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UMass Lowell’s online programs get high marks in national ranking - Lowell Sun

UMass Lowell’s online programs get high marks in national ranking - Lowell Sun UMass Lowell’s online programs get high marks in national ranking - Lowell Sun Posted: 31 Jan 2021 12:00 AM PST LOWELL — UMass Lowell's online education programs are again ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, which assessed more than 1,000 programs nationwide. UMass Lowell's online graduate program in criminal justice is No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 among all public colleges and universities, and offers the lowest price among New England-based programs appearing in the new ranking. UMass Lowell's online graduate program in information technology is No. 16 in the nation and is the highest ranked among all public institutions in New England. UMass Lowell's online graduate programs in education are ranked No. 23 nationally and the highest among New England colleges and universities. UMass Lowell offers multiple opt

Culpeper's 2020 top stories: Schools, voting, businesses, warbirds and conservation -

Culpeper's 2020 top stories: Schools, voting, businesses, warbirds and conservation -

Culpeper's 2020 top stories: Schools, voting, businesses, warbirds and conservation -

Posted: 26 Dec 2020 08:55 PM PST


A school year like no other

The year's No. 1 news story, the novel coronavirus, ensured that Culpeper's public and private schools experienced a year like no other.

Virginia closed its schools in mid-March and by early summer, the accelerating pandemic ensured that Culpeper's high school graduation ceremonies would be virtual, streamed via cable television and the internet.

Within days of Gov. Ralph Northam's stay-at-home order, Culpeper County Public Schools launched a from-scratch program to feed first responders, including nurses and doctors, and families in need.

Local private schools adjusted by restricting class size, distancing students in the classroom, and requiring students and teachers to wear masks at all times.

Over the summer, the county School Board—after vigorous debate—decided to restart classes with a hybrid model offering families a choice of in-person or online classes, or a mix of the two.

That was necessary because federal and state social-distancing guidelines mean the public schools and their buses don't have enough capacity to safely accommodate all of Culpeper's students at one time.

Most parents chose online classes for their children, a trend that looks like it will continue in the school year's second semester.

Administrators created a mitigation plan to greatly reduce the number of coronavirus cases in school facilities and on buses, and that has been successful.

By early winter, with the governor tightening COVID-19 public health rules, all of the Culpeper schools' children and staff were wearing face masks indoors throughout the day.

Sports conditioning has taken place outdoors, but most extracurricular activities have not, though Eastern View High's drama and choir students managed to stage four performances of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

On Tuesday, after a nearly nine-months break in school sports due to COVID-19, Eastern View's boys basketball team started its season with a 65-53 home victory over the Caroline Cavaliers.

Chairs were spaced out six feet apart for players on the bench. Only two parents were allowed in the stands per player.

But even with those changes, players and coaches were pleased to get back in the swing of things.

Culpeper voters pick Trump, Freitas, Gade

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed most people's habits, but it didn't dampen enthusiasm for democracy this year. 2020 saw enormous turnout at polling places across the nation, and Culpeper was no exception.

Culpeper County stayed majority Republican in the 2020 general election, as 59 percent of voters chose President Donald Trump over Democratic nominee Joe Biden, with 39 percent.

Local voters cast 16,012 votes for Trump to Biden's 10,617.

Even with COVID-19 precautions in place, turnout was epic, with thousands of people casting ballots by mail or in person before Election Day. Seventy-eight percent of the county's registered voters took part, casting 26,915 ballots, compared to 75 percent four years ago.

Election Day in Culpeper went smoothly, county Registrar James Clements said. "Compared to running 10,000 people though this office in a month (for early voting), today was a good day, a breezy day," he remarked.

For the U.S. Senate, GOP nominee Daniel Gade received 58 percent of the vote in Culpeper County to Sen. Mark Warner's 41 percent. But statewide, the incumbent Democrat won a third term in Congress.

That pattern repeated in the closely watched race for the U.S. House of Representatives' 7th District. Culpeper voters picked Republican nominee Nick Freitas, a state delegate from Culpeper, with 59.8 percent of the vote to incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger's 39.9 percent.

But across the whole district, Spanberger won in a squeaker, reversing the race's initial appearance when Freitas led in votes cast in person on Election Day. The trend flipped overnight after registrars reported absentee votes in Henrico and Chesterfield counties. Spotsylvania's early-voting tally then added to the size of the first-term congresswoman's victory.

In statewide races, Democrats lengthened their 11-year record of dominance. But they had hoped Biden would win big and to extend their gains in congressional seats. That didn't happen.

As of Monday night before Election Day, more than 2.7 million Virginians had voted in person or by mail. That was nearly 69 percent of the total number (3.98 million) who took part in the 2016 contest, and nearly five times the 566,948 who voted early four years ago.

Culpeper mill marks 50th; other businesses adjust

A Culpeper County landmark, visible from miles away and used by private pilots to navigate, celebrated its 50th anniversary this October.

The productivity and appetite of the local outpost of agribusiness giant Ardent Mills are stunning. In a year, the Culpeper mill produces enough flour to feed 2.8 million people, more than live in Chicago, the Midwest's most populous city.

On average, trucks cart off 20 to 25 loads of flour each day to customers in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Each one can produce about 58,000 loaves of bread; that's 1.16 million loaves a day, at least.

To feed the mill, Monday through Friday, train crews deliver up to 30 railroad cars of wheat a day. Plus, farmers from across Virginia, as well as Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, deliver tractor-trailer loads of their harvest from June through October, well over 1 million bushels in a typical year.

Each year, it grinds up to 3.5 million bushels of soft wheat, the majority of which comes from Virginia. That's the annual harvest of 250-plus wheat farms.

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Ardent's big capital investment in Culpeper is changing the landscape of grain production throughout Virginia. In the last five years, Ardent invested about $26 million in the mill, which can now grind Eastern-grown soft wheat, encouraging more area farmers to grow wheat.

"It's exciting and rewarding to know that we are providing another source of revenue for local farmers," said Kenneth Burns, the mill's administrative manager, who has worked there for 31 years. "The money they make stays in the local economy and trickles through, enhancing the quality of life for many."

Fifty years ago this fall, the plant opened for business—then the nation's most technologically advanced mill and the largest one in five states. On Oct. 28, 1970, private trains brought 250 dignitaries from Washington, D.C., to admire its cutting-edge machinery.

Today, in the COVID era, national pizza chains and ramen noodle makers comprise two of the Culpeper mill's many customers, who demand its carefully crafted blends of flour for signature baked goods up and down the East Coast.

For Culpeper's small businesses, the pandemic has forced big changes.

The Culpeper Town Council funded "parklet" table-and-chair combos to give restaurant customers more outdoor places to dine on East Davis Street. Moving Meadows Farm & Bakery renovated the lobby of Main Street's old State Theatre and opened shop there on April 1. East Davis Street fixture Knakal's Bakery stayed open, but lost its three largest sources of income—schools, hospitals, churches—due to the limits on gatherings. Downtown's Far Gohn Brewing Co. closed its indoors bar and operated a drive-thru for a time, selling more beer than ever.

The county Board of Supervisors and Town Council put $3.3 million into a CARES Act grants program to help small businesses, nonprofit groups and fire and rescue companies hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.

Still, there was faith in the future. Deb Foley opened Taste Oil Vinegar Spice on East Davis Street, and Steve and Chris Cone opened Endless Creations Flowers and Gifts next to the county library in Southgate Shopping Center. Pepperberries boutique launched a website to connect with customers and boost sales.

In December, the town and Virginia's Department of Housing and Community Development launched Culpeper Competes, a grant program to guide entrepreneurs through launching or growing their business.

Warbird pilots' events honor heroes

Culpeper was center stage for a national event in September when the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover brought the stirring sights and sounds of World War II aviation to the Washington area.

Sixty-plus WWII-era warbirds came from across the country to the Culpeper and Manassas regional airports for a 75th-anniversary tribute to the men and women who sacrificed to make the war's Allied victory possible.

Unfortunately, poor weather forced organizers to cancel two attempted flyovers of the capital's National Mall. Authorities planned to close Washington's Reagan National Airport for 90 minutes to make way for 24 formations of vintage aircraft, so there was a slender time slot to attempt the aerial parade.

But thousands of people saw the rare planes on practice flights over Culpeper and Manassas, and more tuned in via television, radio and social media.

Commemorative Air Force member Daryl Jacobs, who shepherded flight crews and visitors around the Culpeper airport for a week, expressed sadness that the event couldn't share the war's you-can't-make-this-up history with more of the public.

"The work we do connects generations," Jacobs said of the national nonprofit's educational efforts. "So many come and say, 'My grandfather or great-grandfather flew this or that; can you show me?' They tell so many stories, and love to hear more—anything to help them get that insight into those who went before."

The CAF's Capital Wing is based at Culpeper Regional Airport. In 2020, the all-volunteer wing offered warbird rides in the summer and fall in Culpeper and elsewhere, and made flyovers of Culpeper on May 8, July 4 and Oct. 24's Charters of Freedom dedication. A daylong Warbird Showcase on July 8 drew about 200 people to the airport.

May's formation flight over Culpeper National Cemetery commemorated Victory in Europe Day—May 8, 1945—when the Allies announced Nazi Germany had unconditionally surrendered. Pilots flew a dozen historic aircraft over town in an arrow-shaped formation to honor Americans' valor in the world war and the sacrifices being made by many in the long campaign against COVID-19. The fliers came from Culpeper and Fredericksburg, the D.C. metro area, Richmond, even Atlanta.

New law benefits parks, forest, history

2020 ushered in the Great American Outdoors Act, called by many the most important conservation law in half a century.

The historic, bipartisan bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Aug. 4, will support  local economies, improve recreational areas, protect public lands and repair long-neglected buildings, roads and facilities in the national parks and forests.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., planted the seed for the law three years ago, aiming to provide relief to Virginia's many national parks, which are burdened with a $1.1 billion backlog of maintenance work that was neglected by Congress for decades.

"It was Warner's National Parks Legacy Act that first rang the alarm bell on the need to fix our parks," said W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. and L. Preston Bryant Jr., two former Virginia secretaries of natural resources.

Warner's work may "count among his greatest public-service accomplishments," they said.

When his first proposal stalled, Warner didn't give up. The Democrat teamed up with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, and a handful of other senators from both parties to introduce the Restore Our Parks Act, which won support from more than half of the Senate. Eventually, it was folded into a broader package.

In Virginia, blessed with national parks, historic sites and wildlife refuges that draw millions of visitors, the Outdoors Act's passage was big news for conservation and tourism. It should create 10,000 jobs in Virginia.

Nationally, the act provides $9.5 billion over five years to fix 24,000 park buildings and more than 5,500 miles of roads, 17,000 miles of trails.

Second, it supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually to create close-to-home parks and recreation areas by working with willing landowners to conserve waterways and open-space lands.

More than 3,000 businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and governors across the country endorsed the act. But the effort started with one U.S. senator from Virginia.

In a December award ceremony at Washington's Jefferson Memorial, National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth called Warner "a true park hero."

Parks, forests, trails and historic sites benefitted from Americans' cabin fever this year, as the pandemic forced millions to find outdoor alternatives to being stuck inside their homes.

Despite COVID-19 closures in the spring, visitation to parks in the Washington metropolitan area rose sharply this year compared to last year. In Shenandoah National Park, July visitation was up 38% compared to 2019. And Virginia's state parks saw nearly 112,000 more people visit in the first half of 2020 than during those months in 2019.

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A Racial Slur, a Viral Video, and a Reckoning - The New York Times

Posted: 26 Dec 2020 09:22 AM PST

In one sense, the public shaming of Ms. Groves underscores the power of social media to hold people of all ages accountable, with consequences at times including harassment and both online and real-world "cancellation." But the story behind the backlash also reveals a more complex portrait of behavior that for generations had gone unchecked in schools in one of the nation's wealthiest counties, where Black students said they had long been subjected to ridicule. "Go pick cotton," some said they were told in class by white students.

"It was just always very uncomfortable being Black in the classroom," said Muna Barry, a Black student who graduated with Ms. Groves and Mr. Galligan. Once during Black History Month, she recalled, gym teachers at her elementary school organized an "Underground Railroad" game, where students were told to run through an obstacle course in the dark. They had to begin again if they made noise.

The use of the slur by a Heritage High School student was not shocking, many said. The surprise, instead, was that Ms. Groves was being punished for behavior that had long been tolerated.

Leesburg, the county seat of Loudoun County, lies just across the Potomac River from Maryland, about an hour's drive from Washington. It was the site of an early Civil War battle, and slave auctions were once held on the courthouse grounds, where a statue of a Confederate soldier stood for more than a century until it was removed in July.

The Loudoun County suburbs are among the wealthiest in the nation, and the schools consistently rank among the top in the state. Last fall, according to the Virginia Department of Education, the student body at Heritage High was about half white, 20 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian-American and 8 percent Black, with another 6 percent who are mixed race.

In interviews, current and former students of color described an environment rife with racial insensitivity, including casual uses of slurs.

A report commissioned last year by the school district documented a pattern of school leaders ignoring the widespread use of racial slurs by both students and teachers, fostering a "growing sense of despair" among students of color, some of whom faced disproportionate disciplinary measures compared with white students.


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