2 weeks ago

An inside look at Alabama’s first-in-the-nation School of Cyber Technology and Engineering

The new Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) in Huntsville is the first high school of its kind in the United States. Yellowhammer News recently got an inside look at how it is operating, and what its plans are for the future.

ASCTE is currently midway through its first semester with students in the classrooms. A state-of-the-art campus is currently under construction on Research Park in Huntsville, but for this year and next, the school meets on the campus of Oakwood University.

Created by an act of the state legislature in 2018, ASCTE is a public magnet school for students in Alabama. It offers the opportunity for students to live on campus in dorms, so it can be attended by any high school age student in the state, and tuition is free for all who enroll.

Its school supplies list for the fall included “empty 2-liter bottles for a rocket project.”

Background

Alabama has two institutions similar to ASCTE — the School of Fine Arts in Birmingham and the School of Math and Science in Mobile; they both also have students live on campus and are available for free to Alabamians who satisfy the admission requirements.

However, not one school in the entire nation shares ASCTE’s comprehensive focus on cyber technology and engineering.

The legislative effort in Montgomery to create ASCTE was spearheaded by State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and strongly supported by Governor Kay Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Those three figures all spoke favorably about how the project was coming along at a recent groundbreaking for the new campus.

Matt Massey is the president of the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. The school’s board of trustees conducted a nationwide search for the right person to fill the job and found Massey right in their backyard. He had been serving since 2014 as superintendent of the Madison County School System.

“This was just different, where you get to start everything from scratch,” Massey said about taking the job at ASCTE, adding that what excited him was getting to “do things like change the way education has been done for the last 150 years.”

Matt Massey (Henry Thornton/YHN)

“We’re an investment for Alabama in itself; the Alabama students have an opportunity to get an education in K-12 that nobody else in the country has,” Massey said of ASCTE’s role in the state.

Before being elected superintendent in 2014, Massey spent years teaching math in the Madison County School System. That is where he met his wife, Jenny, or in his words, “the English teacher across the hall.” The couple and their three kids live in Huntsville.

Intelligent and welcoming in person, Massey has been granted significant authority to shape the pioneering new high school he leads. Massey has structured the organization after a university. Next to his office sits the dean of learning, who left a place in leadership at Athens State University to join ASCTE. Other staff members have the title “instructor” or “director.”

“We get to determine what are the graduation requirements for our students, and what classes do you have to take,” relayed Massey, who described his school as being “completely independent” of normal state standards but answerable to a 19-person board that approves the curriculum, graduation requirements and other important matters.

The composition of the ASCTE Board of Trustees is laid out in the legislation that created the school, and it includes government officials, university presidents and someone appointed by the governor from each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

Massey says he and his team did not feel like ASCTE “could guarantee quality” via virtual learning options due to its unique curriculum. That cost the school a student from the Black Belt who was admitted but chose not to attend because of COVID-19. Beyond the one student who could not enroll, the pandemic has affected the ability of employees to travel, recruit students and otherwise publicize itself.

As far as the operations of the school year on campus, the pandemic has not been overly disruptive. ASCTE has attentive testing protocols and space to quarantine kids if they get a positive result. All students are required to wear masks when inside, a rule which employees told Yellowhammer has been met with less than expected resistance.

Teachers at ASCTE have been hired from a wide range of backgrounds. The unique requirements of creating courses with no exact template demanded a degree of outside the box thinking, according to Massey, who added that he made a “concerted effort not just to hire teachers out of the local schools,” and ended up with only one instructor from a Huntsville area system.

The head engineering teacher came to the school after 30 years with Boeing, and his equivalent in cybertechnology comes to ASCTE from the Missile Defense Agency. Two other teachers moved from the Montgomery area and suburban Atlanta, respectively.

Yellowhammer News asked one ASCTE instructor, Brad Irish, what it was like to teach a group of kids with such specialized interests and abilities.

“Honestly, they are just like any other kids, they’re just a little more geeky,” he said with affection.

How it is working

The building where ASCTE classes are being held in 2020. (Henry Thornton/YHN)

For 2020, the school’s first year, there are 70 students enrolled, 30 of whom are boarding on campus. A coronavirus-impacted recruitment process saw about 130 Alabamians apply for the inaugural ASCTE class.

Massey told Yellowhammer that ASCTE staff focused on middle school scholars bowl and honor band competitions for recruiting students, saying that a “grassroots effort” was required for the early days.

The 70 students are split into four teams of 17 or 18 kids, each of which takes all its classes together. ASCTE currently has three teams of 9th graders and one team of 10th graders.

Ninth graders take physics as their first science course at ASCTE, whereas the vast majority of public schools begin with biology, a small example of curricular freedom given to ASCTE.

All classes, in all subjects, “fit in line with the mission of the school,” according to Massey.

Clicking image opens ASCTE academic guidance in a new tab. (ASCTE)

ASCTE does not and will not divvy up their kids into advanced level and standard level classes, according to Massey. Leadership wants each pupil to experience the same curriculum and believes their admission criteria selects for a high enough caliber student that separating by ability is not worthwhile.

“We have high expectations for all of them,” Massey explained.

A world history class at ASCTE gives focus to the timeline of important engineering advances across the ages; students may build a miniature trebuchet during a medieval physics enrichment class. English classes focus on professional and technical writing.

“Less poetry and more on writing how an engineer would write,” Massey said in response to a question on what an English course at ASCTE looks like.

Each student at ASCTE is given a laptop when they arrive on campus, a privilege not often enjoyed at the high school level. Conversely, enrollees are also subject to a stricter dress code than most schools: male students are required to wear collared shirts to class and no student is allowed torn or ripped blue jeans, for instance.

A typical ASCTE class (Henry Thornton/YHN)

Arts are included in the ASCTE curriculum; in the current school year, students are taking a class on how to create digital music via software on their laptops.

Regulatory freedom also allows ASCTE to grade its students differently than other high schools. Both the letter and number scale used by the school differ from what is traditional, which Massey sees as an asset.

The old 100-point scale of grading, with its letter assignments beginning at 60 and changing every 10 points, frustrated Massey.

“We have sixty points to document an ‘F,’ there are 60 ways to fail! That is really kind of ridiculous,” he remarked about the traditional grading method.

(Henry Thornton/YHN)

Within ASCTE’s system, a traditional B grade from an 85 is roughly equivalent to a P grade from 3.5. Massey gives a detailed explanation of the grading system here.

Massey said that a challenge for the school in the early going has been the varying qualities of education received at the middle schools the kids attended previously.

He explained that one student who arrived might have taken Algebra 2 in eighth grade, while another might have gone to a middle school that does not even offer Algebra 1.

“That is why we chose to be grades 9-12,” advised Massey, who believes those years allow enough flexibility that pre-existing imbalances can be leveled off.

A day at ASCTE’s engineering class (Matt Massey/ASCTE/Contributed)

For some classes at ASCTE, no student will have previous experience in, outside of hobbies they might have pursued on their own. Engineering instructor Bryan Martin said his goal for the first year of teaching was to put all his students “on the same foundation” and teach them the basics of the field, such as how to use computer-aided design (CAD) software.

“Nobody really came in knowing CAD,” added Massey about the students’ relationship to the advanced software being taught, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, this is new for everybody.”

Life on campus

Oakwood University, a historically black Seventh Day Adventist school with a 1,600-acre campus, is hosting both the school and the boarding students on its campus in northwest Huntsville.

ASCTE’s cutting edge campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022.

Massey called Oakwood “a great partner” in the ASCTE endeavor and praised the university’s leadership for how accommodating they had been to their new neighbors.

A construction delay at the Oakwood dormitory over the summer meant that ASCTE’s students are living in small housing pods that are reformatted professor housing. A selection of ASCTE staff live alongside the students to provide guidance, oversight and care.

An example of where a group of ASCTE boarders live in 2020. (Henry Thornton/YHN

Yellowhammer News was told on multiple occasions that several of the boarding students have taken to the freely available table tennis and air hockey tables.

Others may prefer video games, which can be played communally on common room televisions, or board games, which are readily accessible and often kept going for days at a time.

Students are not allowed TVs in the rooms where they sleep in an effort to foster greater levels of community.

The common area of a dwelling where ASCTE boarders live. (Henry Thornton/YHN)

Still another group of attendees have created and tend to a garden, even forming a club around their new agricultural interest. Club participation and recreation are big parts of afternoons on campus. Massey is the sponsor of the fishing club, which he says he particularly enjoys.

Yellowhammer asked the school counselor at ASCTE what the biggest challenges are, from her perspective, among the students.

“Just kids adjusting to living away from home as 9th graders. That is a pretty big deal when you are 14 years old,” she responded.

Students were not allowed to choose roommates upon enrolling at ASCTE. Administrators see having to cohabitate with someone who may come from a different background or have differing views as a positive aspect of the boarding environment.

ASCTE’s meals are prepared by the kitchen staff at a nearby event center and brought to the campus for consumption, an arrangement that proved fortuitous for both organizations as the coronavirus pandemic has greatly reduced the demands on the event center.

Boarding students have meals provided each night, but also have kitchens available for light cooking.

The school does charge students for meal plans, but assistance is available to any individual where the cost might strain finances at home.

Students told Yellowhammer they generally enjoyed the on-campus lifestyle and how close-knit they had become. A teacher who resides alongside the students praised the “family atmosphere.”

The original plan for weekends at ASCTE included many field trips to spots like movie theaters, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a dent in those plans. Outings to escape rooms and local shopping centers have been accomplished with the proper precautions.

Jordan Bolte, ASCTE’s director of residential life, came to the school after a string of jobs in the field at colleges, most recently at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

“We have a lot of students that are not only articulate, but also thoughtful, about why they are here and what they want to do,” Bolte told Yellowhammer about ASCTE kids.

“When I was 14, I think I had just discovered I had thumbs,” he added jokingly.

“I think it takes a special kind of student to come here and say, ‘I want to be an engineer, I want to be a programmer, I want to work in cybersecurity, and here is how I think I will get there,'” he advised with respect to the students he deals with each day.

The future

Plans currently have ASCTE doubling in size each of the next four years, with a goal of over 320 students enrolled by 2024.

For the foreseeable future, half of ASCTE’s enrollees will be students in the Huntsville area; the new campus will have 150 beds for boarding students.

The School of Math and Science in Mobile, which requires all attendees to board, has around 280 students. The School of Fine Arts, which allows some students to live at home in a similar fashion to ASCTE, has around 340 enrolled.

Every one of Alabama’s 138 public school systems is guaranteed a spot for at least one student in each incoming class of students at ASCTE once it reaches full enrollment.

Massey says a priority for him is “reaching farther into South Alabama” for enrollees in the coming years. He says that many students currently enrolled were referred to the school by superintendents or pushed to apply by their middle school principals.

Courses developed at ASCTE will eventually be exported to any other school in Alabama that wishes to add them to its curriculum. Officials at the institution say that only a patchwork of engineering classes currently exist in Alabama’s public schools.

On top of developing a number of courses that other schools could teach if they wish, Massey also envisions “cyber camps” in other counties that ASCTE could play a role in shaping so the school can demonstrate benefits to the state outside the Huntsville area.

Students at ASCTE in the coming years will take a biotechnology course that is being developed in concert with scientists at the world-renowned HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, one of the many ways ASCTE draws on the resources available in the Rocket City to strengthen its offerings.

Martin, the engineering instructor, and Massey both told Yellowhammer that they collaborate with “industry partners” on the development of things like their engineering courses.

“We’ll connect Raytheon with them, we’ll get Boeing and some of their cyber folks to come and help with how to incorporate cyber and engineering,” explained Massey.

Raytheon is, to this point, the biggest industry backer of ASCTE, having given $4 million towards the new campus. The legislation that created ASCTE allows for fundraising from private sources to help boost the school beyond what is possible with state funds.

Artist rendering of future ASCTE campus. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber)

In media appearances, Raytheon executives have expressed that they see a growing shortage of cyber and engineering workers in the coming years and want to encourage kids to focus on those subjects in school.

A large selection of faculty housing is being built alongside the dorms on the new campus, a decision Massey says was influenced by what he saw on the campuses of Baylor and McCallie, two successful private boarding schools in Tennessee.

Massey remarked to Yellowhammer News about what he would like to see once his students become graduates.

“We have great universities here in the state. We want our kids to see those opportunities, and we want them to stay in Alabama. We want them to go to college in Alabama and come back and contribute,” he replied.

Massey added, “Our students are going to get a leg up on some of these industry and governmental agency opportunities that other students in other states don’t have.”

What the students have to say

One student, a sophomore who had been homeschooled in years past, said ASCTE “was not all what I expected.”

“It is probably better,” she continued, “It is an amazing school.”

Joshua Ledlow, a 10th grader at ASCTE, told Yellowhammer that ASCTE is “leaps and bounds better” than his previous school experiences.

“All of the teachers are very passionate about what they are teaching, and that is very clear in the way they communicate what you need to learn,” he stated.

A career in the military, either the Air Force or Army, is the goal for ASCTE sophomore Sam Ware.

“To me, the main reason I wanted to come here was there is a lot of, I guess you could say, growing up that you have to do,” explained Ware, one of the boarding students.

He believes the ASCTE curriculum and environment are what he needs to prepare himself “to be a leader down the road.”

When a classroom of students was asked by Yellowhammer if they would recommend ASCTE to their friends with similar interests, they all nodded their heads, “yes.”

Editor’s note: Students interested in applying to ASCTE next year can click here to get more information on how to apply.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

53 mins ago

Where in the world is Doug Jones? Alabama’s junior senator absent from Senate for second straight day

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) had time to vote for himself on Friday, however, he was missing in action when it came time for the senator to represent the people of Alabama on the floor of the United States Senate the same day.

Jones touted that he voted on Friday morning in the upcoming general election via in-person absentee ballot in Jefferson County.

It is unclear why Jones did not do this when the U.S. Senate was not in session. Absentee voting has been open in Alabama since September 9, and Jones’ campaign even has launched a website touting that “Every day is Election Day in Alabama.” In-person absentee voting in Alabama is open through October 29; the same date is the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot via mail.

While Jones voted for himself and the Democratic presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Friday, the Senate conducted seven roll call votes. Jones was marked as “not voting” for each of these votes.

This comes after Jones also missed all votes in the Senate on Monday and Thursday. In total, Jones has now been absent from the Senate for 67% of the chamber’s votes this week.

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For the votes he did take, Jones supported Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) position all but one time (86%).

RELATED: Jones votes to block consideration of $500B COVID-19 relief bill, GOP bill protecting pre-existing conditions coverage

The only other members of the upper chamber to miss as many votes as Jones this week have been U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, has missed all of the Senate’s votes this week.

This comes after Jones last week admitted he did not watch any of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s four-day confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Alabama’s junior senator said at the time, “I have not watched the hearing. I’m in the middle of a campaign. I have not watched the hearings, and I left D.C. when we were there.”

However, Jones last Thursday did have time during business hours to instead campaign for the Biden-Harris ticket virtually in Ohio. This week, Jones also fundraised for Biden’s campaign, and on Friday Jones is set to campaign with the cast of the TV show “Will & Grace.”

Jones is set to face Republican nominee Tommy Tuberville on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Saban discusses how he recruits great players to Tuscaloosa and builds their value

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are currently undefeated through the first four games of the season. How does he build a championship-caliber team year in and year out? Recruiting.

Thursday evening, Saban appeared on his weekly radio show “Hey Coach” with Eli Gold to discuss all things Alabama and answer questions called in from fans. Of course, questions about the upcoming game versus Tennessee were asked frequently. However, there was some interesting recruiting talk between Saban and Gold.

Saban discussed everything from his recruiting pitch, to how he does not promise playing time like other schools but rather an opportunity to play and be developed by the best.

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When Saban was asked about how he goes about his recruiting, he replied, “One of the biggest things we fight in recruiting is people historically tell guys (Alabama) has got all of these players there, and you’re not gonna be able to play, but if you come to our place you’ll be able to play earlier.”

He pointed out that this form of counter recruiting against Alabama actually ends up helping the Tide get the kind of players they want.

Saban explained, “That does us good in that we kind of get a lot of guys that are dogs I’m gonna call them… that means they’ve kind of got a competitive spirit, that he wants to be the best, wants to play against the best, and wants to compete against the best.”

The legendary coach made some comparisons to some greats that were “dogs” in his opinion, adding, “Kind of the Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Jordan type guy. Which these types of guys make your team really really good.”

Some that Saban pointed out as having that competitive spirit were receivers John Metchie, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith. He also mentioned tight end Miller Forristall as having that competitive edge that he looks for in recruiting.

He discussed what opportunities for development look like in his program, saying, “Almost every player wants to play when he is a freshman, but the thing is that how you develop, and what kind of player you become three years from now is the most important thing in creating value for yourself as a football player.”

Regarding a path to the NFL, Saban mentioned, “If you really want to play in the NFL someday it’s probably not gonna happen just in your freshman year, it’s gonna happen in terms of what you develop into three years from now.”

This recruiting approach has clearly worked out very well in Tuscaloosa since Saban got to town. The amount of four and five stars they recruit every year puts them near or at the top of recruiting lists every single year.

Alabama doesn’t have to offer gimmicks or promises to play. All they have to do is show where their players came from and where they are now. The Crimson Tide’s alumni success speaks for itself.

Saban ended the recruiting conversation by saying, “This is the approach that we have always tried to use in recruiting, not really promising them playing time, but an opportunity to play and to develop as a player. Which I think is what creates value for their future.”

WATCH:

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

1 hour ago

Alabama Democrats fundraise off Republican COVID illnesses, lie about Ainsworth’s position on masks

A Friday morning email from Alabama Democratic Victory distorts Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s (R-AL) position on following health and safety protocols, while also fundraising off of Ainsworth’s current illness.

Ainsworth on Wednesday afternoon announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and as of Friday, he is still asymptomatic. However, Ainsworth’s wife, Kendall, has also tested positive and was exhibiting “mild symptoms” as of Friday.

Alabama Democratic Victory’s email was funded by its state-registered PAC, Alabama Democratic Victory Fund. Alabama Democratic Victory is the political arm of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus, which even shares the same public P.O. box disclosed at the bottom of Friday’s email.

With the subject line “GOP Lt. Gov. and COVID-19,” the email began by mentioning Ainsworth’s diagnosis, as well as saying a Republican state senator recently contracted coronavirus.

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“Indeed, we wish them a speedy and full recovery, but we must also point out the big ol’ elephant in the room, as they say,” the email’s first paragraph concluded (emphasis added in the email, not by Yellowhammer News).

The email then continued to mock Ainsworth’s opposition to a one-size-fits-all mask mandate while also completely fabricating his position on mask usage and social distancing.

“[H]e doesn’t believe in science and doesn’t understand that wearing a mask is about social responsibility and public safety,” the email incorrectly claimed.

Ainsworth has stressed that he personally wears a mask and social distances whenever possible; he has also encouraged others to voluntarily do so and modeled mask-wearing on his social media pages and in a PSA.

“I think everybody needs personal responsibility. … I think it is smart to wear a mask,” Ainsworth said on Thursday’s broadcast of FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

This is not a new position for him, either. Ainsworth has been consistent for months on the issue.

“Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are among the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, and I have tried to set a public example in those regards,” the lieutenant governor said in July. “Masks should be worn to combat further outbreaks…”

Unfortunately, Alabama Democratic Victory’s fundraising email subsequently spouted even more falsehoods.

“Just like Trump, when confronted with hard facts that don’t fit his partisan narrative, Ainsworth doubled down after his diagnosis and said he stood by his original position,” the email said, ignoring what Ainsworth’s “original position” actually is. “This, as scientists are warning of an impending massive spike in cases and deaths. So, you have to ask yourself- is that sound leadership? Is that responsible? What kind of example does that set?”

It added, “This is why it’s time to break up the Republican Supermajority in Alabama and elect Democrats who believe in facts, science, truth, and are committed to doing everything it takes to protect people during a crisis. Republicans continue to mismanage the pandemic and think that downplaying the reality of the virus will benefit them politically. It’s time to send them packing.”

It should be noted that the state’s mask mandate — which the Democratic email touted — was put in place by Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

“Donate NOW to the Alabama Democratic Victory Fund and let’s elect leaders who will do the right thing and set an example for others to follow,” the email proclaimed. “The GOP will continue to suffer the consequences of it’s own hubris, but it should be abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that they are failing the people of Alabama.”

The bottom of the email concluded ironically by saying, “Facts and Science Matter,” and “#WeAreInThisTogether.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Hometown heroes: Bama, UAB, Troy, Jax State and more

Before anyone has even seen a single snap of Big Ten football, national sports media this week returned to its pandemic panic room and pronounced the conference’s season a failure.

Sports media argued tirelessly during the summer months that it was not cheering for football to get canceled. However, following Nick Saban’s false positive coronavirus test, it did exactly that here, here and here.

At Yellowhammer, we are cheering for college football. More specifically, this week, we are mainly cheering for underdogs.

Let’s get to some picks.

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THE BASICS

Alabama (-22) at Tennessee: The largest margin of victory in this series was a 51-0 win by Alabama in 1906. Alabama’s current win streak over the Vols began a mere three years later (or at least that is what it feels like). Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt allegedly fired an assistant coach mid-game on Saturday. That is a bad start to what is, for some people, a favorite week of the year. Those people will not be disappointed.

The pick: Alabama 34, Tennessee 17

NC State at North Carolina (-14.5): North Carolina went into Tallahassee a double-digit favorite and lost. That may have had more to do with Florida State getting its first quality coaching since Jimbo Fisher’s national championship season. Mack Brown has a good team. Now it is a matter of them playing like it.

The pick: North Carolina 40, NC State 20

Texas State at BYU (-28.5): The Cougars have been a fun story this season amidst their mini-revival. They are physical along the lines of scrimmage, and quarterback Zach Wilson has worked his way up to No. 4 on ESPN’s Heisman Watch List. If this team remains undefeated in late November, we can all hope they handle the playoff talk a bit more graciously than UCF has in recent years.

The pick: BYU 30, Texas State 13

HOMETOWN HEROES

Louisiana (-2.5) at UAB: This is a game between two of the nation’s more underrated coaches, UAB’s Bill Clark and Louisiana’s Billy Napier. Do not be surprised to see both coaching in the SEC sooner rather than later. This will be an emotionally-charged game for Louisiana, as it will pay tribute to former assistant coach D.J. Looney, who passed away suddenly in August. The Ragin’ Cajuns plan to wear his name on the back of their jerseys. This could be as good a game as has been played at Legion Field in a while.

The pick: UAB 24, Louisiana 20

Georgia State at Troy (-2.5): The Trojans bring a two-game win streak into this Sun Belt matchup. Both teams have scored points freely so far this year. Georgia State is ninth in the country in rushing offense and 73rd in scoring defense.  Troy is a respectable 33rd in scoring defense and 31st in total offense. All signs point to a shootout.

The pick: Georgia State 42, Troy 35

Jacksonville State at Florida International (-10): This game was originally scheduled for September 2. Since its postponement, the Gamecocks have gone to Tallahassee where they gave Florida State a scare and won a couple of tight ball games against Mercer and North Alabama. It was good to see this one get back on the calendar because no one ever turns down a trip to Miami.

The pick: Florida International 38, Jacksonville State 30

BUYER BEWARE

Tulsa (-11.5) at South Florida: There was a time when the Thursday and Friday night college games meant something, and visiting favorites were constantly on upset alert. That has not been the case in a while. In late October, Tulsa has still only played two games, a close loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State and a win against Central Florida. South Florida is in rebuild mode under first-year head coach Jeff Scott, whose team has started to show just a glimmer of improvement the last few weeks. Anyone tuning in to watch this game should not expect to see a work of art.

The pick: South Florida 20, Tulsa 16

Last week: 4-1 straight up; 3-2 ATS
Season: 13-2 straight up; 9-6 ATS

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

$37M in rural broadband funding coming to Alabama — ‘When rural America thrives, all of America thrives’

PRATTVILLE — Two Trump administration officials and U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) gathered on Friday to announce a $37 million investment by the federal government in rural Alabama’s internet access.

The investment comes in the form of grants and loans to internet providers that make expanding high-speed service to more rural customers economically feasible.

According to the USDA, the investment announced Friday will provide high-speed internet to more than 28,000 people across over 11,100 households, including 432 farms.

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The two Trump administration officials present for the announcement on Friday were United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Bette Brand and USDA Rural Development State Director Chris Beeker.

“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” said Brand at the announcement, which was hosted by Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and emceed with efficiency by Beeker.

Six companies will split the $37 million, which will be distributed via both grants and loans. The customers receiving the upgraded internet service are in a 14-county stretch of central Alabama to the north and west of Montgomery.

The funding comes from the second round of the federal government’s ReConnect program, which was recently infused with an extra $100 billion under the CARES Act.

ReConnect is run by the USDA and is tasked with evaluating and selecting applications by rural broadband providers that want public funds to help allay the cost of providing high-speed service to more people.

Alabama received the fourth-most funding of any state in round one of the program, a big portion of which was announced in Hamilton in late 2019.

The USDA detailed each new investment it is making as follows:

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative will use a $8.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 13,853 people, 149 farms, 77 businesses and one fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Bibb, Chilton, Perry, Autauga, Talladega, Elmore and Coosa counties in Alabama.
  • Millry Telephone Company Inc. will use a $8.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,444 people, 84 farms, 46 businesses, four fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Choctaw and Washington counties in Alabama.
  • Pine Belt Telephone Company Inc. will use a $6.5 million ReConnect grant and a $6.5 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 5,799 people, 143 farms, 83 businesses, five fire stations, five educational facilities and four post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Perry, Hale and Marengo counties in Alabama.
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $5.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,546 people, 36 farms, 19 businesses and three fire stations to high-speed broadband internet in Crenshaw, Lowndes and Montgomery counties in Alabama.
  • Hayneville Telephone Company Inc. will use a $1.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,481 people, 19 farms, nine businesses, and four educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • Moundville Telephone Co. Inc. will use a $166,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 111 people and a farm to high-speed broadband internet in Hale County, Alabama.

Palmer, who has constituents that will be provided better internet because of the announced grants, spoke at the event on Friday.

“Having grown up in rural Alabama, I know how important this is,” he remarked.

Palmer was raised in Hackleburg, current population of 1,466, a small town in Marion County.

“We have a chance to revitalize rural economies, especially around small towns,” he added about the impact of investing in rural broadband.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate echoed that sentiment after the event, telling reporters that quality internet gives communities such as his home of Lowndes County a shot at cutting down on the population loss that affects so many rural areas.

“Connectivity is critically important for families, businesses, farms, and public safety and community services – particularly during a time when remote access is paramount,” said U.S. Senator Shelby (R-AL) in a statement on Friday.

He added, “These USDA grants will help provide high-speed internet access to thousands of Alabamians in rural areas. I am proud that the Administration has awarded this $37 million investment to our state and look forward to the benefits it will bring to 14 counties in central Alabama.”

Beeker, in his remarks, praised the “great partnerships and incredible teamwork” that was necessary to pull off such a large project.

“A lot of work has gone into all of this; these are good programs. What Bette says, it really means a lot when you stop and think about it. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Beeker concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.