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Parkview pitcher Remington Stark throws the ball to first for an our during their home game against Horicon on Thursday, May 17.

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Finding new ways to work and connect: Teachers learning, adapting to changes


It didn’t take long.

Less than a week after schools shut down, the jokes about home schooling started showing up online. Most were variations on this theme: “Home schooling going well. Students expelled for fighting, teacher drinking on the job.”

The experience has given many parents a new appreciation for teachers. For teachers, online learning has given them a new understanding of their craft, pushing them to dig deeper for new ways to connect with students, academically and emotionally.

Crystal Gross, a fifth-grade teacher at Van Buren Elementary, said online learning forced her and her colleagues to look for the absolute essentials.

“We looked at the standards and really focused on what students absolutely need,” Gross said.

It’s not that the rest of the learning students do is inconsequential. The laser focus on standards helps teachers identify the fundamental skills and the critical thinking skills students will need in all subjects.

In math, for example, students are focusing on metrics and measurements such as length, weight and capacity.

It’s helpful for parents, too.

“I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve memorized the (metrics) conversion song,” Gross joked.

Anthony Wahl 

Brett Klukas places a yard sign while helping Van Buren Elementary School Principal Stephanie Pajerski visit each teacher and support staff’s homes to give them a gift bag on Friday, the last day Teacher Appreciation Week.

Teachers have also been using virtual field trips and educational and entertaining video clips. Gross noted that she has really seen how much “bang for your buck” such tools provide. In addition, teachers and students now have a higher level of comfort with communication tools such as Zoom and Google hangouts. The idea of connecting with scientists and other professionals through such a medium is something teachers have always known about, but now they’ve seen how well it can work.

That’s the experience second-grade teacher Tiffany Redieske has had, too. She and her students have a weekly Google hangout. It’s a way for them to see their classmates, share stories and play games.

Last week, the class did Mad Libs. Redieske had the joy of watching a full screen of second graders giggling.

For her, the pandemic has helped her connect with her fellow second-grade teachers.

“We had always collaborated, but now we’re doing that more than before,” Redieske said. “It’s really brought us together.

Finally, the pandemic has given teachers a glimpse into their students’ homes, and that has been a source of inspiration, too.

Kari Matteson, an English learning teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, has always loved working with students from diverse backgrounds. But the pandemic experience has intensified her love for her job and her respect for her students’ families.

Anthony Wahl 

Gift bags for Van Buren Elementary School teachers are loaded up in Principal Stephanie Pajerski’s vehicle as she spent Friday driving to each teacher’s home to give them one and thank them on the final day of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Here’s just one example: Matteson’s online lessons for a kindergarten student have blossomed into learning for the whole family. While the father is at work, the kindergartner’s mother and little sister gather around the iPad for lessons.

“The kindergartner explains to her mother what the instructions are and then they all work together,” Matteson said. “The mother told me that she is learning, too.”

The family has learned to value education. When the father came to the United States years ago, he didn’t know any English. Thrown into a American high school, he took his books home every night, trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing until, finally, succeeding and leaving high school as an honor student.

“These people understand how to struggle,” Matteson said.

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Local man inspired to rap about COVID-19 safety


Ryan Champa has been writing rap songs since he was 12.

Two years ago, he wrote one that changed his life.

Champa is a man who leads with his heart, and his heart was hurting two years ago when a girl he knew took her own life.

He wrote a moving song to raise awareness of suicide and encourage people to stand up to bullies.

Champa, who records under the name Ezoteric, doesn’t look for fame or fortune. He has neither, but his music did lead to love.

His video of the song made its way to a suicide-prevention website in the United Kingdom, where Dennise Ellwood saw it. She sent him a message.

Messages led to romance and meetings. Romance led to a child, Aryanna, born Feb. 29 in Ellwood’s city of Newcastle, England. Champa flew there for the birth.

Then the coronavirus ruined plans and lives across the planet.

The 27-year-old had a ticket home April 1, but flights were canceled. He wasn’t able to return until last week.

Back home in Janesville, Champa experienced looser attitudes about the virus than he had seen in England.

Fewer people wear masks in stores here, and the recent warm weather led to gatherings that shouldn’t happen, Champa said.

He has an uncle in New York City who has lost friends to the virus.

“If I have something to say, I write my lyrics down. It’s just my way of venting,” he said.

So he wrote “Stay Home” and recorded it where he has recorded other songs, in his car. One difference: This time, he wore a mask as he rapped.

His message echoes those solemn pronouncements from local, state and national leaders, but it’s more listenable.

Champa has mastered the hiphop idiom and rhythm. He makes it seem effortless. A sampling from “Stay Home”:

“Every time I inhale, feel the panic in my chest. … Stay home! This is real as it gets. … You ain’t invincible. How dare you get carried away? I got a problem with you all; you affectin’ us all, infectin’ the stores by walkin’ and spreading your cough, don’t even wearin’ a (bleep-ing) mask.”

Champa said his style is not like a lot of rap music, with its references to drugs, material goods and sex that he finds harmful to youth. He likes a song with a story or a message.

“Stay Home” includes some standard rap language, including two “F” bombs and a few other vulgarities.

Champa is on quarantine for 14 days because of his travel, but he’s scheduled to return to work at the Hormel plant in Beloit, where seven workers have tested positive for the virus.

Champa, who works in shipping and receiving, hears his co-workers now wear masks and have added cleaning protocols to their jobs, but he’s frightened of catching COVID-19.

He is now focused on bringing his child and future wife to the United States. That will involve applying for immigration status, something that’s on hold because of the recent suspension of some categories of immigration.

Champa’s voice glows with the pride of new fatherhood. He marvels at his daughter’s beauty even as she faces a difficult future.

Aryanna’s heart unexpectedly stopped for eight minutes soon after birth. Doctors said she wouldn’t make it. She did, but with probable brain damage, the parents were told.

Champa remains upbeat and hopeful, calling her “my miracle leap year baby.”

“We’re just happy she’s alive and able to breathe on her own,” he said.

What we don’t know about coronavirus origins might kill us

The best minds in virology are trying to unravel a mystery: How did a lethal coronavirus jump from the wilds of rural China to major human population centers? And what chain of genetic mutations produced a pathogen so perfectly adapted for stealth and mass transmission?

Deciphering the creation story of SARS-CoV-2, as the virus now rampaging around the globe is known, is a crucial step toward arresting a pandemic that has killed 270,000-plus and triggered what could be the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

While crash vaccine programs are underway in the U.S., Europe and China, an inoculation to ward off the virus might not be ready for months, and the jury’s out on potential treatments. In the meantime, to reduce the risk of deadly secondary outbreaks or the emergence of an entirely new strain, disease chasers need to retrace the pathogen’s journey around the globe. That means heading back to China, where it all started sometime in 2019.

Last week, the World Health Organization sought permission from Beijing to send a new scientific mission for more epidemiological detective work. China, which let a WHO team into the country in early February as its epidemic raged, hasn’t yet signed off.

President Xi Jinping, who is personally overseeing China’s virus response and investigation into how the outbreak started, is keeping tight control over Chinese scientific research, which must be approved prior to publication by authorities, according to two people familiar with the situation.

However, as death tolls and joblessness rise worldwide, pressure on Beijing is intensifying to allow international researchers back in to interview survivors, do field work and examine virus samples that the country has been stingy about sharing, according to the U.S.

Nearly half a year into a historic global health crisis, there are still enormous gaps in our knowledge. Those unanswered questions are hampering our ability to contain the outbreak and to prevent future pandemics, while fueling a war of words between the U.S. and China over the origins of the virus.

Roughly 70% of emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, or transmitted from animals to people. Genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 shows it’s related to two other deadly coronaviruses that originated in bats.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, which started in China in 2002, and Middle East respiratory syndrome a decade later spread to humans via a secondary animal source. In the case of SARS, experts pointed to civet cats—small, sleek nocturnal mammals used in wildlife dishes in China—as the probable conduit. With MERS, camels are believed to be the carrier.

It’s presumed that SARS-CoV-2 has made a similar journey, yet investigators have yet to identify an intermediate animal host, according to Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety and animal diseases expert.

“We have some kind of a missing link in that story between the origin of the virus and when it started to circulate in humans,” he said.

That raises the disturbing possibility that an unknown animal source is still spreading the disease, known as COVID-19. WHO researchers reported Friday that household cats can transmit the virus to other felines, though there’s no evidence yet that pets can pass it along to humans.

Standing in the way of a new scientific mission to learn more about the origins of the virus in China are practical issues of conducting impartial investigations in an authoritarian political system—and a U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry that’s turned especially acrimonious of late.

The Trump administration has accused Beijing of a massive coverup about the severity of its epidemic. It has claimed, without providing evidence, that an accidental leak of the virus might have occurred at a bio-research lab in Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak was first identified. A Chinese official, in a tweet, accused the U.S. military of introducing the pathogen to the country.

Scientists who have studied the genetics of the virus are convinced it’s of natural origin rather than designed in a lab. An accidental release from the research center in Wuhan is possible in theory, but “just so implausible,” according to Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, who has visited the facility and rates it highly.

One reason is the reputation of Shi Zhengli, a 56-year-old deputy director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In 2004, Shi found a natural reservoir of coronaviruses in bat caves near Kunming, a city in China’s southern Yunnan province. In February she published a paper in the journal Nature saying that the genomic sequence of the new pathogen was 96% identical to that of a coronavirus identified in Yunnan.

Shi told Scientific American that a review of genetic characteristics of viruses she has worked with in the lab didn’t match those of the coronavirus spreading in humans. In a social media post the virologist said she would “swear on my life” the pathogen causing havoc had nothing to do with her lab. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has backed off earlier claims of “enormous evidence” that the virus escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.

That still leaves scientists asking where and how the virus did jump into humans. So-called wet markets that sell live animals, such as one in Wuhan to which many of the first cases of the illness were traced, have previously been implicated in the spread of disease. In this case, however, experts aren’t sure whether the outbreak actually started at the market, or was just discovered there.

Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist at nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, said it’s likely that COVID-19 began before the December starting point currently assumed, perhaps even outside of Wuhan. He estimates that 1 million to 7 million people every year in Southern China and Southeast Asia may get infected with bat viruses. Most don’t spread readily between people and many fizzle out before reaching major population centers, he said.

“This particular outbreak probably was in people circulating in South or Central China back in November” or even earlier, he said.

Another scenario envisions someone closely tied to the wildlife trade bringing infected animals to the Wuhan market. Once the virus reached the flourishing megacity of 11 million, it grew exponentially.

Another crucial question is whether the virus moved to humans directly from bats or through a secondary source. If it’s the latter, the farmed or wild animal might still be spreading the infection. Pangolins—scale-covered mammals that look a bit like anteaters—have been suggested as one possibility, though the evidence is preliminary. If COVID-19 came directly from bats, it’s crucial to nail down where this happened, so that the authorities can institute preventive measures, such as keeping people out of the caves in which the flying mammals dwell.

Figuring out all of this will take plenty of scientific detective work. Viruses constantly incur small mutations in their genetic material. By following a trail of genetically similar versions, disease trackers can identify the progression of the pandemic through time. “Counting the mutations, you can kind of backtrack your virus to where it all started,” said WHO animal virus expert Embarek.

Tracing back the virus to its ultimate origin will also take cooperation from the Chinese government—and a bit of luck. Investigators will need unfettered access to the Wuhan market, its wildlife vendors, patient data and animal population.

Yet the price of keeping SARS-CoV-2’s origins shrouded in secrecy would be steep. If the current crisis has taught us anything, it’s this: As human populations expand and encroach on wildlife habitats, the risk from dangerous animal viruses continues to grow. And in an interconnected world, epidemics that were previously localized can race around the globe with blinding speed.

Without better research and surveillance systems of emerging animal viruses and regulation of traditional markets and wildlife trade worldwide, the risks of future pandemics runs high.

“If we don’t do anything, if we continue what we have been doing for the past 50 years,” said Daszak, “there will be another one.”

Death list for May 11, 2020

Verna Bakkum

Richard LaBelle

Lenore M. Strommen

Timothy Thom

Betty Jane White