the individual school districts, which are totally cash strapped, rather than the state,” said Martha Holmes, an English teacher at Coral Reef. “I’m going to be partisan here, but in my 23 years of teaching here, I’ve never seen so many attempts to undermine public education..The Republican-controlled legislature is hoping this mandate will backfire because the districts have so little money, and then they can say the public doesn’t care about class size, and they can continue to underfund education.”

Her largest class size ever was 48 students and Scott’s largest class was 42 students. In today’s digital age, online classes and schools are becoming more popular, according to the teachers.

Two such sites are FLVS.net, which is an Orlando-based virtual school, and K12.com. Having taken online classes herself at various colleges, Knupp said there are too many ways to cheat.

David Menasche, another English teacher at Coral Reef said, “They are absolutely the future of education and I hate them. It won’t take the school boards much longer to figure out it’s cheaper to give each kid a laptop computer and leave them at home than it is to bring the child in and educate him or her. The classes are dull, inactive, impersonal, and easily cheated on or bypassed. Would you choose an online educated surgeon? Not me.”

It is a global reality problem now, because we are all connected, Knupp said. Change needs to take place at the national and global level. Things are getting worse.

Jeff Kwitowski, vice president of public relations at K12,Inc., said the opposite. The point of virtual academies like K12.com is to individualize the lesson plan to meet the needs of students.

These students are also missing out on the social interactions that students in traditional classes receive which greatly enhances their social development, much in the same way home schooled students miss out,” said David English, activities director at Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville, and a teacher of Environmental science on FLVS.

The debate over their social development has researched as seen on the K12.com Web site that states they do not lack social skills. (http://www.k12.com/educators/research__results/reports__white_papers/socialization-study/)

Trout sees the pull of technology tracking her days left in a classroom.

It wont be long before I become obsolete and am teaching from behind a computer,”she said.