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Aides vital part of lives of their students

“Now teachers, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for,” are the words English teacher Thurman Allen shouts out over the public address system before giving the Teacher of the Week award to the teacher whose students have deemed them hardworking and passionate about what they do.

But there’s a group of valuable educators who will rarely, if ever, hear their name called, despite embodying thosequalities every day. They are the special education aides and support education assistants who play a vital role in the lives of the students entrusted to them.

The responsibilities of a special education aide vary, ranging from helping a student complete homework to providing day-long assistance. These responsibilities differ from those of a Support Education teacher. Teacher aides supervise students outside the classroom setting and supplement their learning with engaging activities.

Aide to students with special needs at the high school Vicki Gorsek said most aides work with students on class work, making sure they are understanding it.

“They all have a routine during the day,” Gorsek said. “Typically, we do what the teacher asks us to do with the student. We make sure they do it, and we check their work, and we go over it with them and make any corrections. We get to come in here and have fun with the kids and not have to worry about all the other paperwork and all that other stuff.”

According to its website, the Mason City School district aims to promote inclusion of the special education program in the general education environment, which it has identified as the least restrictive environment for learning. Part of this means providing the services of special education aides, who are available throughout the school day. Aides are not permanently assigned to a single student but instead are able to work with any student that needs assistance.

Gorsek, formerly an aide at the Mason Intermediate school, said that a large part of an aide’s job also includes equipping students with life skills, like cooking and cleaning.

“It’s rewarding when they finally have a social skill,” Gorsek said. “When I came over to the high school, I had the same students all over again, and it was really awesome for me to see the things that we had worked on so hard at the intermediate level.”

Ten percent of Mason’s student population is enrolled in the district’s special education program. As part of this program, the district employs 153 aides, who are available at every level of a student’s education. Often, aides provide physical care, such as feeding, lifting, moving, or cleaning, for students who are unable to care for themselves as well as behavioral management. Some aides at the high school assist with work study programs, which allow the students to go out and gain job experience at local businesses like Walgreens and City Barbecue.

Although the qualifications needed to become an aide are not as extensive as teacher licensure requirements, District Human Resources Talent Management Officer Marla Nielbling said that her team looks for certain character traits when hiring an aide.

“We look for a person who is caring, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working, has patience and has a genuine interest in seeing all students succeed,” Niebling said. “Additionally, we seek individuals who have exceptional attendance as our students with disabilities need structure and a consistent presence and support network.”

Gorsek said that while the job can be challenging but the job as many rewards.

“Every day is a challenge,” Gorsek said. “Everybody feels different every day. They’re people too. We’re always trying to meet each individual’s needs. Whether it be an emotional need or a school work need, and most parents are very friendly. They’re very appreciative. They’re happy that their kids are happy.”

Virginia Neal, an aide at the high school, said the job puts things in perspective and despite its challenges, her job has been a valuable experience.

“I’m sure it’s not for everybody,” Neal said. “But it’s definitely an experience that I think everybody should have just to get a better understanding of what these kids go through. You really understand that your problems aren’t as big as you think they are when you come in and see what these children deal with every single day. It makes you count your blessings.”

New Ohio laws will hit close to home in 2017

Ohio lawmakers are ringing in the New Year with the passage of more than fifty new laws.

The laws, which cover a variety of subjects from education to health to safety, took effect in Ohio on January 1. While some of these laws do not have a local impact so much as a state one, several of them are inciting changes here at Mason. The laws primarily affect the functioning of the school system as well as how students plan for the future.

Student Discipline

One significant law concerns truancy, which states that students may not be suspended or expelled for missing an unreasonable number of school days for inexcusable reasons. District Chief Operation Officer Todd Petrey said that Mason already follows this system with a five-step program that aims to discipline kids without suspension.

“Mason is already complying with that law,” Petrey said. “We’ve actually been asked to meet with the county and present to them how we do attendance. We have a five-step plan, and each step defines what we do for each day missed. Once the kid misses a certain number of days, we send a letter to the parents, then we ask for a doctor’s note, and at a certain point we ask for an intervention meeting.”

The new laws also mandate that the state must develop a “model school-discipline policy” that focuses on alternatives to suspension or expulsion. Students are also now permitted to complete missed assignments during suspension. Petrey said that Mason’s policy will look for ways to help the student before resorting to suspension.

“Our goal in Mason is to educate kids first,” Petrey said. “We realize that kids make mistakes. And we’ve always had the philosophy that we’re going to educate kids regardless of what they do. So instead of suspending kids and kicking them out, we look at what we can do to help them.It depends on what the child does to end up in the situation.”

Stem Curriculum

Other changes to the district include the introduction of STEM curriculum as early as kindergarten instead of starting in the sixth grade. The idea is to promote STEM subjects early on and have the programs carry on through grade school. Barbara Shuba, head of the science department at Mason, said the new law will only force learning on students, instead of letting students discover their own interests.

“I have a problem with laws forcing things that should naturally happen,” Shuba said. “I think if you let kids naturally take their course, they’re going to experiment. I love the idea that our school gave the personal learning days, and I hope our students will embrace that. I think the best thing would be to really go back and embrace learning for what it is, to learn. And to let kids explore what they want to explore, not check the box because some (law) told (them) to.”

Petrey said that the new law is important for developing problem solving skills early on in life.

“I think it’s outstanding,” Petrey said. “The more we can prepare kids to be problem solvers, to be creative thinkers, the better kids are going to do, not only in school, but in life. They will have those skills to address anything that they’re encountered with in life. So it’s very important, at the earliest levels, that we introduce things like STEM.”

Snow Day Regulations

Changes have been made to snow day regulations so that they no longer require schools to get state approval for making up school days lost to bad weather. Formerly, the Ohio Department of Education would be required to sign off on any “blizzard bags,” but now, schools are allowed to devise their own methods for making up the lost time. Petrey said that the district will continue to follow its current policy of making up snow days, which requires students to spend minimum number of hours in school per year instead of a minimum number of days.

Student Athletes

Laws have also been added to protect students from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SAC), the leading killer of student athletes in high school and college. Athletes and their parents must now review guidelines concerning the risks and warning signs of SAC, and coaches are required to complete an annual training course on the condition. Boys soccer head coach Paul Reedy said that the law will help coaches create a safer training environment for student athletes.

“We want safe athletes; we want a safe environment,” Reedy said. “Anything that helps with that, we will fully support. I’m sure we will learn more about what we need to do before the next school year. I look forward to learning more about this new law and it should only help what we do here. We’ve gone through a lot of different training programs in the past. All of that is designed to help us so that we’re not ever doing anything that would put a student athlete at risk.”

Student Debt

Not all of the laws mean good news for students. More fees have been added to student loan balances and there is currently no limit for how high they can go. Debt collectors can now charge even higher collection fees on student loans. As a result, discussions have taken place about how to better inform high school students about the ramifications of college debt.

Senior Jack Bohls, who is planning on independently paying for college, said that laws should not be adding more fees, but rather help students by decreasing college tuition.

“Personally, I think it hurts students in the long run,” Bohls said. “Stacking more (fees) on top of debt just makes things worse. Especially if you don’t have more scholarships, it hurts. Right now the debt is ridiculous, and in the end, when you get out of college, you have to pay that back with taxes. I think colleges need to lower their prices. I think the government should force schools to lower their tuitions.”

Fake media outlets propagate misinformation

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Bad news travels fast; fake news travels faster.

Fake news websites are intentionally fraudulent websites that release untrue stories and claim they are true. Although fake news has existed for years, the issue has gained attention after the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook has been accused of allowing for the propagation of fake news, and though it allegedly has the tools to shut down these sites, it has not used them. A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center said 66 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, the algorithms of which are designed to produce more related misinformation once a false headline has been clicked.

English teacher Amanda Bross said fake news applies to what freshmen learn with “Fahrenheit 451.”

“We talked a lot with ‘Fahrenheit 451’ about how the citizens (of the book) are only given information that the government wants them to have,” Bross said. “These people are not educated and wouldn’t know how to think through things, how to spot news if it was fake. They don’t know if what they’re being fed is real or not.”

Fake news earns money from advertising – as a well known name in the fake news industry, Paul Horner makes approximately $10,000 a month – as it is shared through hyper-partisan social media.

Freshman Laura Roman, currently enrolled in Bross’ class, said that she researches authors and websites to determine credibility.

“If I’ve never heard of (of the source) before, I’ll research it online and see what other people have to say before using it,” Roman said. “I am very aware that there are some places that not only have false information, but also viruses and clickbait. You can also research the person who is creating (the source). If when researching them and looking at their history, they are known for giving fake information, then I know what they’re saying is most likely not true.”

A 2016 study by Stanford researchers tested the ability of students at the middle school, high school, and college levels to distinguish between legitimate and fake sources. In one instance, 30 percent of students argued that the fake news site was more trustworthy. The study said researchers were “taken aback by students’ lack of preparation” to analyze credibility.

Bross said Media Influence, the final unit of Honors English I, teaches students these skills.

“We look at the way the media reported (current events) through articles, editorials, editorial cartoons,” Bross said. “We also talk about how you need to synthesize information from these different sources and to check credibility in order to formulate your own opinion. We recognized that there was a need for students to be able to sift through all of these sources because of reasons like fake news or just the abundance of information that they have access to.”

These skills are also taught in AP Language and Composition through a weekly “News You Can Use (NYCU)” assignment. Its purpose is for students to develop “an informed citizenship,” according to the 2016 syllabus.

AP Language and Composition teacher Lori Roth said the College Board sees this as essential.

“We all live really busy lives and it’s really easy to push being informed to the backburner,” Roth said. “NYCU is a quick, easy way to find out what’s going on in the world. Plus, as part of AP, they ask for us to be ‘citizen rhetoricians.’”

Bross said she hopes students become more cognizant of what they read online.

“I’m hoping this is making (students) more aware and more critical viewers,” Bross said. “When they see something, especially on Facebook or on Twitter, not to just retweet or to pass it on and say ‘Look at what I just saw’ but to be able to say ‘This might not be real, and I’m going to use these skills to discern whether or not it is.’”

Women power their way to leading hero roles

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Wonder Woman!

Female superhero movies have been a rare phenomenon in Hollywood. But recently, the superhero industry has expanded to incorporate more women into leading roles. The highly anticipated “Wonder Woman” hits theaters next June and will be the first female-led film of the two major superhero studios, Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment. It will also be the first modern superhero movie directed by a woman.

Last month, the popular DC superhero turned 75 and was named a United Nations ambassador for the empowerment of girls. Number five on the U.N’s list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality, which includes the adoption of policies for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at all levels. This ambassadorship will feature Wonder Woman in social media campaigns and other initiatives.

Junior Megan Ledford said that strong, female characters in leading roles are important influences for young girls and women.

“I think it’s important, because when I was growing up, we didn’t have (female role models) in the same capacity as we do now,” Ledford said. “So, when I got into acting, I didn’t really have anyone to look up to that wasn’t male. (Women) weren’t in roles that were demanding or that needed training.”

But that’s about to change. Marvel’s first female-led film, “Captain Marvel,” is set to release in March of 2019. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel studios, said the film version of the character will be the most powerful superhero to date, with her strength and abilities surpassing her many male predecessors.

A discussion is also in the works about giving Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite character that debuted in DC’s “Suicide Squad,” her own spin-off movie.

The big screen is not the only place women are flexing their muscles. Female-led, superhero TV shows are also rising in popularity. Beginning in October 2015, the CW started airing TV’s first female superhero series, Supergirl. Since then, the show has had consistently high approval ratings from critics. Senior Jeffrey Som said Supergirl reverses the stereotypical gender roles we are accustomed to seeing.

“In Supergirl, the plot is her defeating bad guys while trying to find herself and her meaning in life,” Som said. “It feels like it levels the playing field. No longer is it like, ‘Oh no, the girl is in distress’. Now, it’s the girl saving the guy.”

Currently popular on Netflix is another female-led series – Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” The show follows the titular character, an ex-superhero, through the trials of being a private detective.

In October, it was announced that the second season of the series would feature only female directors. “Captain Marvel” is also anticipated to have a directress, a decision that Feige said is an important factor in the voice of the film.

Junior Emma Jenkins said women directors are able to accurately portray a female character’s strengths.

“I think it’s a good thing because they actually know women’s strengths,” Jenkins said. “Some guys will say ‘Women can’t do this, women can’t do that.’ But women know what we can do and we know what guys can do. Being a director is hard and knowing that something was directed by a woman shows that women can rise and be better.”

While Hollywood is preparing to expand gender roles in the superhero industry, many feel  that female characters, such as Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, do not set a good example for women and girls because of their sexualized appearances in the comics.

The decision to make Wonder Woman a U.N. ambassador has received backlash from those who believe her revealing costume makes her unfit to be a role model for young girls.

Jenkins said that Wonder Woman’s costume does distract from the good she does as a character.

“It tends to make you think differently,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think it makes me feel like she’s not as powerful, but I think it makes her subject to being looked at by men. It makes it seem like they want to draw the eye to (her appearance) rather than what she’s actually doing.”

Despite the mixed opinions on appearance, many are in agreement that women need more front-and-center roles. Film club advisor Thurman Allen said film studios are realizing that stories about female characters are just as appealing to audiences as conventional male-dominated superhero movies.

“Until the new Wonder Woman movie comes out, we don’t have a (superhero) movie where a female character (is) the main character,” Allen said. “But, I think that film studios are finally realizing that just because a woman is in a movie doesn’t mean that boys won’t watch it. It’ll be nice when filmmakers finally realize that stories told about female characters are just as valid and important as the ones that star men or ‘traditional’ superheroes.”