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Toyota Revs Up E-Learning Support in Madison County With Donation, Launch of Virtual Learning Hub

As virtual learning continues across the area, many students are still in need of laptops and Internet access to complete schoolwork. 

To help meet the need, Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County Schools will receive $200,000 from the Toyota USA Foundation for devices and Internet access to help students with distance learning. 

“This is an exciting announcement for schools, teachers and students across our community,” said Elizabeth Fleming, The Schools Foundation Executive Director. “COVID-19 has strained school budgets tremendously as districts plan for in-person and remote learning for more than 55,000 students.

“The silver lining is seeing the community support for our schools and Toyota has been a tremendous partner in education from day one.” 

The funding announced today is part of a national effort to help more than 350,000 students gain access to virtual learning in 13 states where Toyota has operations. 

“All students deserve equal access to education,” said April Mason, Toyota Alabama general manager. “The foundation typically supports STEM, but the pandemic has exposed deeper issues that are a barrier to good education.” 

Toyota also debuted an education hub, providing virtual tours, fields trips, STEM-based lessons, and more. The community can virtually visit Toyota Alabama and step into the future to discover how Toyota is building a mobile society. 

Education hub resources are free and available to the public by visiting Tour Toyota Education Hub

COVID-19 Continues to Impact High School Football Games

Florence High School’s football team received a forfeit more than a week ago when Bob Jones pulled out of two games in the wake of nine players testing positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The Falcons have since returned the favor to the Patriots’ crosstown Madison rival James Clemens.

Florence forfeited Friday’s game to Brentwood (Tenn.) after three players tested positive for the virus, and also announced a forfeit to the Jets this Friday while the team remains isolated until Oct. 5.

Meanwhile, James Clemens received a Friday night forfeit from Lee when Huntsville City Schools announced multiple Generals were in quarantine.

In a different twist, Briarwood Christian of Birmingham received a forfeit from Mortimer Jordan, so the Lions traveled to Madison to play James Clemons. The homestanding Jets won the game but it won’t count in the standings for either team.

The developments were the latest in how COVID-19 has impacted area football in recent weeks.

Last Thursday’s rivalry game between Huntsville and Grissom was forfeited by the Panthers after it was reported one player tested positive for the virus and others were in quarantine.

The game was originally scheduled for Sept. 2 but city school officials postponed it due to what they deemed were racially motivated social media posts between the rivals.

Last week, Bob Jones also forfeited its home game against Auburn. Hazel Green (2-4, 0-4) had an open date but placed players into quarantine and forfeited this week’s game to Muscle Shoals.

Friday, Huntsville (0-5 overall, 0-3 in Class 7A, Region 4) is scheduled to play at region rival Albertville; Grissom (3-2, 2-1) hosts Austin (4-1, 2-1) and Lee (1-4, 02 in 5A, Region 8) visits Brewer (0-6, 0-3).

Thursday, Bob Jones (2-3, 0-2 in 7A, Region 4) entertains rival Sparkman (3-2, 3-0).

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.

 

Fund Established to Support Nonprofits Providing Supervised Learning for Students

A fund has been established to support nonprofit organizations providing assistance for local students during this time of virtual learning.

The Remote Learning Supervision Fund is a collaborative effort of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, The Schools Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. Toyota Alabama, Raytheon Technologies, and The Junior League of Huntsville provided the initial $50,000 to start the fund. The deadline for donations for the initial round of grants is Sept. 25, and grant applications will be open soon.

The fund is for nonprofits that provide supervised learning for students in Huntsville, Madison, and
Madison County school districts that are operating remotely, running staggered schedules, or temporarily closed because of COVID-19 cases.

“While all three public school systems are operating virtually for the first nine weeks, schedules could adjust as the school year proceeds, and students will continue to need support,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce. “We are thankful for all of the organizations who have stepped up to provide expanded services to support children, and this fund is intended to help provide scholarships and subsidies for parents who cannot afford existing options.”

As the first donor, Toyota created the momentum to get it started.

“Toyota is proud to support this initiative in collaboration with fellow community members,” said Kim Ogle, Toyota Motor North America Communications Manager. “We’re grateful to do our part and see our community come together and help each other during this unprecedented time.”

For information, visit hsvchamber.org.

Data Suggest Local COVID-19 Curve Flattening

After a period of spiking coronavirus positive tests within Madison County, some good news surfaced last week.

County Commission Chair Dale Strong said recent numbers suggest the COVID-19 curve is flattening. The national Center for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its suggested quarantine time and the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced fall sports would begin on time.

Also, schools will reopen in August after they were shuttered in March when the virus entered Alabama. However, Huntsville City, Madison and Madison County all agreed to do virtual learning for at least the first nine weeks.

“For the first 12 weeks (of the virus), Madison County experienced a minimal increase in cases while positive cases (in recent) weeks skyrocketed, and our hospitals continued to meet health care needs,’’ Strong said at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

In the wake of mandates from the Madison County Health Department and Gov. Kay Ivey, the demand for testing and the need for hospital stays due to the virus have decreased.

“We’ve begun to see a reduction in the number of new cases compared to prior weeks and that indicates mitigating measures are working,’’ Strong said. “The demand for testing has been reduced by almost 10 percent and hospitalizations for coronavirus appear to be flattening across Madison County.’’

But the statistics remain bleak.

There were 145 positive tests Thursday and 154 more Friday within Madison County. There are more than 250 health care workers who have tested positive. As of Saturday morning, 4,142 of the 48,298 people tested in Madison County were positive and there have been 21 confirmed deaths.

Meanwhile, there have been 76,314 confirmed cases of the 639,795 people tested statewide with 1,413 confirmed deaths.

Heading into the weekend, Huntsville Hospital had 106 inpatients who tested positive in its three countywide facilities and Crestwood Medical Center had 15.

Also at the briefing, Dr. Karen Landers of the  Alabama Department of Public Health said, per CDC guidelines, people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive should isolate for 10 days instead of the previously recommended 14.

In Montgomery, the AHSAA’s Central Board voted to implement the Return to Play Best Practices guidelines as a return to playing fields was greenlighted. Spring sports were canceled along with classroom learning in March.

Fall sports teams can begin workouts Monday. Football squads can work in helmets and shorts only for the first week, Volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving squads can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts.

Another option is beginning fall practice Aug. 3 and the first games and meets can start Aug. 20.

Business Community Raises $180,000 For Local Teachers

Nothing inspires a business community like a clear-cut mission and a high return on investment.

In a celebration at Burritt on the Mountain, the Huntsville Committee of 100 and more than 200 area business owners, elected officials, local school boards and superintendents, and state representatives, celebrated raising more than $180,000 to fund new National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) within the Huntsville, Madison, and Madison County school systems.

Believing there is a direct link between quality education and a skilled workforce, the Huntsville Committee of 100 revealed statistics six months ago showing that for every $1 invested in National Board Certified Teachers there is a $31 return on that investment.

From left: Linda Akenhead, Leah Gradl, John Allen, Elizabeth Fleming, Stephanie Lowe. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“Research shows that National Board Certification for teachers is the key to driving academic achievement in our local schools,” said Committee of 100 CEO John Allen. “The Committee’s philanthropic arm, the Creative Cities Fund, teamed up the Schools Foundation to fund certification for 100 teachers from the three local school systems, and tonight we applaud that achievement.”

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards said this initiative is the first and largest effort nationwide by the business community to fund board-certified teachers in public schools.

On average, students taught by National Board Certified teachers show gains of one to two months of learning over students in other classrooms.

Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey honored the efforts by video while the Huntsville Youth Orchestra entertained guests and culinary students prepared the cuisine.

Burritt on the Mountain hosted a celebration of investing in education. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“This is just the beginning,” said Stephanie Lowe, director of engagement with the Huntsville Committee of 100. “While driving to hit the $200,000 goal, both organizations will continue conversations to make this a focus across our state, as achievement in education continues to be a priority in all parts of Alabama.”

The Creative Cities Fund focuses on creative ideas that stimulate economic growth. Over the last five years, the fund has helped initiatives including Launch 2035 regional visioning; land-use planning such as the Singing River Trail; Downtown Huntsville BlueBikes; and peer-to-peer counseling in local high schools.

The NBCT Campaign is the fund’s largest campaign to date.