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Hutchinson announces change in education policy concerning COVID-19

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a change in education policy on Tuesday.

He said people who have been fully vaccinated, including students and teachers, will not have to quarantine next school year if they are exposed to COVID-19.

The announcement was made during the governor’s weekly media briefing. He said the change in policy is consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health, Dr. José Romero, both followed up that information by encouraging younger people to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. They said only about 10 percent of eligible younger Arkansans, ages 12-18, have been vaccinated.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 231 new COVID-19 cases in the state as of Tuesday.

Hutchinson also announced a 3 percent bonus for state agencies to be distributed to employees based on performance.

“This last year our workforce has shown dedication, resilience and flexibility during this pandemic,” Hutchinson said. “It’s been circumstances that no workforce has been through in the last 100 years. From the Department of Health workers who have worked extraordinarily long hours under difficult circumstances, to workforce services that’s worked on a front-serving basis to get the pandemic and employment insurance out, to our Department of Human Service caseworkers that have helped to take care of children, even during a pandemic, I’m very pleased that we’ll be giving the agencies a 3 percent performance or merit pay raise that they can use to distribute to high performing and qualified employees.”

Hutchinson said this is the largest performance pay amount since he became governor, and that it will go into the base salary of employees so that it is not a one-time bonus. The cost to the state is $11.2 million of state general revenue and $28 million from all sources, which includes federal sources.

Hutchinson also touched on the announcement last week that Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith will become the training site for Singapore’s foreign military sales F-16 and F-35 aircrews.

He said what this announcement will mean for the River Valley area of Arkansas is 825 new personnel, 180 from Singapore, and $800 million to $1 billion in economic impact annually to the state, which he said represents a 20 percent increase in the economic impact from military bases in the state.

Securing the training mission meant there needed to be an increase of 1,300 feet of runway at a cost of $22 million, however. Hutchinson said the state has committed to $17 million for the project, and Fort Smith has committed the other $5 million.


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Fine Arts Council to perform Odd Couple

After close to a year and a half without a performance, the Greene County Fine Arts Council is back.

The group will perform Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple June 11-13, with a twist.

“The two lead characters are female,” said co-director Travis Rainbolt. “They are Olive Madison, played by Jodie Rebstock and Florence Unger, played by Karoline Risker.”

Rainbolt said that in keeping with the Simon play, Olive is the sloppy news and sports writer, while Florence is the “neurotic, OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] ‘neat freak.’”

The remainder of the cast, Rainbolt said, include friends Mickey (Ashley Speaks), Vera (Virginia “Gin” Sturgeon), Sylvie (Laura Cook) and Renee (Amanda Nichols). Romantic interests for Olive and Florence are brothers Manolo (Thom Fielder) and Jesús (John Mathis) Costazuela.

“The show is set in the ‘80s,” Rainbolt said, “and there are lots of zingers and one-liners – just hilarious.” A broad synopsis of the play, he said, is that after a messy separation, Florence is invited to move in with Olive. “And after a while,” he said, “they drive each other to the breaking point.”

The friends, he said, then step in to help the two resolve the situation. Rainbolt cautioned that the play is recommended for mature audiences due to some adult language and references.

Rainbolt said he and Randy Hollis are jointly directing the production. Rounding out the crew is stage manager Jordan Simpson. “This is our first show since COVID-19 put everything on hold,” he said. “And we’re glad to be back!”

The play begins at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Rainbolt said all tickets are $12 for general admission; with no reserved seating. “You can also purchase them online at www.gcfac.org,” he said.


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Young, Woodrow Wilson win Outstanding Media award

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and its librarian Courtney Young have the best media program in the state for 2021.

The award, the “Outstanding Media Program of the Year” from the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media (AAIM), recognizes a member or members of AAIM who have initiated and/or promoted an outstanding media usage program in a school, a district, an academic institution, a public library, or a community. Woodrow Wilson also received recognition as part of the award.

The Woodrow Wilson media program, Young said, encompasses the entirety of the library’s activities. “A media program is more than just checking out books,” she said.

One such program is the Reading Millionaire’s Club, now in its third year. “They [i.e. the students] read 1 million words,” Young said, “and there is a reading program that keeps up with how many words they’ve read.”

She said the participants take tests periodically on the books they have read. “It encourages them to read,” Young said, “and it encourages them to comprehend.”

Students are encouraged to set reading goals early in the school year. They log their reading progress using the Accelerated Reading program.

Young noted that the participating students choose books identified for the Accelerated Reading program, and take a series of tests. Percentages scored on the tests count toward the million words.

Students who read at least 1 million words in one school year get to become members of the Millionaire’s Club. On the day of celebration, club member students parade through the school as peers line the hallways to cheer and applaud them. They walk down the red carpet, have their photographs taken, and are escorted by school resource officers to waiting limousines where they and a friend leave campus to pick up lunch. Students then return to campus and eat at a VIP table. Additionally, the club members each receive a bag filled with items donated by local businesses, and a yard sign to announce their accomplishments to their neighborhoods.

“We had one Millionaire Reader the first year,” Young said. “Then when kids saw what a good deal it was, more and more decided they wanted to participate.”

Other activities that make up the Woodrow Wilson media program have included Young’s second grade reading group conducting research on past presidents. Each student constructed an informative speech from the perspective of the chosen president, and then, dressed in character, and stationed around their school campus, the “wax” characters come to life when class groups tour by them and press their automation buttons.

In another project, students researched the RMS Titanic. As a culminating activity, each student received a ticket and then had a “meal” representing food from each ticket class of the passengers. Such activities help the students make memories and to connect learning to fun.

According to the nomination submission, Young also incorporates seasonal activities to encourage reading and learning. Each fall students decorate pumpkins as their favorite book characters, with the whole community voting for their favorite pumpkins via Facebook. Winning students receive gift certificates to the school book fairs. The spring sees a moon party, while April is poetry month.

Ongoing media program activities at the school include 40 minute classes weekly for its second- through fourth-grade students. “Breakfast with Books” engages students before school even begins. Literacy activities rotate daily in the library:

Monday: silent reading

Tuesday: illustrate in the style of the illustrator of the month

Wednesday: legos to build a setting

Thursday: read aloud

Friday: karaoke

Young said she has been at the Woodrow Wilson library for 13 of her 17 years as a teacher. “Before that,” she said, “I was an elementary teacher.”


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What you can do to fight back against scams

Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in a series about the resurfacing of scams seeking personal information.

According to usa.gov, the first thing to do if you are a victim of a scam is to report the scam to the Arkansas Office of the Attorney General at (501) 682-2007. Anyone who lost money or other possessions in a scam should also report it to local enforcement authorities.

In addition, one can report scams to the federal government. An individual’s report may keep others from experiencing a scam.

Government agencies use reports of scams to track scam patterns. They may even take legal action against a company or industry based on the reports. However, agencies usually don’t follow up after a report, and can’t recover lost money. So in the cases of individuals who send money, there is no chance to recover it.

In the case of a government scam, one may report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling 1-800-FTC-HELP (382-4357). In the case of an Internet scam, one may contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at 1-877-382-4357. One can also contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

The FTC accepts complaints about most scams, including:

Phone calls

Emails

Computer support scams

Imposter scams

Fake checks

Demands for the target to send money (check, wire transfers, gift cards)

Student loan or scholarship scams

Prize, grants, and sweepstakes offers

The FTC also collects reports of identity theft. Report identity theft online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338 (9 a.m-8 p.m., ET).


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Police make 2 felony drug arrests

In separate incidents, police arrested two Paragould residents on felony drug charges.

In the first incident, they arrested Nicholas Paul Young, 33, on charges of one count each of possession of two to 10 grams of methamphetamine or cocaine with purpose to deliver, a Class B felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia to ingest, etc., a Class D felony. He also faces misdemeanor charges.

According to a probable cause affidavit sworn by Detective Cpl. Jason Boling of the department’s Street Crimes Unit (SCU), the arrest took place June 3 as the result of a traffic stop due to the driver (subsequently identified as Young) not wearing a seatbelt. As Ptl. Hunter Matheny attempted to contact Young, he reportedly observed him reaching under the seat toward the middle console area of the vehicle. So Matheny had him exit the vehicle to conduct a pat-down.

Upon learning Young was on probation with a search waiver on file, Matheny conducted a search of the vehicle. In the course of the search, he reportedly discovered a marijuana cigarette between the driver’s seat and console. He also reportedly found a plastic baggie (containing four separate smaller bags of methamphetamine) weighing 4.6 grams, located between glass panels that were propped up on the center console.

Young is being held in the Greene County Detention Center (GCDC) on a $10,000 cash-only bond.

In the second incident, officers arrested Mary Janis Stairs, 74, on a charge of one count of possession of drug paraphernalia to ingest, etc., a Class D felony.

According to a probable cause affidavit sworn by Detective Lt. Scott Snyder of the SCU, the arrest took place June 5 as a consequence of Stairs presenting herself to the department. At that time she reportedly told officers she had “a critter” under her bed and that her “children’s father was in bed with his granddaughter” and that she needed an officer to come to her house.

However, the officers were familiar with Stairs and her prior history of mental and emotional episodes. They arrived at Stairs’ home and found no one and nothing present as described. They also noted that she was “acting paranoid” and was having difficulty maintaining her faculties.

In Stairs’ bedroom officers reportedly discovered a glass pipe that was charred and contained residue consistent with methamphetamine usage. They took Stairs into custody.

Stairs is being held in the GCDC without bond pending an evaluation by Mid-South Health Systems.


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