3 months ago

Gadsden City High School program empowers special education students



What started as an unconventional way to teach math and reading to special-education students has put them in the restaurant business.

You’ll find them cooking using multiple-step recipies, taking orders, working the cash register, taking inventory, and ordering food and supplies at the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe, serving lunch and afternoon coffee from the confines of the Gadsden Public Library.

The program has given hope and a sense of worth and accomplishment to students who otherwise would most likely be stuck at home.

“All of them have significant cognitive impairment,” says Chip Rowan, the Gadsden City High School special-education teacher who started the program. “Many are on the autism spectrum. All have significant disabilities related to learning, communication and socialization. Many begin the program as nonreaders.”

That has made for an uphill climb for Rowan.

“The most difficult challenge is overcoming some people’s low expectations or stereotypes about the abilities of students with significant special needs,” he says. “This is why we have chosen to perform our work in an open kitchen so that the public can view how we work.  It is also the reason why we chose to serve an upscale menu. We wanted to make the point that people with significant disabilities can create beautiful and delicious food in a safe and efficient manner.”

Beautiful Rainbow Cafe finds gold turning special-education students into top-notch cooks from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A different way to teach

Rowan’s journey began in 2013 at Litchfield Middle School.

“I started using gardening and cooking as vehicles for teaching reading, math and other functional academic and vocational objectives,” Rowan explains. “Research shows these are effective and therapeutic methods for teaching students with special needs.”

The class initially prepared baked goods and candy for sale at school, adding truffles and branching out to school events. In 2015, the state Department of Education provided a grant to the Gadsden school system to start a similar summer program for special-needs students.

The class became a formal “instructional laboratory” at Gadsden City High where culinary and horticultural tasks were used to teach a broad range of academic and functional skills.

When a café closed in the Gadsden Public Library, Director Amanda Jackson invited Rowan to occupy the vacancy with his class. That’s when the community kicked in. The city of Gadsden, the Gadsden Rotary Club, Gadsden Library Foundation and the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama funded renovation of the library space.

“It was the perfect chance to partner with the Gadsden City School System to provide more visibility to the Beautiful Rainbow, and offer library services to an often-underserved segment of our community,” Jackson says.

Meanwhile, the city, the Alabama Power Foundation, Modern Woodmen of America, the Rotary Club and Gadsden Library Foundation donated money to transform a vacant lot across the street into a garden where the students grow vegetables for the restaurant.

Positive atmosphere, delicious food

The café opened in February, specializing in local garden-to-table gourmet vegetarian food and pastries, and has catered events for the Boys and Girls Club, Rotary, the Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County and the Etowah Youth Orchestras.

Currently, 17 Gadsden City High students work at Beautiful Rainbow as part of co-op and after-school programs. Two are from the private Excel Institute for adults with intellectual disabilities.

The result has been nothing short of outstanding. Jackson says one of her employees labels the attitude of the students as “infectious.”

“You can’t come out of the café in a bad mood,” Jackson says. “The atmosphere is positive and the delicious food doesn’t hurt your feelings either.”

It has made a huge difference for Gadsden City High senior David Hodges, 21, who has been in Rowan’s program since its inception at Litchfield.

“His confidence and self-worth has grown by leaps and bounds through the many things he has learned,” said Blake Champion, Hodges’ adoptive father. “He has also shown major improvement in reading, spelling and mathematics from the different tasks he performs. The program has influenced him to pursue his goal, more intensely, of obtaining employment.

“He has also shown improvement at home with his daily chores, and just taking ownership of different tasks that need to be completed. Beautiful Rainbow is a wonderful program that has changed the life of David Hodges, and I am thankful for the opportunity he has been given.”

‘Truly amazing’

Sharon Maness, director of special education and elementary education for Gadsden City Schools, knew many of the kids when they were sixth-grade students.

“It’s truly amazing to see these students with significant disabilities who had multiple needs, who were not independent and had unbecoming behavior now able to work independently, doing their assignments, with no behaviors; cordial, polite and serving people of this community,” Maness says.

She was taken aback on a recent visit when several students used technical words she had never heard when discussing methods for slicing, dicing and cooking.

Maness credits Rowan for thinking outside the box to use cooking and gardening to teach basic academic skills.

“Chip is a very dedicated teacher who just has a gift with those kids,” she says. “He has very high expectations of them and it shows in their everyday demeanor. He has built their self-esteem to the point they feel like, ‘I’m important. I’m the pastry person. I’m good at lasagna.’ We’ve received feedback from the parents who say in the past their kids would come home and do nothing, and now they want to prepare dinner.”

The cafe is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday from 11 until 1:30, and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons after 3 p.m. as a coffeehouse serving hot teas, coffees and pastries. More information is at www.gadsdenlibrary.org/beautiful-rainbow-cafe-in-the-gadsden-public-library/.

(By Gilbert Nicholson courtesy of Alabama News Center)

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16 mins ago

Is the GOP staring at another 1930?

After the victory of Donald Trump in 2016, the GOP held the Senate and House, two-thirds of the governorships, and 1,000 more state legislators than they had on the day Barack Obama took office.

“The Republican Party has not been this dominant in 90 years,” went the exultant claim.

A year later, Republicans lost the governorship of Virginia and almost lost the legislature.


Came then the loss of a U.S. Senate seat in ruby-red Alabama.

Tuesday, Democrats captured a House seat in a Pennsylvania district Trump carried by 20 points, and where Democrats had not even fielded a candidate in 2014 and 2016.

Republicans lately congratulating themselves on a dominance not seen since 1928, might revisit what happened to the Class of 1928.

In 1930, Republicans lost 52 House seats, portending the loss of both houses of Congress and the White House in 1932 to FDR who would go on to win four straight terms. For the GOP, the ’30s were the dreadful decade.

Is the GOP staring at another 1930?


Unlike 1930, though, the nation has not endured a Great Crash or gone through year one of a Great Depression where unemployment hit 10 percent in June, when the Smoot-Hawley tariff was passed.

Today, the economy is moving along smartly. The labor force is larger than it has ever been. Workers are re-entering and seeking jobs. Black and Hispanic unemployment are at record lows. Confidence is high. Our Great Recession is 10 years in the past.

The problem for Republicans may be found in a truism: When the economy is poor, the economy is the issue. When the economy is good, something else is the issue.

A good economy did not save the GOP in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, where the party’s tax cut was derided by Democrat Conor Lamb as a wealth transfer to the rich. Nor did Lamb hurt himself by implying Republicans were planning to pay for their tax cut by robbing Social Security and Medicare.

Republican candidate Rick Saccone reportedly stopped using the tax cut as his major issue in his TV ads that ran closest to Election Day.

Other factors point to a bad day for the GOP on Nov. 6.

Republican retirees from Congress far outnumber Democratic retirees.

Democratic turnout has been reaching record highs, while GOP turnout has been normal. And even in the special elections Democrats have lost, they are outperforming the Democrats who lost in 2016.

Relying upon hostility to Trump to bring out the resistance, savvy Democrats are taking on the political coloration of their districts and states, rather than of the national party of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.

There is, however, troubling news from Pennsylvania for Nancy Pelosi.

Lamb promised voters of “Deerhunter” country he would not support San Francisco Nancy for speaker. Look for Democrats in districts Trump carried to begin talking of the “need for new leaders.”

Trump seems fated to be the primary target of attack this fall, and not only in districts Clinton carried. For an average of national polls shows that disapproval of his presidency is 14 points higher than his approval rating. And this is when the economy is turning up good numbers not seen in this century.

At the national level, Democrats will turn 2018 into a referendum on the Trump persona and Trump presidency. For while the Trump base is loyal and solid, the anti-Trump base is equally so, and appreciably larger.

Lest we forget, Hillary Clinton, not the most charismatic candidate the Democrats have put up in decades, beat Trump by nearly 3 million votes. And while Trump pierced the famous “blue wall” — the 18 states that voted Democratic in every presidential election between 1992 and 2012 — the demographic trend that created the wall is still working.

White voters, who tend to vote Republican, continue to decline as a share of the population. Peoples of color, who vote 70 to 90 percent Democratic in presidential elections, are now nearly 40 percent of the nation.

Mass migration into America is re-enforcing that trend.

Moreover, millennials, who have many elections ahead of them, are more liberal than seniors, who have fewer elections ahead and are the GOP base.

But if Republicans face problems of demography, the party of “tax and tax, spend and spend, and elect and elect” appears to be reaching the end of its tether. Federal deficits are rising toward trillion-dollar levels.

The five largest items in the budget — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, interest on the debt — are rising inexorably. And there appears no disposition in either party to cut back on spending for education, college loans, food stamps, housing assistance or infrastructure.

If the Fed did not retain the power to control the money supply, then the fate of New Jersey and Illinois, and beyond, of Greece and Argentina, would become our national destiny.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”

(Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr & Wikicommons)

(Creators, copyright 2018)

46 mins ago

Alabama man charged in connection with 91-year-old woman’s death

Police in Alabama say a man has been charged in connection with the death of a 91-year-old woman.

Dothan police said in a news release Sunday that 58-year-old Joe Nathan Duncan was charged with capital murder in the death of 91-year-old Mabel Fowler.


Police say they received a call of a possible death at a residence Saturday. Once officers arrived, it was apparent that it was a crime scene.

Throughout the course of the investigation, police located, interviewed and charged Duncan. It’s unclear if he has a lawyer.

(Image: Dothan Police Department)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 hour ago

7 Things: Democrats want to hire disgraced FBI deputy, storm trackers enter Alabama ahead of severe weather, bill to allow teachers to carry to get a floor debate, and more …

1. Democrat Congresspersons want to hire the disgraced FBI Deputy Director just to stick it to Trump (and taxpayers)

— Democrats are offering him jobs in their offices in order to help him make it to his retirement date, his retirement is worth $1.8 million dollars.

— Another Democrat, and Trump critic, Adam Schiff says McCabe’s firing “may have been justified”.

2. Now former-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fired two days before his retirement for lying to investigators

— McCabe was fired after Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that McCabe misled investigators about his role in directing other officials at the FBI to speak to the media about the corruption investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

McCabe is claiming this is all an attempt to silence him, which makes little sense, and an attempt to discredit the Mueller probe.

3. Renowned storm trackers have entered the state of Alabama, which could foreshadow a rough weather day ahead

— The “national Storm Prediction Center” says there is an “enhanced risk” of severe storms for Nashville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa.

— School districts are already announcing school closures to prepare for the weather.

4. Bill that would allow some teachers to conceal carry will get House debate, no movement in the Senate

— A bill that would allow approved teachers to carry  in schools could spark an intense debate Tuesday in the Alabama House of Representatives.

— House Speaker Mac McCutcheon questioned the idea of arming teachers, but he said it could be a bigger piece of school safety.

5. Not only did Russians meddle in our election, they also can play with our power grid

— After last week’s acknowledgment that Russia played in our election, the Trump administration has blamed Russia for hacking into American energy infrastructure, potentially causing issues with power delivery.

— A House committee also found that Russian-backed trolls “targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.”, in order to sow discord.

6. State School Board member Mary Scott Hunter responds to State Rep. Harry Shiver’s comments on female teachers

— Shiver said, “our ladies” need the legislature to protect them and that female teachers “are scared of guns”, which was mocked last week.

— Hunter, who is also a State Senate candidate who supports the idea of allowing teachers to carry, tweeted that “ladies carry weapons just fine”, and included photos of her shooting weapons from her military service.

7. Social media company under scrutiny for doing data analysis on Americans, known in the past as targeting voters

— A company hired by the Trump campaign used Facebook data supplied by Facebook users to build profiles of users to better target them, Facebook has suspended the firm.

— 270,000 people downloaded an app that allowed the creator to see their likes, the creator passed that data was Cambridge Analytica and used to target Facebook users during the election.

2 hours ago

Alabama man who was found with stab wound has died

Police say a 41-year-old Alabama man who was found with a stab wound has died.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that police responded to the 2600 block of Endicott Drive shortly after midnight Friday to find George Tucker suffering from a stab wound.


News outlets report that Tucker was taken to Baptist Medical Center South and was later pronounced dead.

Montgomery police Capt. Regina Duckett said in a release that their investigation indicates that the stabbing occurred during an argument over a woman.

Police said no arrests have been made.

(Image: File)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours ago

Alabama judicial race exposes curious split between two pro-business organizations

A race for the Alabama Supreme Court has opened a rare rift between pro-business organizations that normally march in lockstep.

ProgressPAC, the political action committee of the Business Council of Alabama, has endorsed Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart for the position held until January by Justice Glenn Murdock. She faces Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones and incumbent Justice Brad Mendheim, whom Gov. Key Ivey appointed to replace Murdock.

Murdock stepped down early to explore other opportunities — including a possible run for higher office.

But the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, founded to fight lawsuit abuse, is backing Mendheim and quietly has raised questions about Stewart’s record.


The split has longtime political observers scratching their heads.

“They normally are two peas in the same lawsuit pod,” said Jess Brown, a political scientist at the Athens State University in north Alabama. “They tend to agree.”

With no Democrats on the ballot, the winner of the June 5 Republican primary is all but assured of winning a six-year term.

The Civil Justice Reform Committee points to a 2013 ruling Stewart issued on a workplace injury case in which she held a Mobile business owner liable for an accident suffered by an employee working for the contractor hired to repair the roof of the company’s warehouse.

Tom Dart, chairman of the Civil Justice Reform Committee, acknowledged that his organization often agrees with the BCA.

“Ninety percent of the time, we do, but not in this case,” he said.

Dart said his group’s endorsement primarily resulted from the fact that Mendheim is an incumbent — albeit, only for about two months — and has done a good job.

“We’ve had input from a lot of lawyers who had dealt with both of them,” he said.

Dart said the roofer case is not the only ruling his organization is concerned about, but he declined to offer other examples.

“That was one case,” he said. “There were others that we had considered.”

Neither the BCA nor the ProgressPAC responded to multiple requests for interviews. But in a news release announcing its endorsement of Stewart in December — before Ivey appointed Mendheim to the court — ProgressPAC praised Stewart’s fairness and neutrality.

“She is supremely qualified, knows the law, and will uphold the Constitution,” ProgressPAC Chairman Perry Hand said in a statement.

The case highlighted by the Civil Justice Reform Committee concerns a catastrophic accident suffered by a worker who lost his balance, crashed through a skylight and fell 20 feet to the ground while he was working on a warehouse owned by South Alabama Brick Co. in 2010.

A conservator for the incapacitated worker, Benito Perez, sued South Alabama Brick and a contractor that hired him called Cooner Roofing. According to court records, Perez worked for a subcontractor hired by Cooner to help repair the roof.

Stewart ruled that South Alabama Brick, along with Cooner, was liable for Perez’s injury and ordered both defendants to pay $12.6 million in damages. The judge determined that Cooner owed a responsibility to inform Perez of the dangers that the skylight posed. She wrote that South Alabama Brick failed its responsibility to find out if Cooner Roofer had a commercial business license — which it did not have — or ask about the training of the roofers that the contract provided or safety precautions it took.

The Supreme Court reversed Stewart’s decision on a 5-0 vote, with Murdock — the justice she wants to replace — writing the court’s opinion. He wrote that finding that South Alabama Brick had a duty to inform Perez about the skylight would mean that a company hiring a contractor “must somehow ‘pull aside’ or otherwise communicate directly with each and every employee of the contractor, subcontractor, employee of any subcontractor, etc.”

Murdock rejected Stewart’s conclusion that South Alabama Brick had a duty to find out that the contractor was not licensed or insured.

“In essence, the trial court held that SAB had a duty to protect Benito Perez from the negligence of his own employer by not hiring that employer in the first place,” he wrote.

Stewart said in an interview that she has rendered about 20,000 judgments in a dozen years on the bench.

“If there’s just one case they have a problem with, I’d say that’s pretty good,” she said. “I’d say that’s pretty good odds.”

The judge did not spare Cooner Roofing.

“The roofer who testified was probably the biggest liar I had ever seen in court,” she said.

Stewart said she is proud to have the ProgressPAC endorsement and was surprised when the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee endorsed Mendheim. She said the organization did not interview her or ask to address any concerns.

Stewart said she tries to adhere to the law and higher court precedent — even when she might not prefer the result.

“Sometimes as a judge, you have to sign off on an opinion you don’t personally agree with because that’s the law,” she said.

Judges are referees, not policymakers, Stewart said. She offered a specific example. The state Legislature several years ago created voluntary sentencing guidelines to even out regional disparities in punishment.

Judges do not have to impose recommended sentences but must document their reasons for departing. Some jurists have chaffed at the reduced discretion.

Stewart said judges can follow the standards or find them unconstitutional.

“But you don’t get to say we don’t like them,” she said. “We don’t make policy.”

(Image: Judge Sarah Stewart/Facebook)

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.