Clusters of students stood outside Craig High School early Wednesday ahead of the first day of in-person instruction, and the excitement over a return to school was evident.
One student playfully pushed a friend she hadn’t seen in months. Others giggled while watching a cellphone video. Another student pulled the loops of his mask over his ears before heading up the school steps to find his first classroom.
For the first time in six months, students received education in person Wednesday.
Most students said they were excited but also shared uncertainty over how long face-to-face school would continue.
“It’s great that they’re offering so many options, but I think that school is definitely going to close, and I’m just trying to make the most of it right now,” Owen Templeton, a Craig senior, said.
Being able to learn in person, at least to start the year, was important to him because he learns better this way, he said.
“I’m excited to see my friends and teachers and to be able to have that connection with teachers that comes with learning in-person instead of online.”
Not everybody was happy to be back. One freshman, who asked not to be identified, said he wasn’t excited about going to school because his classmates are mean and he doesn’t like school work.
At Jackson Elementary School, teachers spent the day reminding students to wear masks and to keep at least two floor tiles, or 6 feet, apart.
Some were still trying to understand social distancing and that the mask should cover your nose and not just your mouth, but this will be part of the school rules that continue to be taught in the coming weeks.
School social worker Meghan Everhart said adults forget sometimes, too, so it’s important to teach the kids with gentle, friendly reminders.
Students can take the masks off when they go outside to play as long as they social distance. Laughs and playful shouts could be heard outside Jackson Elementary on Wednesday as the kids enjoyed their time outside on the playground without masks.
Everhart called seeing the kids again a blessing, adding that the hardest part about the first day was not being able to give hugs.
“I think the anticipation and excitement building up, it was like the very first day of a new job,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this day since April, and our teachers have been waiting for this day, too.”
One of those teachers is Mary Richards, who is in her 19th year of teaching kindergarten at Monroe Elementary. She said after school Wednesday that the kids are learning as they go, but first indications were positive.
“I loved it,” Richards said. “The kids were tired by the end of the day, but we had fun, and it was just so great to have the energy back with the kids in person.”
Richards said the hardest part so far is not having the kids in one group close to her, so the kids lost focus a few times. She brought them outside to draw, and she plans to get them outdoors whenever she can this year.
Serving lunch in the classroom was new, but the kindergartners have the benefit of this being their first year in school, so they don’t know any different, Richards said.
Craig sophomore Isabella Barajas said some students might have a hard time sticking to the new rules, and people probably will get sick, but she hopes her classmates follow the guidelines and cherish their time learning together because it could be taken away quickly.
“I’m excited to see all of my friends again, but I’m nervous about how it’s going to go and how long we’ll be able to stay here. But I’m glad I can see my friends again.”
After George Floyd’s death in May at the hands of Minneapolis police, staff members at Blackhawk Technical College decided they needed to do more to attract students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Thus, the IDEAL Opportunity scholarship was born.
The scholarship—IDEAL stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility Launch—will be given to two low-income students of color who also might be first-generation college students.
It will cover the cost of tuition, books, a stipend for living expenses such as food and rent, support from a designated faculty member and a paid internship to an area company in the students’ career field.
The scholarship was inspired by Renea Ranguette, BTC’s vice president of administrative operations, who is Native American and a first-generation college student. Ranguette said the scholarships she received while in school had a lasting impact on her life and those of her children and grandchildren.
Ranguette said she was an average student in high school and initially had no plans to go to college.
She found a new love for learning in college through a worker-in-training grant. It expired, but she applied for and received a scholarship to cover living expenses, and that was “instrumental” in helping her earn her college degree.
Lisa Hurda, director of the nonprofit Blackhawk Technical College Foundation, said the scholarship could be life-changing for recipients.
“This is like a scholarship on steroids to really make change happen in our community,” Hurda said. “I just can’t even express just how transformational this will be for these two students and others if we can make it last long term.”
The scholarship will be available to students in several programs: industrial maintenance mechanic, electromechanical technology, automation systems technology, nuclear technology and criminal justice.
Three area employers—Frito Lay, SHINE Medical Technologies and the city of Janesville—have agreed to serve as possible landing spots for paid internships associated with the scholarship.
SHINE CEO Greg Piefer said the decision to offer an internship was easy. In June, he told The Gazette that he wanted to be more proactive in encouraging diversity and inclusion at SHINE.
“We’re not as diverse as we’d like to be, and we recognize that there’s real value in diversity. ... We want to do better, and this is a great way,” Piefer said.
He applauded the scholarship, saying it’s a way to begin righting the ship against systemic racism in the workforce.
With the scholarship’s help, Ranguette said recipients can overcome barriers in education and job seeking.
“At the college, here we stand at the door to opportunity,” she said. “We have the opportunity to increase access for members of our community who have been historically marginalized. … I really see this as a door to opportunity that can lead to generational change, and that’s what this scholarship is all about.”
Hurda said Ranguette’s story inspired the effort.
“That’s kind of where this IDEAL Opportunity scholarship originated out of—like, how could we do that? How can we take Renea’s story and transform it into other people’s lives, especially through persons of color, who are low income and who may be first-generation college students?” Hurda said.
The scholarship will be officially established in January 2021 after the administrative process is completed. Pell grants could cover the cost of tuition for recipients, but the college will provide an institutional scholarship if recipients apply for federal student aid and aren’t approved.
The educational opportunity will make a big difference, Ranguette said, and she hopes it can be expanded to help more students.
“I think so often we can be overwhelmed by all the discord in the world around us. We can’t change the world, but we can change the world for a few people, and I believe we need to do what we can,” she said.
The cost-of-living aspect of the scholarship costs $19,000 over two years for each student. The foundation has paid for half of the cost and is challenging college faculty to match that amount through donations.
Long-term funding has not been finalized, and donations likely will be needed in coming years. So far, Frito Lay has donated $5,000 to sustain the scholarship long term.
Still, for now, a necessary opportunity has been created, Hurda said.
“The scholarship is an opportunity to not only increase diversity here at Blackhawk Technical College, but it’s an opportunity to increase diversity in our workplace and in our communities,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to create a workforce talent pipeline, and it’s an opportunity to really champion change in our community.”
Eunice M. Scobie
Joe Biden is calling the struggle to reopen U.S. schools amid the coronavirus a “national emergency” and accusing President Donald Trump of turning his back to stoke passions instead about unrest in America’s cities.
The Democratic presidential nominee’s broadsides came a day ahead of his own trip to Kenosha, where Biden said he wants to help “heal” a city reeling from another police shooting of a Black man. The wounding of Jacob Blake and subsequent demonstrations have made the political battleground state a focal point for debate over police and protest violence, as well as the actions of vigilante militias.
Biden assailed Trump for his vilifying of protesters as well as his handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and crippled the national economy, leaving millions out of work, schools straining to deal with students in classrooms or at home, and parents struggling to keep up. An American president, Trump’s challenger declared, should be able to lead through multiple crises at the same time.
“Where is the president? Why isn’t he working on this?” Biden asked. “We need emergency support funding for our schools—and we need it now. Mr. President, that is your job. That’s what you should be focused on—getting our kids back to school. Not whipping up fear and division. Not inciting violence in our streets.”
Trump answered almost immediately with his own event in North Carolina, where he continued casting the protests generally as “violent mobs here at home” that must be met with a strong show of force.
“These people know one thing: strength,” he said. If local leaders would ask for federal muscle, Trump said, “We’ll have it done in one hour.”
The opposing events reflected the clear fault lines of the general election campaign. Each man casts the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security, but Trump uses “law and order” as his rallying cry while Biden pushes a broader referendum on Trump’s competence, temperament and values.
Biden said Wednesday that he would use existing federal disaster law to direct funding to schools to help them reopen safely, and he urged Trump to “get off Twitter” and “negotiate a deal” with Congress on more pandemic aid. He repeated his assertions that a full economic recovery isn’t possible with COVID-19 still raging and that reopening schools safely is a necessary part of both limiting the virus’s spread and allowing parents to return to work.
The Trump campaign noted in reply that the president has asked Congress for $105 billion in aid for schools.
Addressing the ongoing unrest over racial injustice and policing, Biden told reporters he believes the Kenosha officer who shot Blake “needs to be charged.” Biden also called for charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police in March. Biden did not name specific charges and said authorities must conduct full investigations.
Biden also called for legal action on people who have committed violence as part of civil unrest, a direct response to Trump’s continued assertions that Biden backs violent protests.
The former vice president said he plans to meet in Kenosha with civic and business leaders and law enforcement. He also will meet with members of the Blake family; he has already talked with some of them by phone. Blake remains hospitalized after he was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while authorities were trying to arrest him.
“We’ve got to put things together, bring people together,” Biden said, adding that he was “not going to tell Kenosha what they have to do” but instead would encourage people to “talk about what has to be done.” The president, he said, “keeps throwing gasoline on the fire” and ”encouraging people to retreat to their corners.”
Trump made his own foray to Kenosha on Tuesday, underscoring his blanket support for law enforcement, while blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who said he went to Kenosha, armed, to help protect businesses. He is now in custody.
Before his remarks Wednesday, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, met with public health experts. He emerged saying Trump’s inaction on school aid has left a haphazard response nationally.
Biden said he doesn’t want to usurp local authorities’ power to decide how to conduct classes. But he said the federal government should make local systems financially whole as they incur considerable costs from software for virtual instruction, personal protective equipment for on-site employees and reducing class sizes for social distancing at schools that bring students to campus.
As Trump and Biden dueled Wednesday, presidential debate organizers announced moderators for the fall. Chris Wallace of Fox News will lead the Sept. 29 debate, followed Oct. 15 by Steve Scully of C-SPAN and NBC’s Kristin Welker on Oct. 22.
Also ahead of his Wisconsin trip, Biden’s campaign launched a $45 million advertising buy for a one-minute ad featuring his condemnations of violence during a speech Monday, along with his assertions that Trump is “fomenting” the unrest. The ad, which has English and Spanish language versions, is running on national cable networks and in local markets across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction,” Biden says in the ad. Trump, he says, “shows how weak he is” by “his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia.”
It’s an answer to a consistent charge from Trump and his allies: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Indeed, when in Kenosha, Trump toured a block charred by protesters’ fire, called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country.
The ad was launched as the Biden campaign announced a record $360 million fundraising haul for August. Biden said Wednesday the money will allow an aggressive ad campaign to counter “lies” from Trump, such as the president’s erroneous claims that Biden has not denounced violent protesters and that he wants to “defund the police.”
Trump’s advisers hope his stances shift attention away from the pandemic that has all but crippled the nation during the president’s fourth year in office. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Biden’s trip Thursday will be the first time since 2012 that a Democratic presidential nominee campaigns in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton did not campaign in the state after she lost the primary in 2016, one of the reasons often cited for Trump’s narrow victory.