Teri Reed was only supposed to be on the computer for 15 minutes that Friday. As a principal at Jefferson County Traditional Middle School, she was hosting a video conference on Google Meets with her staff. Her granddaughter sat beside her. “Get out! I need help,” the girl said. She was supposed to meet with her teacher then. Reed grabbed a sticky note, writing “I can’t get out. I’m in front of 50 people.” The girl started writing her own notes to her grandmother, saying that she needed the computer. Reed kept sending notes back, saying that she could not end the call. It lasted an hour, and put her granddaughter behind. She missed her meeting. Schools all over the country, including Reed’s, have moved to digital teaching methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jefferson County Public Schools started distance learning on April 7, and students and teachers have had to adapt to the situation. Reed said that she was used to “brick and mortar, seats and chairs and the teacher in front.” “In the beginning it was very challenging because there was so much unknown,” Reed said. Reed’s grandchildren went to Warner Robins Middle School in Warner Robins, Georgia. When their school’s classes moved online, they moved to Louisville to live with their grandmother. “When my grandchildren arrived, then I felt what parents are feeling, and I felt what teachers with children are feeling,” Reed said. There are seven people in Reed’s household: her husband, her adult son, her college-aged daughter, her two granddaughters and her 2-year-old grandson. “In our house alone, we have about one, two, three, four, five different devices that the kids can use,” Reed said. “I cannot imagine what parents are doing when they only have one or two devices and multiple children.” JCPS sent qualifying families a Google Chromebook, according to The Courier-Journal. Still, Reed said that she believes that conflicting schedules could make distance learning hard. “Everybody's hours are the same,” Reed said. “And so it is truly a balancing act.” Reed also has to spend a lot of her time helping her youngest granddaughter with her schoolwork, sitting down next to the girl and working through each problem with her. “If I'm helping her and then I can't focus on what I need to do for JCTMS,” Reed said. While Reed’s oldest granddaughter is “able to do a lot on her own,” Reed said that the youngest has more difficulties with the school work. “They're assigning a lot of work. And I've seen my granddaughter get very frustrated,” Reed said. In JCPS, teachers are not supposed to assign more than two and a half hours per class per week. “Even with that number, it can be overwhelming to kids if your kid is struggling,” Reed said. Since Reed’s granddaughter is not in JCPS, the rules are not the same. Reed said that in one of her classes, the girl had 10 assignments and two quizzes in one week. When Reed leaves her granddaughter to work on her own, Reed said that the girl often does not get the grade she hoped for and becomes disappointed in herself. “I have to also remind her, you did the best you could,” Reed said. “Let's just move on and let it go.” Reed is not worried about her students falling behind in their education. “We're going to have to do some review. We're going to have to, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it. You're going to have to review some learning and that's okay.” Reed said. “That is what I want people to know, that their kids are going to be okay.”
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The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is hosting an Archaeology Ranger Program from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 23, according to the park’s Facebook page. This free event will start at the Visitor Center with a presentation followed by a guided tour of the park led by Ranger Jim Branan. The tour will be outside and around half a mile long if “the weather permits,” said Angela Bates, supervisor park ranger and volunteer manager. Branan will discuss the findings at the Earth Lodge, the Cornfield Mound, the Paleoindian site, the railroad bridge and the British Trading Post, as well as the history of these locations, Bates said. The indoor presentation will include a screening of footage from the 1930s of the original park orientation film, according to the Facebook page for the event. Bates said that this program takes place in November because it is Native American Heritage Month. “Ocmulgee had the largest archaeology dig in American history,” Bates said. This dig took place from 1933 to 1942, with 800 workers finding around 3 million artifacts. Bates said that she hopes the program will help attendees achieve “a bigger understanding of the archaeology dig done on the Macon plateau sites.” Ocmulgee became a national park on March 12, 2019. The bill that designated this change also doubled the size of the Ocmulgee National Monument, according to Laura Corley at The Telegraph. The ranger program is not the only free event that will take place at the park in the near future. On Dec. 7, the park will host “a Ranger-led tour to the Earth Lodge,” according to the park’s Facebook page. This will begin at 10 a.m. in the Visitor Center and will take half an hour. According to the page, “the space inside the Earth Lodge is accessed through a short, 20-foot long tunnel and is not wheelchair accessible.” This event has taken place on multiple Saturdays this year and will continue on into the new year on Jan. 4 and Feb 2.
The houses were flattened. Trees appeared more like sticks or twigs, all broken in two. Boats and shipping containers were strewn around the island, many far from the shore. Hurricane Dorian had devastated Abaco, a group of islands in the Bahamas. The storm surge there was estimated to be over 20 feet, bringing water and everything else with it. “Things just moved,” Mercer alumna Erin Brett said. Brett and her colleagues at the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot, a section of the World Food Programme that provides logistics support for non-food items during crises, were in the Bahamas to facilitate the movement of cargo from island to island. “I really enjoyed being on the ground and seeing how the work that we do in the office in Italy translates into the field,” Brett said. This was Brett’s first humanitarian response, but she had worked with UNHRD and WFP before. At Mercer in 2015, Brett became the first Mercer student to intern at UNHRD and facilitated communication between her university and the program. Michael MacCarthy, Brett’s internship advisor, said that she was “shy yet personable,” and the kind of person that “leads from behind.” “She's not the first person to speak up, but she seems to take everything in,” MacCarthy said. While in Brindisi, Italy, where one of the UNHRD hubs resides, she was learning how the program worked and completing a few projects, but Brett said she was mostly “floating around,” doing whatever they needed her to do. This was not her first time serving abroad. Brett went on two Mercer On Mission trips with Laura Lackey, dean of the department of environmental engineering. In Uganda, they tested potential causes and solutions for the excess of iron in the water supply. In Kenya, they worked on water filters for the community. As a parting gift, Brett had left Lackey a small photograph of the two of them that now rests in her office on the bookshelf near the door. Lackey remembers Brett fondly. “Her kindness is infectious,” Lackey said. “That’s like her biggest gift.” Now working with UNHRD full time, Brett is able to continue the work she started at Mercer. “I can't pinpoint exactly that's one thing that really like influenced it all, but it was the combination of everything,” Brett said. “The environment and the atmosphere. The quality of people that are at Mercer and those who are teaching you. They're actually invested. All my professors are invested in me or my coaches are invested in it. So it's easy to learn when you're in that type of environment.” Brett is back in Italy now, but is hopeful for the Bahamas. “They'll rebuild,” she said. “It'll take time, but they'll get back to it.”
Wise Avenue Park opened Sept. 18 as the latest development in Macon-Bibb’s Blight Remediation Program. According to Macon-Bibb County Communication Specialist Rachel Gambill, the county purchased the abandoned, blighted properties around Hudson Street and Betty Tolbert Way, knocked them down and replaced them with the park using $2 million in bond funds. Blight refers to the abandonment and often degradation of properties that can cause further abandonment and economic loss for the community, according to a publication by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The project aims to eliminate this blight in Macon-Bibb County. “After visiting cities successfully attacking blight and spurring revitalization, they learned a better effort was to tear down groups of blighted homes in the same neighborhood,” Gambill said. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Sept. 18, according to Gambill. This park is part of the Walnut Creek Village Master Redevelopment Plan, according to the Macon-Bibb County Big Picture Comprehensive Plan Update 2040. This plan includes “new sidewalks, monumental signage and street trees” around Gray Highway and other streets within the area. In these other streets, parking lanes will be revitalized as well. The county will also rezone the corner of Emery Highway and Second Street for mixed use, with housing and retail. Other steps have already gone underway in order to reduce blight. In February, county commissioners for Macon-Bibb approved a tax on residential properties experiencing blight, according to previous reporting from The Cluster. Gambill said that the Macon-Bibb County Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Program started Aug. 30 when the Code Enforcement Division of the Business Development Services Department sent approximately 275 letters to the owners of properties deemed blighted. The tax commissioner, Wade McCord, helped auction off many blighted properties at the Macon State Farmers’ Marketon Sept. 3, Gambill also reported. The Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority is in charge of many of the properties within the blight reduction program, and currently lists available properties on its website, which last updates its list in July. The land bank describes these properties as “vacant residential lot(s).” Prices currently are listed as either $400 or $1,000. Blight has been an issue in Macon for many years. According to a 2014 article by Emily Farlow from The Cluster, the Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) held an “UnBlight” conference to discuss ways to fix blight. That year, students working with the CCJ catalogued structures facing blight. “New businesses are hesitant to enter areas with blight, leaving less money and fewer jobs for the city,” Farlow said. Macon-Bibb’s Blight Remediation Program will continue to make efforts to improve the local economy through targeted projects. According to Gambill, other projects include the expansion of property around the Bert Bivins Fire Station & Sheriff’s Office Precinct on Napier Avenue, the expansion of Filmore Thomas Park and Henry Burns Park, a pedestrian bridge along Log Cabin Drive and infrastructure improvements in the Beall’s Hill Neighborhood.
A study from the website LendEDU aims to show how American student loan debt has changed over the past decade. The study’s ranking statistics focus on three main objectives: the percent change of graduates with student loan debt, the change of the average student debt per borrower and how the percent change of debt increases or decreases on average per borrower. The study focused on the changes that occurred between 2007 and 2017 and included five different school types. The possible categories consisted of the overall option which included all the schools who willingly submitted to the study, private institutions, public institutions, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and women’s only institutions. Michael Brown, author of the study and research analyst with LendEDU, said that from 2007 to 2017, the average student loan debt monetary figure had increased by $9,212. He also said that the percentage of graduates with student loan debt had decreased 3% over the years. “This decade-long percent change meant that Mercer University was ranked #83 when compared to how the average student debt per borrower figure has changed at 921 other colleges throughout the country,” Brown said. The study concluded that from 2007 to 2017, Mercer’s percent difference in average debt per borrower increased by 8.98% with a monetary value increase of a $2,178. The average debt per borrower between these years was $24,251, while the average debt per graduate from Mercer University only increased by 1%. James Netherton, executive vice president for administration and finance, explains that is the sacrifices of Mercer’s faculty and staff throughout the years that has kept the average debt per borrower at a lower rate. Their dedication to consistently make cuts allows the university to maintain a steady rate of tuition, which decreases the debt per student borrower from year to year. “Throughout this ten year span the average debt per borrower has not exceeded more than a 4% increase from year to year, meaning Mercer’s faculty and staff are used to doing more with less, because we believe in the mission and are dedicated to our students,” Netherton said. It is clear that part of the increase in average student debt has occurred due to the increase in tuition, but the main part of the increase comes from the management of the student loans. It is crucial that the borrower be aware of their accruing debt and how to properly manage the debt before and after they graduate. Cathy Santamarina is the Director of Student Loans at Mercer University. She said that there are three steps to managing a student’s loan debt. First, she said that she suggests students estimate the cost of attendance before they attend an institution. Once budgeting for the cost of attendance, she said the student should seek out scholarships. Finally, Santamarina said the student should research the possible student loan options they have and research the benefits and interest rate associated with the type of loan they are considering. “I believe that knowing what lender your loans are held with and understanding the terms of your loans will allow you to manage your loans more efficiently, so that you avoid going into extensive debt. A good starting place is NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System), which houses all federal loans. Next check with any universities you’ve attended to see if you have any private loans,” Santamarina said. Shariel Felicien, a junior at Mercer University and student worker at the loans office, said she agrees with Santamarina and believes that learning about possible loan options will help students set a plan for managing loan debt. “I can't tell you how many students I've spoken to who didn't realize that they qualify for a deferment when they have issues paying their monthly bills,” Felicien said. “As dreary as it may sound to read about loans, I believe that my knowledge in the subject matter has enabled me to make smart financial decisions.”