COVID-19 Causes Two High School Football Teams to Forfeit Games

Madison County officials announced last Wednesday a two-week trendline for the coronavirus had remained flat for the past month with around 40 new positive tests per week. The announcement was made at the latest COVID-19 news briefing.

Two days later, the coronavirus splashed back into local headlines with Madison City Schools Superintendent Ed Nichols announcing Bob Jones would forfeit two football games because nine players had tested positive.

The Patriots forfeited a region game to Florence and will also forfeit this week’s non-region game against Auburn while the team shuts down activities. The second forfeit will leave Bob Jones with records of 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Class 7A, Region 4.

The school system also delayed Monday’s expected reopening of on-campus learning for one week. There were reportedly 15 positive cases and 170 students and staff quarantined across the system.

However, Bob Jones isn’t the only football team sidelined by COVID-19.

Monday, days after Madison County Schools students returned to campus, system spokesman Tim Hall said Hazel Green would shut down its football season for 14 days after three players tested positive and 15 other Trojans are in quarantine. Hazel Green is off this week, but will forfeit a region game to Muscle Shoals Sept. 25 and will have records of 2-4 overall and 0-4 in Class 6A, Region 8.

Huntsville City Schools, which reported nine positive cases with 114 quarantined among its students and staff, also reopened campuses Monday to many of the system’s students.

 

Regions Grant Gives KTECH’s Virtual Reality Workforce Initiative Real-Life Implications

Virtual reality goes real-time at KTECH thanks to a $42,000 grant from the Regions Foundation, the nonprofit initiative of Regions Bank. The money will fund virtual reality equipment for KTECH’s new Virtual Reality Workforce Development Training initiative.

Founder and CEO Lee Marshall formed KTECH as the workforce training and development arm of her Kids to Love Foundation. Because workforce readiness is a top priority for Regions Bank, its initiatives naturally align with KTECH.

“It has never been more important to connect with people wherever they are,” said Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation. “That’s exactly what VR does, and what KTECH is doing. This is about empowering students with new tools to help them prepare for successful and rewarding careers.”

The grant is an extension of Region’s work to prepare people in Huntsville and Madison County for advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs.

KTECH introduced the use of virtual reality technology this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a 3D Virtual Tour recruitment tool. Students were able to explore KTECH’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) facilities while living under stay-at-home orders.

It introduced a new way of seeing what KTECH is about and gave virtual viewers an up-close look at instructors demonstrating how the equipment works. It also shows the instructors conducting KTECH training, so it puts the student right there in the workplace and classroom.

KTECH has been on the edge of innovation. It targets foster kids who have aged out of the foster care system, and also is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills, including veterans.

They offer hands-on, interactive, one-on-one instruction and certification training in mechatronics, robotics, soldering and solid edge modeling. All four skills are in high demand in the advanced manufacturing industry.

After students receive their certification, KTECH connects its graduates with good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Now VR is incorporated into the Mechatronics classes, further enhancing the student’s classroom experience in preparation for future careers.

VR technology creates a 3D simulated environment that prepares students for a range of vocational and tech-based careers. Students can both learn a STEAM skill and experience the job environment in which they will find themselves upon completion. It supplements in-person training with remote learning from anywhere.

“Students use VR headsets to experience face-to-face interactions with realistic avatars for a more immersive experience in learning than workers have ever been able to do before,” said Marshall. “During COVID-19, we knew we had to pivot to propel our students forward, and Virtual Reality was the obvious choice.

“Cutting-edge virtual reality technology is used throughout KTECH and helps students pursue self-guided discovery in areas such as mechatronics, hands-on skills development, and more.”

According to several career-oriented websites, VR is ranked in the top five fastest growing technology careers, alongside cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“We are thankful the Regions Foundation sees how this Virtual Reality technology will advance our KTECH students,” said Marshall. “Putting state-of-the-art technology into the palm of a student’s hand, no matter where they are, is critical to the learning and workforce training process. Adapting and expanding digital offerings allows KTECH to grow in a ‘post-COVID’ world, preparing the workforce of the future.”

Sean Kelly, Huntsville market executive for Regions Bank. said, as the local economy recovers from COVID-19, more companies will discover the positive workforce climate available in Huntsville.

“KTECH and the Virtual Reality program will serve as important components to the success of the Tennessee Valley,” said Kelly. “We all benefit – individuals, businesses and communities – when we ensure the workforce is trained, prepared and ready to succeed.”

 

TVA Offers STEM Grants for K-12 Tennessee Valley Educators

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Valley Authority’s STEM Classroom Grant Program is taking applications with $800,000 in funding available for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning projects in classrooms and schools across the Tennessee Valley.

The education program is sponsored by TVA in partnership with Bicentennial Volunteers Inc., a TVA retiree organization, with TVA contributing $500,000 and BVI contributing $300,000 to the effort.

The 2020-2021 STEM grant application is open through Oct. 16. Grants may be requested in amounts up to $5,000 each. Eligible applicants are teachers or school administrators in public or private schools, grades K-12. Schools must be in the TVA service area and receive power from a local power company served by TVA.

Grant application submission and review will be managed by the independent Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

“TVA recognizes that excellence in education is the key to developing our future workforce in the Valley and helping communities attract great jobs for the next generation,” said Jeannette Mills, TVA executive vice president and chief external relations officer. “This program directly supports teachers in advancing STEM activities in their classrooms to develop a talent pipeline for TVA, its customers, and the region.”

Last year’s program awarded $600,000 in grants to schools across the Tennessee Valley. The competitive grant program gives preference to applications that explore TVA’s primary areas of focus: energy, environment, economic and career development, and community problem solving. In addition, this year educators can also apply for a grant to support pandemic response or virtual learning materials to assist in STEM education.

For information and to apply, visit www.tvastem.com.

 

In Historic Move, Drake State President Named to State Port Authority Board

MONTGOMERY – Dr. Patricia Sims, president of Drake State Community & Technical College, has been appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to the Alabama State Port Authority Board of Directors.

Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims (Drake State Photo)

She is the first African-American woman to be appointed to the Port Authority Board. Sims will represent the Northern District, succeeding Al Stanley, whose term expired July 31.

“… It’s an honor to have received this appointment and I intend to execute my role with commitment and integrity,” said Sims. “The Port Authority is an anchor to Alabama’s economy and I look forward to being able to contribute to its continued success.”

Established by the Legislature in 2000, the nine-member Port Authority board holds fiscal and policy oversight for the public seaport. The Port Authority owns and operates Alabama’s deep-water port facilities at the Port of Mobile, one of the nation’s largest seaports.

“I’ve appointed individuals that have consistently demonstrated the necessary knowledge and leadership skills critical to economic expansion in Alabama,” said Ivey. “The success of our port is fundamental to Alabama businesses and jobs …”

The authority’s container, general cargo and bulk facilities handle more than 26 million tons of cargo annual and have immediate access to two interstate systems, five Class 1 railroads, and nearly 15,000 miles of inland waterways.

The cargo and vessel activity associated with the Port Authority employs more than 150,400 Alabamians and generates some $25.4 billion in economic value for the state.

Huntsville Hospital CEO: Downward Trend in Positive Cases

     Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a downward trend in positive COVID-19 tests in the area — even though statewide the number of cases surpassed 100,000 this week — and went on to say he supports the return of college football.

     During Wednesday’s regular  coronavirus briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, Spillers said the number of people hospitalized in Huntsville Hospital’s system dropped from 202 last week to 167. Sixty of that current number are in the ICU and 31 are on ventilators.

     In Madison County, there are a total of 97 patients hospitalized, down 12 from last week, with 31 in the ICU and 22 on ventilators. Crestwood Medical Center has 12 inpatients with four in the ICU and two on ventilators.

     “Positive news — things are trending in the right direction for our inpatients,” Spillers said. “We need that number to continue to fall. Ideally, that number would be zero, but below 60 for the region would probably be a manageable number with about half of those here in Madison County. 

     “So we continue to hope they will trend down to the point we don’t have more than 30 in our Madison facilities and no more than 30 spread out throughout the region. And obviously, none of those concentrated in any one hospital.”

     Madison Mayor Paul Finley said Madison County has averaged 32 new cases Monday and Tuesday with 1,376 county residents quarantined.

     “That’s the lowest we’ve seen in a long time,” Finley said.

     Statewide, there were 100,801 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 1,814 deaths as of Wednesday. In Madison County, those numbers are 5,510 and 35.

     Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County schools reopened with virtual learning this week. Spillers said only time will tell if those systems would return to in-class sessions before the end of the planned nine-week distance period.

     Returning to campus comes with cautionary tales. A statistic of note comes out of Georgia where a week after students returned to classrooms in Cherokee County, 900 students, teachers and workers have been quarantined because of positive tests and exposure to the virus.

     “We really need to manage Labor Day and hopefully the school systems will manage the students coming in and those two things won’t create another blip in the system so that we’re sitting here a month or six weeks from now with another problem on our hands,’’ Spillers said.

     Finley said there will inevitably be more positive cases as students begin to interact more.

     “We’re going to continue to hear cases as kids get together, and (school systems) are doing everything they can to plan for that to prepare for that,’’ he said. “I think we’re just going to have to deal with that,’’.

     In the wake of announcements by the Big 10 and PAC-12 conferences that they were canceling all fall sports seasons, Spillers was asked his thoughts on football in other conferences playing a fall schedule.

     “(From) someone who grew up playing football, every time you walk on to a football field you’re taking a risk,’’ he said. “Probably the risks are far greater than catching COVID. (College) athletes today are 300 pounds and run sub-five second 40s. There is a risk when somebody like that runs into you. I think to tell an athlete the risk is too great they’re going to say, ‘Wait a minute, I risk my knees, my back, concussions. I risk things that are probably far more dangerous to me as a young adult than COVID. Why not play?’’’

     The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s current plan is to start fall athletic seasons as scheduled with mandates for face coverings and distancing for people of different households in place. However, two schools — Greene County and Sumter Central — have suspended athletic activities for the first nine weeks of the first semester and another — Barbour County — has canceled its entire 2020-21 athletic schedules.

     Also, Madison Academy was scheduled to host Briarwood Christian Academy in a football season opener Aug. 21, but the schools decided to cancel that game because of the Mustangs’ small visiting bleachers and visiting locker room. 

Drake State Unveils Initiatives to Enhance Learning Process

The fall semester at Drake State Community & Technical College begins Aug. 17 and will include online classes, hands-on training and two new quality initiatives to maintain effective learning. 

Hands-on training and in-person instruction will be limited to labs and assessments that cannot be done online, and courses in which students significantly benefit from the classroom setting. All in-person instruction will be in small groups of five or less and will adhere to COVID-19 state requirements and CDC guidelines. 

“With programs like nursing, HVAC and advanced manufacturing it was necessary for us to find a way to conduct hands-on course requirements,” said Dr. Carolyn Henderson, dean of instruction. “We had to be innovative and flexible so we could continue to serve those students.” 

It was equally important for the college to look at ways to make its online classes and virtual student services as effective as in-person. Over the summer, administrators, faculty and staff implemented two significant quality initiatives to help ensure their students’ educational experience is not diminished in the hybrid model – e-certification for online classes and Caring Campus designation. 

“Our students expect quality instruction and a meaningful college experience,” said Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims. “With our e-certification initiative and Caring Campus designation, we plan to not only meet those expectations, but to exceed them.” 

Full-time faculty have completed online course delivery training modeled after the nationally recognized Quality Matters standards. Quality Matters is a faculty-driven review process that ensures the quality of courses offered in an online or blended format. Instructors will use strategies learned during their training to strengthen the remote learning experience. Once completed, courses can be submitted through a peer-review process for official certification. 

“Aligning with Quality Matters standards will make our online course offerings the highest possible quality,” said Alice Raymond, Office of Innovation and Program Success director and Health Sciences Division chair. “I am wowed by the enthusiasm of the faculty in taking on this very demanding course.” 

Drake State is one of 10 community colleges across the U.S. selected for the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) Caring Campus Initiative. The program’s objective is to increase student retention and success by helping students over- come non-academic barriers to success and building a strong connection between students and the College. 

Staff are participating in training sessions with IEBC coaches to learn how to use process mapping, student engagement strategies and other intentional practices to strengthen student support services and advance the College’s student success agenda resulting in positive outcomes for students. 

“We’re thrilled to have been selected by the IEBC to participate in this innovative and intentional approach to student engagement,” said Dr. Nicole Bell, interim dean of Student Services. “It’s exciting to see the impact it can have on our students and their academic success.” 

U.S. Space & Rocket Center Reopening to Public

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is reopening to museum members Friday and to the general public Saturday. The Rocket Center has been closed since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To maintain social distancing, visitors will enter at the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Davidson Center, Rocket Park and Shuttle Park will be open, but some exhibits and all simulators will remain closed.

The traveling exhibit, “Playing with Light,” in the original museum building will be open.

Enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other safety measures include:

  • Timed tickets are required for admission.
  • One-directional paths are laid out through exhibits.
  • Plexiglass shields are in place at visitor service and ticketing desks.
  • Masks are strongly recommended for visitors and required for staff.

Reopening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed Mondays for cleaning.

To purchase tickets, visit rocketcenter.com.

Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Ardent Preschool & Daycare Breaks Ground at Redstone Gateway

Ardent Preschool & Daycare recently broke ground for its facility at Redstone Gateway.

Redstone Gateway is a mixed-use office and technology park outside Redstone Arsenal‘s Gate 9. Redstone Arsenal is the nation’s preeminent center for logistics services, space operations and missile defense, intelligence and homeland defense, and R&D testing and development.

The school will serve community families and those commuting to the office park or the Arsenal. The 22,000-square-foot facility will be the seventh location opened by the “2019 Best of Birmingham — Preschool and Daycare” award recipient.

We are excited to work once again with TurnerBatson on the innovative new model for Ardent Preschool that will be built outside of Redstone Arsenal,” said Ardent CEO John LaBreche. “The two new locations recently built in the Hoover area have been well-received by parents seeking the highest quality of care for their children.

“Our goal is to offer parents in the Huntsville area a childcare experience that will be a delight for the entire family.”

The Redstone Gateway school will house 18 classrooms for children ages six weeks through kindergarten allowing teachers ample room to educate, lead Bible lessons, and plan arts and crafts activities. Classrooms will be equipped with interactive smart boards to encourage student involvement and allow teachers one-on-one training with their students.

The campus will provide secure entrances with high definition cameras and a state-of -the-art security system. Other amenities include a splash pad, four age-appropriate outdoor play areas with sunshades, and multicolored rubberized play surfaces.

The general contractor is Murray Building Company and TJ Lee with Leeland Ventures will be the local developer bringing more than 25 years of experience to the industry.