Local educators react to DeVos confirmation

by Ashley Cimino–

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 15 – LOCAL IMPACT: Blacksburg High School is just one of four high schools in the Montgomery County Public Schools district that could be affected by new policies. According to U.S. News, Blacksburg High has a math proficiency rating of 84 percent, which is higher than the district and state average. Photo: Ashley Cimino

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the eleventh United States Secretary of Education after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence. Much controversy surrounding DeVos’ devotion to private school education has caused widespread public concern both leading up to and following her confirmation.

Concerns were initially revealed during her senate confirmation hearing. Professor Nicholas Goedert of the Department of Political Science of Virginia Tech explained that the controversy surrounding her nomination was partly due to the ideological conflicts that are common with cabinet nominees.

“There were [questions], largely revealed in her confirmation hearings, related to her competence to do the job, as she had almost no work experience in education and seemed unaware of broad principles and terms commonly used in the state administration of education.” said Goedert.

Clips of Virginia Senator and former Vice President Candidate Tim Kaine’s questioning of DeVos’ during her senate hearing was shared on social media and many became concerned about DeVos’ inability to agree that public and private schools should be held equally accountable if receiving federal funds.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 – HEATED HEARING – Betsy DeVos with Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Tim Scott at her confirmation hearing before testifying for Senate committees. Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

No Child Left Behind, now replaced by the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), introduced higher accountability for schools and school districts receiving funding. ESSA, signed in 2015 by President Obama, shifts for power over education to the states and moves away from the “one size fits all” approach to education in schools. Still, DeVos would be reviewing each state’s ESSA plans outlining their education goals and plans to reach them.

Montgomery County Public School teachers and administrators are very concerned that DeVos doesn’t have the expertise to handle the one trillion dollar budget of the United States Department of Education or fix the current state of the public education system. In a survey of 99 MCPS faculty, nearly all respondents agreed that Ms. DeVos seems unfit for the job.

The image above is a link to the public infographic published via Piktochart.

In regards to accountability, one teacher said, “[I don’t] see her lack of experience bringing any of the accountability issues to the forefront.”

However, most of their concerns were regarding money and where it was going to go. When asked to describe a way that DeVos’ policies could impact their work and their students, one respondent said, “Her policies and desires to take money from public schools and put it towards private schools (which are not held to the same standards) will greatly impact the already hurting public school system.”

Amongst the many negative responses to the survey lay tiny glimmers of hope within the MCPS community.

One faculty member said, “I work for a fantastic public school. We offer a huge amount of programs for our students and the administration works hard to not leave any student behind. Public schools are not disasters.”

Student entrepreneurs

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 15-Career Center: Many students, especially upperclassman, come to the Career Center seeking advice on resume building, job seeking, and future employment opportunities. Photo: David Jones

by David Jones–

At colleges across the country, there seems to be a common trend among undergraduate students regarding their personal finances. While the stresses of student loans are not unheard of, young men and women seek financial opportunities at their respective colleges and institutions.

From odd jobs to strong budgeting practices, students try to find a way to treat themselves in other areas of their life. While that is the case, there are other students whose lifestyles outside of the classroom that financially benefits them and on their own terms.

In the world of entrepreneurship, money flows based on what you put into it. If you sell well, then you can make good money from time to time. Some people are fixed on their creativity, hard work, and passions to the extent that they’re willing to bet everything on what could possibly lead to a better life.

Many students today have adopted this mindset, and are exploring new ways to build their businesses and to seek better financial gains than they ever did while working for somebody. More than just for the money, a lot of them do it because it’s in an area that they know and love.

Aside from being a well-known DJ at Virginia Tech Marcus Finney aka DJ Finesse is a senior studying human development at Virginia Tech. He is also the main talent of a group he started back in 2016 known as Finesses Entertainment. While the group’s ultimate goal is to run the night-life scene someday, at the same time Marcus and his colleagues enjoy making money for what they love to do.

Finesse Entertainment is just one of many business ventures that were started by a group of college students. There’s also Savage Entertainment (based in Radford, VA), Randolph Photography, The Gold Coast Warriors (fitness group), and GloFleaux (beauty products and services). Each with a distinct characteristic, these young business leaders make it seem easy to do what they do.

Service dogs: When the training is complete

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 6 – Training Day:  Dakota, a seven-month old white Golden Retriever, is part of the SDWR training program.

by Kameron Kopecky–

If you have been on the Virginia Tech campus recently you have more than likely seen a handful of students accompanied by dogs with colored vests on.  These dogs are part of the SDWR and the Saint Francis Service Dogs training program and the students are their trainers.

The trainers are with the dogs throughout the duration of the 12 to 18 month program where the dogs are required to learn over 50 commands in order to one day aid a child or other individual in need.  Once their training is complete, the dogs graduate to service dog school where they are further trained for specific disorders, which include autism, epilepsy, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and diabetes, also known as invisible disabilities.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

After the dogs complete service dog school, they are assigned to an individual with an invisible disability.  Most of the time, this individual is a child, but under no circumstances is there an age restriction to qualify for a service dog.

Unfortunately, qualifying and obtaining a service dog is not as easy as signing a few papers and bringing the dog home like it is for adopting a regular pet.  A trained service dog can cost upwards of $25,000.  Many recipients start GoFundMe pages and other similar forms of funding to help pay for the cost of the service dog.  If a recipient does have the money to pay for the service dog, they still have some time to go before the entirety of the training process is complete.

“The training continues with the family until the dog is three years of age and can test for their official title of a service dog,” said Carey Johnson, an SDWR trainer at Virginia Tech who has been training her service dog, Dakota, for the past two months.

When the service dog has completed all of its training it officially belongs to the recipient and remains with them throughout the remainder of the dog’s lifetime.

If for any reason the service dog is unable to complete its training, the service dog trainer is first-in-line to adopt the dog.


Hokies make statement with 2017 recruiting class

Lane Stadium.png
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 2 – Lane Stadium Video Scoreboard: Virginia Tech’s 2017 recruiting class came to Blacksburg to play at historic Lane Stadium, the home of the Hokies. Lane Stadium’s atmosphere is one of the many reasons players want to play at Virginia Tech. Photo: Johnny Kraft

by Johnny Kraft–

Coach Justin Fuente and his staff made a statement with Virginia Tech’s 2017 recruiting class. The 2016 ACC coach of the year welcomes 27 new players following his first full recruiting cycle as leader of the Hokies.

Fuente built off his impressive debut season in Blacksburg by signing Virginia Tech’s highest-ranked class in four years. According to USA TODAY High School Sports, the Hokies’ inked a consensus top 25 recruiting class. The full year made a huge difference for Fuente’s staff.

“Last year was speed dating trying to get to know people. This is much more calculated. I probably shouldn’t use that term. I’m much more comfortable because I been around these guys and their families a lot more,” said Fuente at his National Signing Day press conference. “As a class, I have been able to spend a lot more time with these kids and their families. I was able to teach them about Virginia Tech and what Virginia Tech can do for them.”

Virginia Tech prioritizes in-state recruits by keeping them home. This recruiting class is highlighted by three recruits ranked in the state’s top 10 led by prized defensive back Devon Hunter. The other two top in-state recruits are defensive end TyJuan Garbutt and linebacker Dylan Rivers, who flipped his commitment from Penn State in January. This is the first time since 2012 Virginia Tech has signed more than two of Virginia’s top 10 players.

“It’s extremely important. We want the rest of the country to know they’re in for a battle if they’re coming into the state of Virginia,” said Director of Recruiting Operations, Thomas Guerry about in-state recruiting.  “This state is our top priority and we’re going after the in-state guys first and foremost.”

Click the image to view the full version of the infographic breaking down Virginia Tech’s 2017 recruiting class

Tech has nine early enrollees this semester to participate in spring practice. The nine Hokies currently enrolled are: quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and junior college transfer AJ Bush, athletes Caleb Farley and Terius Wheatley, wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton, tight end Dalton Keene, offensive lineman Silas Dzansi, linebacker Rico Kearney and Australian punter Oscar Bradburn.

“I think the most important detail about this class is the fact that we were able to early enroll nine of these guys. This day in age, it’s so crucial to get these young guys in a semester early and have them develop in the weight room, at the training table with their meals and obviously on the field during spring ball,” said Guerry about the early enrollees. “At the quarterback position, for example, we are going to get to watch all of our quarterbacks compete for 15 practices, which will largely determine where we are headed into fall camp.”

Fuente’s biggest challenge is replacing the offense’s best weapons with receivers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges as well as quarterback Jerod Evans all leaving for the NFL. However, Fuente is well equipped with many young weapons.

While Virginia Tech welcomes one of the most talented recruiting classes in school history, the Hokies know all of this is meaningless unless they prove it on the field with wins.

“I don’t think it says anything until we produce on the field. There are highs and lows in this industry, especially in recruiting. And it carries over to wins and losses,” said Guerry. “The key is to never get too high and never get too low, always take each challenge as it comes and we’ll be the best we can be. We need to win and keep the momentum going.”

New business hopes to contribute to local economy

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 1 – Barber Shop: The Brownstone Barber Shop, on South Main Street, officially opened its doors to customers with a ribbon cutting ceremony on February 1. Photo: Stephen Dixon

On Feb. 1, 2017, a new business officially opened on South Main Street in downtown Blacksburg. Brownstone Barber Shop, which technically opened its doors to customers in late December 2016, held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate their success thus far and announce themselves to the public.

Co-owner Patti Schrantz, a master barber for 34 years, and her three coworkers left Sports Clips to start Brownstone and get out of the corporate world. “We got really tired of the corporate setting. So we decided to make this LLC and formed the barber shop from there,” Schrantz said.

Being something new and different is not the only reason that Schrantz founded Brownstone. She wanted to help the local economy by keeping the tax dollars in Blacksburg as well as helping residents participate in the downtown Blacksburg loyalty card program.  According to the downtown Blacksburg website, the card program encourages customers to shop local by rewarding them with a five dollar gift card to a local business, when they make purchases at five different local businesses.

Adam Workman, assistant vice president at First Citizens Bank and ambassador for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, agreed that local businesses like this are crucial for the local economy. “It creates a community atmosphere. The more diversity we have in our community, the better we’re going to be. So having a business, like the barber shop here, in downtown Blacksburg, makes it more attractive.”

Brownstone Barber Shop is located at 301 S. Main Street next to Mellow Mushroom.


Roanoke’s Mellow Mushroom…what’s the craze?

ROANOKE, Oct. 4 – MELLOW MUSHROOM: The long awaited Mellow Mushroom will open its doors in the Roanoke Valley on Oct. 24. Photo: Katelin Frosell

by Katelin Frosell–

Roanoke-area residents aren’t so mellow about the new restaurant coming to town. In fact, most are ecstatic.

On a gray stretch of Franklin Road, Mellow Mushroom is adding a bit of color.

The eclectic pizza joint, which will open its doors in Roanoke on Oct. 24, has amassed more attention than average for a new restaurant in the Roanoke Valley. Its “Mellow Mushroom Roanoke” Facebook page has already garnered almost 6,500 likes. That’s almost 1,000 more likes than an already-established “Mellow Mushroom Blacksburg” Facebook page, which has been open for nearly two years.

Not only are Roanokers “liking” the page; they are being vocal about their excitement too.

“Are there Mellow Mushroom Christmas ornaments?” Stephanie Murray of Roanoke wrote in an Oct. 4 post on Mellow Mushroom Roanoke’s Facebook page.

Another pizzeria?

More than 10 pizza joints already exist in the Roanoke Valley. So why is this one of the most talked-about restaurant chains to come to Roanoke in the last year?

“There are so many pizza joints around town that sort of get drowned out,” said Roanoke resident Ken Misco. “Mellow Mushroom is making an effort to stand out both visually as an establishment and with their menu.”

Misco has lived in Roanoke for over 30 years and considers himself a “Valley foodie.” He says he hasn’t seen a chain with this much character come to Roanoke during his time here, adding that the uniqueness of the building alone may be what is reeling so many people in.

The newly constructed building sits in the parking lot of Carilion Clinic outpatient center in the 2300 block of Franklin Road. A mural was painted on the side of the building in colors of purple, yellow, blue, red and pink. The inside will feature diner-style booths and a wall stacked to the ceiling with beer cans. An outdoor patio will be warmed by a fire pit, something of a rarity in Roanoke restaurants.

But the inside is just as special as the outside. Mellow Mushroom offers 40 on-tap beers and a menu filled with original pizza creations with names like the “Funky Q. Chicken” or the “Kosmic Karma.” According to its menu, you’ll have to go the “Create-Your-Own” route if you want just a simple pepperoni pizza.

It will be one of few restaurants in the area that caters to vegan and gluten-free diets.

“It’ll be nice to have [a pizza joint] that brings something different to the table,” Misco said.