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U of R School of Law awarded grant to support community work, technology needs for low-income seniors

A new grant from The Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund will provide $14,500 in support of the MLP, which is a partnership with VCU.

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The University of Richmond School of Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership provides medical and legal services to approximately 300 residents at Dominion Place Apartments, an affordable housing facility for seniors or individuals with disabilities living on or below the poverty line.

A new grant from The Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund will provide $14,500 in support of the MLP, which is a partnership with VCU.

“During COVID-19, Dominion Place, like all elderly resident facilities, has placed strict bans on visitors thereby exacerbating the loneliness crisis among older adults,” said Leigh Melton, Richmond’s elder law faculty member who leads the program.

The grant will directly support COVID-19 related items for Dominion Place residents, including masks, soap, cleaning supplies, and gloves. The funding will also support technological devices with video screens equipped to work with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant.

“This technology will not only allow the residents much-needed connection with family and friends but also allow the Richmond legal team and the VCU medical group to continue to meet with the residents,” Melton said.

Melton also noted that the pandemic has motivated many residents of Dominion Place to expand their use of technology for the first time, and these devices, which have a camera to help those with visual impairment, help them connect to the outside world.

This program was previously awarded a grant from the Regirer Foundation.

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New book by former VCU president, history professor tells four-decade history of the university

“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” by Eugene Trani and John Kneebone illuminates the past and future of American public higher education.

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In “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” VCU President Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of History Emeritus John T. Kneebone, Ph.D., tell the story of VCU from its founding in 1968 through the end of Trani’s tenure as president in 2009, and the university’s role in Richmond.

The book, published by the University of Virginia Press and released in September, shows how VCU — created from the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute to serve a city emerging from an era of desegregation, white flight, political conflict and economic decline — reflects a larger, national story of urban universities and the past and future of American higher education.

Sen. Tim Kaine wrote the foreword of the book, and dust jacket blurbs were provided by former UVA President John Casteen III; former VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart; Susan Gooden, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; bestselling novelist and VCU alumnus David Baldacci; and Roger Gregory, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and former rector of the VCU Board of Visitors.

The authors’ royalties from sales of the book will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

Trani and Kneebone recently spoke with VCU News about “Fulfilling the Promise,” which they say shows how VCU has been, and continues to be, a force for positive change in Richmond and Virginia.

What inspired you to work together to tell the story of VCU?

Kneebone: We were coming up on the 40th anniversary and, at that time, people felt like we had something to celebrate. The city had come back and VCU of course was quite successful — it had a large enrollment, enrolling more Virginia students than any other city university.

The book cover of “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009."
“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009″ published in September. The authors’ royalties will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

In the summer of 2009, I got a call from the president’s office. Dr. Trani, who was just stepping down, proposed that he and I work together on a history of VCU. My first instinct was to think, well, maybe this isn’t for me. Let me propose to him that I’ll do oral history interviews and we can put together a biography of Dr. Trani, a transformative leader.

He immediately said, “No, that’s too narrow. VCU’s story is much bigger than just one person and more complicated.” He said, “You know, VCU’s last history was Virginius Dabney’s 1988 book on the 20th anniversary. And he gave more attention in that book to the history of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute than to VCU itself. So VCU really needs a proper history.”

We talked a bit and I said I know a lot about Virginia and Richmond. I’m not sure about higher education. And he said, “Well, I know something about higher education, so we can collaborate.” We set out with me doing research on the earlier years and interviewing him, sort of preliminary interviews.

Of course I could come to him and say, here’s something that was going on in Virginia higher education back then, do you have any thoughts? And he’d go, “Yeah. You know, this is what I was seeing in Nebraska. This is what seemed to be happening in Missouri.” So we had a sense of that larger context as well. We talk about the process in the book’s introduction. I think our different strengths actually worked together.

What is it about VCU’s story that makes it serve as a good microcosm for higher education in the U.S.?

Trani: Sen. Tim Kaine, in the foreword to this book, states there have been three trends that have led to a “powerful transformation in Richmond.” They are the emergence of VCU, the desire of its citizens to change long patterns of discrimination, and a concerted effort to emphasize the city’s natural beauty, especially the James River. This book explains the first of the three, how two institutions — MCV and RPI — came together to create a university that has worked with its community and that by doing so, showed that a large public institution with a significant medical center can not only survive but thrive and play a role in what is known as the “eds and meds” phenomenon that is typically played in urban America by elite private institutions with large medical centers. In that way, VCU can be a role model for higher education in the U.S.

Kneebone: We say that VCU is sort of exemplary of the fall and rise of urban universities. And we tell the story. Urban universities, of course, have always existed but today’s universities in urban areas are more than half of the total number of institutions. City education has become the norm, and that wasn’t always the case. Higher education, the idea was that putting students out in the countryside in a bucolic location where they weren’t distracted gave them a chance to engage in the high jinks of fraternity and sorority life and college life in general.

Urban universities, which catered to working-class immigrant minority students, students who were occupation oriented rather than liberal arts types you might find at traditional schools, seemed to be lower status. The higher status was for more selective schools and schools engaged in research. Urban universities, coming from a low point where they were in the midst of cities that were falling apart, suffering from suburbanization and white flight and conflicts, and with a mission to help solve some of these city issues as well, ended up becoming sort of the exemplars of higher education.

Students today at just about every school are career oriented, are thinking ahead to what they’re going to do in the future, less connected and less worried about fraternities and sororities. And urban universities, particularly, I think, for students who grew up in the suburbs, are a place that is actually lively and exciting instead of scary and dangerous as it was 40, 50 years ago. So it’s a success story that we’re telling.

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Family workshops abound in HCPS’ newly reimagined ‘Bridge Builders Academy’ series

Henrico County Public Schools’ family workshops have always been about transformation. Now, the workshop series itself has been transformed to bring Henrico families and educators even more useful presentations, speakers, and events.

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Henrico County Public Schools’ family workshops have always been about transformation. Now, the workshop series itself has been transformed to bring Henrico families and educators even more useful presentations, speakers, and events.

The new name better evokes the series’ purpose: to build connections among families, the community, and the school division. The series has also been divided into four “learning strands,” or categories, to make it easier to find relevant information. The learning strands are: Beyond the Classroom; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Exceptional Education; and Information, Access, and Opportunities.

All fall “Bridge Builders Academy” workshops are virtual, and students, staff, and members of the public can participate using Microsoft Teams. Instructions for joining the workshops are at the new Bridge Builders Academy webpage at https://henricoschools.us/bridgebuildersacademy. Workshops are recorded for later viewing, and you can watch past workshops by going to the Bridge Builders Academy page.

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops are below, grouped by category. For more information, go to https://henricoschools.us/bridgebuildersacademy. The fall sessions are moderated by the HCPS Department of Family and Community Engagement, in conjunction with the session hosts. Questions about workshops can be directed to [email protected].

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops, listed by category:

Beyond the Classroom:

  • Supporting Student Participation in a Virtual Classroom (Sept. 29 at noon). In the new space of virtual learning, families and caregivers have the new responsibility of supporting students in the virtual classroom. This session will focus on tips and strategies to support your learners, straight from the mouths of educators in the virtual classroom.
  • Understanding “New Math” (Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.). A common challenge for most parents is understanding the transition to “new math.” Mathnasium will join us to help families and caregivers understand why the switch was made and how to assist your learner who may need support.
  • Building Resilience in Your Learner (Oct. 20 at noon). When you think of resilience what comes to mind? Join nonprofit ChildSavers for a workshop on building resilience in your learner to help them succeed in their learning space and beyond.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion:

  • Raising a G.U.R.L.L. (Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons) (Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.). “Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons” will focus on Mrs. Scott-Mayo’s journey raising her daughters. The discussion will cover how we can empower our girls, boost their self-esteem, and encourage a positive self-image.
  • Exceptional Education:
  • “Centering You” with the Center for Family Involvement (Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.). Have you heard of the Center for Family Involvement at VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities? This session will provide an overview of the organization’s resources and a bonus self-care session for parents to help them support their virtual learners.
  • Virtual IEP Kits (TBD). “IEP Kits” were sent last year to each HCPS school, to help keep families informed about the Individualized Education Program. Explore the digital version, and get access to the information you need about IEPs.

Information, Access, and Opportunities:

  • Digital Resources at Your Fingertips (Sept. 30 at 6 p.m.). Are you ready to help your child reach for the stars? Do you want to get a closer look at the digital resources that support your child’s pre-K through grade 5 virtual classroom? If you answered yes to any of these questions, join us for an up-close look at Henrico’s digital resources.
  • Save, Spend, Achieve (Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.). This session will discuss setting financial goals and strategies to achieve them.
  • Welcome to Henrico from the HCPS Welcome Center (Oct. 13 at noon). Starting in a new school division is a major shift for any family, but especially for families who may need language assistance. Join the HCPS Welcome Center for a session for English-learner families entering Henrico Schools.
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Oct. 27 at noon). Grandparents raising their grandchildren often face unique challenges as they navigate the school experience. Especially this fall, grandfamilies and other relative caregivers must learn new technology, practices, and systems. Join us as nonprofit Formed Families Forward provides tools and resources for grandparents raising their grandchildren.
  • Advanced Courses (Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.). Advanced Placement courses, specialty center programs, and honors courses are available across Henrico County for students interested in challenging themselves academically. This session will focus on information to help your learner access these courses in middle and high school.

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops, listed chronologically:

  • Save, Spend, Achieve (Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.)
  • Understanding “New Math” (Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.)
  • Welcome to Henrico from the HCPS Welcome Center (Oct. 13 at noon)
  • Raising a G.U.R.L.L. (Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons) (Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.)
  • Building Resilience in Your Learner (Oct. 20 at noon)
  • “Centering You” with the Center for Family Involvement (Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.)
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Oct. 27 at noon)
  • Advanced Courses (Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.)
  • Virtual IEP Kits (TBD)

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The new on-campus college experience: self-isolation and distraction

Social isolation due to the coronavirus has become a stressor for many college students across Virginia, who report that studying is more difficult and their mental health is suffering.

Capital News Service

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By Hunter Britt

Social isolation due to the coronavirus has become a stressor for many college students across Virginia, who report that studying is more difficult and their mental health is suffering.

Shane Emory, a senior broadcast journalism major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, says he is experiencing this firsthand. While the dorms are quieter overall, there is very little opportunity to escape distractions. Emory says that his guitar and television are the top two things that draw him away from work.

Since the pandemic swept the nation, altered routines have become the new normal. Students who usually study in the library say that is no longer an option to consider lightly. Many students say the best option is to stay put and endure distractions and loneliness rather than risk contracting the virus or unknowingly endangering someone else.

Camryn Nesmith, a junior nursing major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, says that increased social isolation has taken a toll on her concentration and mental wellbeing. She also says that it is difficult to escape from loud noises and distractions in her dorm.

“There has been an effect on my school work because I don’t do well doing schoolwork in my dorm. I need to be in the library or somewhere like that,” she says. “I try to get my work done early in the morning when it’s quiet.”

Nesmith feels that Liberty prioritizes the safety of its students and that there are always people enforcing the rules and making sure everyone wears a mask. The university is currently reporting 184 total cases since Sept. 2. Almost 490 on-campus students are currently quarantined, along with 492 commuters and 139 employees.

Marian Woodington, a sophomore vocal music education major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, says via email that she initially attended in-person classes, albeit reluctantly. Cases quickly spiked at the Harrisonburg-based university, hitting over 500 the first week classes resumed.

“I did feel reluctant because, since there were not harsh regulations, anyone could have sat in the seat that I chose, and they could be sick,” she says. “The rooms were only cleaned at certain times throughout the day and you never know what someone else has touched when walking into a building.”

JMU classes were moved online about a week after starting after consultation with the Virginia Department of Health. As of Friday, the university has reported almost 1,400 total coronavirus cases since Aug. 17.

The pandemic has caused a significant mental health impact on students. More students are using VCU support services, according to Jihad Aziz, the interim executive director of VCU University Counseling Services. Students who have sought counseling this semester raise many concerns such as worry over family members and the fear of contracting the coronavirus, Aziz said in an email. The office has implemented some new methods in response, such as offering support groups for students that meet weekly over Zoom.

“We know that students are seeking connection and it’s important that they know that they are not alone during these difficult times,” Aziz says. “We have support groups specifically for students of color, those with chronic health issues, health professional students, and a few others.”

VCU initially experienced a spike in cases when a cluster of 44 positive cases connected to VCU Athletics was reported in the second week of classes. The university has reported a total of 251 cases since Aug. 17.

COVID-19 and the accompanying economic recession have negatively affected the mental health of many people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Kaiser poll taken in mid-July reported that 53% of U.S. adults say their anxiety levels have increased significantly due to stress associated with COVID-19. Adults also reported difficulties sleeping and eating due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Rickaya Sykes, a junior theatre performance major at VCU, has a different perspective on how staying inside has affected her mental health. She considers herself an extrovert, but says that prolonged periods indoors have improved her concentration and time management.

“I’m able to relax knowing that I don’t want to go out because of the virus,” she says. “I can stay in and cook, I can watch movies, and I don’t feel pressured to be on the go all the time. I find it soothing to not have plans to go anywhere.”

According to the CDC, taking time to relax and unwind can be a good way to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Sykes, Emory also is taking time to relax. When the call of his guitar becomes too loud to ignore, he puts down the books and picks it up.

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