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For two weeks, Douglas Freeman students can enter an immersive portal and meet people around the world

It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing.

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It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing. From Feb. 17 to March 1, students at the school will be able to step into an immersive, audio-visual chamber and interact with residents of Afghanistan, Uganda and other places far from Henrico County.

The Douglas Freeman portal is constructed from a repurposed steel shipping container, painted gold. It and similar portals are dimly lit and include a floor-to-ceiling screen, giving people at each location the illusion of being in the same room. The portal will sit at the front of campus, where the HCPS Technology and Facilities departments have run power and internet lines.

The portal, one of more than 60 worldwide, is the creation of Shared_Studios of Brooklyn, NY. Douglas Freeman students proposed bringing one of the portals to campus, and funding from the Henrico Education Foundation made it happen. The Foundation supports innovative teaching and learning in Henrico’s 72 schools and program centers.

“One of our roles as a school is to expose students to new ideas and different ways of thinking — to broaden their view of the world,” said John Marshall, Douglas Freeman principal. “The school’s diversity is a strength in this regard, and embracing that is one of our core values. The portal gives us the chance to do this at an even greater scope. It highlights the fact that we’re creating global citizens who learn much more than just facts and content during their time at DSF.”

Douglas Freeman is the first public school in Virginia to host a portal. Teachers plan to use the portal to add a new dimension to coursework. For example, Freeman students studying art, geometry and Spanish plan to talk with street artists using a portal in Mexico City, who use ratios in their designs. Photography students hope to learn from artists in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, who use that medium to tell their stories.

The public is invited to use the portal on two successive weekends to interact with people in other nations:

  • Feb. 22 (9-11 a.m. with Herat, Afghanistan; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. with Mexico City)
  • Feb. 23 (Noon-2 p.m. with an Erbil, Iraq camp for displaced persons)
  • Feb. 29 (10-11:30 a.m. with Lagos, Nigeria; Noon-2 p.m. with El Progreso, Honduras)
  • March 1 (Noon-2 p.m. with Kigali, Rwanda)

Find out more about the Douglas Freeman portal at freemanportal.org. A short video produced by Shared_Studios explains more about the project below.

The portal project is an example of the concepts laid out in the Henrico Learner Profile, the school division’s framework for the skills students need and how they can best attain them. It uses many concepts included in the Henrico Learner Profile, including global citizenship and the idea that learning should be student-owned, authentic, connected and take place anytime and anywhere.

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Night shift: Student safety ambassadors provide a resource for the VCU community after dark

The ambassadors, part of the university’s transition to a more equitable public safety model, provide assistance when people need help but don’t need to contact law enforcement.

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If you’re looking for Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore Ayanna Farmer-Lawrence in the evenings, you’ll most likely find her around the Compass wearing a bright-yellow vest.

Farmer-Lawrence is a newly hired student safety ambassador for the VCU Police Department — and her vest is both a uniform and visual identifier for VCU community members.

This past summer, the university announced a plan for police reform initiatives, including workforce realignment and the hiring of non-sworn, unarmed employees to serve as resources on campus when members of the VCU community need assistance, but do not feel compelled to contact law enforcement.

Carly Jackson wearing a safety vest.
Carly Jackson models a designated, uniform vest during her shift. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

John Venuti, VCU’s associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, said with safety and well-being as the focus, a student may be a better alternative option for needs such as asking for directions, answering questions about transportation, working at events and walking people to their cars at night.

“The safety ambassadors will be present in places with high volumes of students, such as outside the University Student Commons and the Compass,” Venuti said. “They will predominately work at night because in the spring 2020 perception of safety survey, students told us they feel less safe at night.”

The three safety ambassadors received 40 hours of training and are also tasked with reporting safety concerns they come across during their shifts. In their first two nights working, they reported to police about damaged property, a traffic light failure and a fire at a business on West Broad Street.

Farmer-Lawrence, a homeland security and criminal justice major in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said the part-time position coincides with her goal of becoming a special agent for the FBI. She was drawn to become a safety ambassador to learn from police, build relationships, network and be ready for internships or employment opportunities upon graduation.

“I thought it was a good idea to be that person that [people] can go to if they have a problem, but don’t want to go to the police directly,” Farmer-Lawrence said. “It’s a good idea given what’s going on in society currently.”

Venuti said he looks forward to hearing feedback from community members about the new program and plans to expand the number of student safety ambassadors, and their designated locations, in spring 2021.

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University of Richmond Partners with Richmond Public Schools on No Loan Program

“The No Loan Program gives our students the remarkable opportunity to graduate with a degree from a world-class institution without taking on any debt,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “We are incredibly grateful to President Crutcher, and the entire University of Richmond team, for this generous commitment to our students.”

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The University of Richmond has announced, in a first-of-its-kind partnership, it will meet the full demonstrated financial need for all RPS graduates who qualify to attend with grant aid — not with loans — up to the full cost of attendance at UR.

“We know that the thought of taking out loans may create anxiety for families, particularly among first-generation students,” said University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher. “The University of Richmond and the City of Richmond want to retain our best students in the region, and the No Loan Program will further that effort.”

“The No Loan Program gives our students the remarkable opportunity to graduate with a degree from a world-class institution without taking on any debt,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “We are incredibly grateful to President Crutcher, and the entire University of Richmond team, for this generous commitment to our students.”

“The University of Richmond has been a wonderful partner for RPS over the years,” said School Board Chairwoman Linda Owen. “I am thrilled to see the collaboration continue in this way and I can’t wait to see the next generation of RPS students who become Richmond Spiders.”

The University of Richmond and Richmond Public Schools already partner on a number of programs. UR offers RPS specific admission and financial aid workshops. UR Bonner Scholars and students from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ “Justice and Civil Society” class volunteer with RVA Future Centers. Also, the student-led UR Mentoring Project brings UR students in to mentor students in the Armstrong Leadership Program.

UR also offers Richmond’s Promise to Virginia, which provides full tuition, room, and board grants to all Virginians who come from families with incomes below $60,000.

“We hope local students will consider Richmond and know that they will find the diverse community here that is found at other top universities, said Stephanie Dupaul, vice president for Enrollment Management. “RPS students who attend Richmond will find that staying local doesn’t mean they only have local experiences. Our financial aid awards are only part of the story. We also guarantee funding for faculty-mentored research and internships; we ensure that students are able to study abroad; and we provide the pathways for students to successful careers and graduate school.”

UR students also benefit from the partnership. “Just as students from Richmond benefit from the geographically diverse student population at the University, students from around the nation and world have much to learn from our hometown students,” Crutcher said.

Over the last decade, UR has invested more than $11 million in University-funded aid to graduates of Richmond Public Schools and the City of Richmond-located magnet schools.

“I am so pleased that we can expand our financial aid programs to make it possible for more RPS students to graduate as Spiders,” Crutcher said.

Current RPS seniors are encouraged to apply by Jan. 1 for fall semester 2021.

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Here come the Mavericks: New nickname, chapter for Douglas Freeman High School

When Douglas Freeman High School competitors next take the field or court, it will be as the Mavericks. John Marshall, principal, announced the new nickname — along with a new logo — in a message Thursday to students, families and staff members. The choice was the favorite of respondents in a survey of four options, and was selected by the school’s administration, in tandem with student leaders.

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When Douglas Freeman High School competitors next take the field or court, it will be as the Mavericks. John Marshall, principal, announced the new nickname — along with a new logo — in a message Thursday to students, families and staff members. The choice was the favorite of respondents in a survey of four options, and was selected by the school’s administration, in tandem with student leaders.

The final contenders — Mavericks, Pioneers, Trailblazers and United — were announced in October by a committee made up of members of the school community. The group had help from VCU’s nationally recognized Brandcenter, which includes Douglas Freeman alumni. The Brandcenter also helped develop the logo for the final selection, a stylized “M” above the words “Freeman Mavericks.” The new branding will join the school’s interlocking “DSF” logo, which will remain in use.

“After a careful and intentional process to find a new school nickname, symbol and mascot, we are overjoyed to announce that we are moving forward together, starting today,” said Marshall in a message to the school community.

Marshall noted that the nickname describes the school’s independent spirit and is consistent with the school’s core values of excellence, pride, intensity, family, diversity and tradition.

“We are free-thinkers and forward thinkers,” Marshall said. “We challenge the status quo to make the world a better place.”

To see a video featuring students and staff members talking about the selection, go to www.freemanmascot.info/announcement.

The school will share details soon about a planned “spirit-wear swap” where students can trade in Rebels gear for items with the new nickname and logo.

Marshall also announced in August the creation of the “Freeman Forward Fund” in partnership with the Henrico Education Foundation. The fund will build school culture and support long-term efforts to promote inclusivity and innovation. Members of the public can donate to the fund by going to https://bit.ly/33oNrqu.

The school announced in August that, after a review process that included public input, it was retiring its “Rebels” nickname and would seek a more inclusive nickname and mascot. That process drew more than 2,000 comments, including around 1,500 responses through an online form. The input also included emails, social media posts, handwritten notes, voicemails, videos and an online panel discussion on the topic.

While the school had used the Rebels name since it opened in 1954, it has not used a visual mascot for many years, instead opting for the “DSF” logo.

The school is named for Douglas Southall Freeman, a Richmond historian, author and journalist. While Freeman won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of both Robert E. Lee and George Washington, the school’s original mascot was likely inspired by his Confederate subjects.

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