4 months ago

Sensory garden gives students with diverse abilities a place to grow

Last year, the Early Learning Center (ELC) unveiled its first sensory room, giving students in its Preschool Autism Language and Social Skills program a calming space of their own to relax and refocus their minds. Now, the community outreach center for the College of Education at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has added yet another resource to meet the needs of children with diverse abilities: a sensory garden complete with mud kitchen, raised planter boxes, and a pond.

“When we moved into the ELC, the garden area was overgrown. But I knew it could be a special place for our children,” says Deana Aumalis, who serves as the center’s director. “So seeing its transformation into a sensory garden that is both safe and enriching for our students is a dream come true.” Credit for that, she adds, goes to ELC budget analyst Alicia Wilkerson. “She took my vision and reached out to several community groups and units within the university to make this a reality for our children.”

Wilkerson has a long history of going above and beyond the call of duty to help the ELC better serve it community of tiny scholars. Not only was she an integral member of the team behind the aforementioned sensory room, but she was also responsible for recruiting a muralist to brighten up the center’s walls. So it was without hesitation that she accepted Aumalis’ invitation to head up the sensory garden project. “It was something that I kind of jumped on because, walking by and seeing it overgrown since I’ve worked here, I could see the potential,” says Wilkerson. “And after hearing Deana’s vision, I could see how it would look – even if I didn’t know where to start!”

Fortunately, finding space for the garden wasn’t an issue thanks to a , pre-existing courtyard beyond the center’s northside wall. But before the courtyard could be considered safe for use, its neglected pond would have to be remediated. Enter Kevin Patterson, a pond and pool expert whom Wilkerson found through a friend of a friend. “He kind of fell in love with our mission here at the ELC,” she says. “So he came out with his church group and they got the pond up and running, and built the right kind of fence so that the kids could see through it but not get too close to the water.”

Next up? Removing the courtyard’s “knee-high weeds,” leveling the ground, and preparing the soil for planting. “Randolph High School had reached out to us in the past about volunteering and this seemed like a perfect opportunity,” says Wilkerson. “They ended up sending about 25 of their students for three days of solid work, in addition to buying and donating the materials they used. They were really excited about the project and passionate about trying to make it safe for the kids.”

As for the final touches, they came courtesy of Daniel Jean and John MacLeod, landscapers with UAH Grounds Management. “They brought in the different types of mulch, they filled the planter boxes with soil and the kitchen with dirt and mud, and they added the bushes,” she says. “They also adjusted the benches to the proper height and leveled the pieces in the mud kitchen to make both areas more accessible.” Even now, she adds, “they still check on us and have really been big supporters.”

Come May the garden was officially ready for planting, a job Wilkerson had reserved for the center’s students. “The kids planted all the vegetables, the herbs, and the flowers, and are now following the full circle of the plants’ lives – tending them, watching them grow, and eating, touching, or smelling them,” she says. “It’s a full sensory experience that brings hands-on learning to them. And everyone takes something different from it depending on their interests.” She definitely has no shortage of helpers when it comes to watering. “I had to buy more watering cans because everyone wanted to water!” she says with a laugh. “Fortunately, we’re blessed to have so much that needs to be watered.”

The mud kitchen has also been a popular addition, and there is hope of adding musical equipment and a learning space in the near future. In the meantime, they’ve been able to purchase wheelbarrows and diggers, among other equipment, with a $2,500 grant the ELC received from Target earlier this year. “We’re so thankful for their support, because of course without funding, none of this would have been possible,” says Wilkerson. “Between them, Randolph, Kevin Patterson and his church group, and UAH Grounds Management, we have really hit the jackpot in terms of support. And seeing how much fun the kids are having has showed me that it was more than worth the time and effort that we all put into this fun and safe new space for them to explore.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

22 mins ago

Alabama NFIB state director comments on spike in small business optimism

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on Tuesday released its latest monthly Small Business Economic Trends Survey, with the results boding well for Alabama’s economy as well as the national economy.

In fact, the nationwide survey showed small business optimism posting the largest month-over-month gain since May 2018, rising 2.3 points to 104.7 last month.

NFIB’s optimism index is comprised of 10 total index components, and the spike in November’s total index was bolstered by seven of those components improving. A 10-point improvement in the earnings component led this charge. Additionally, business owners reporting it is a good time to expand increased by six points, and those expecting better business conditions increased by three points.

In more good news, the NFIB’s business uncertainty index fell six points last month to 72, the lowest reading since May 2018.

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While the survey is not broken down into state-specific data, NFIB Alabama state director Rosemary Elebash said in a statement, “Our members here are telling us it’s a good time to reinvest in their businesses and add jobs.”

Read more about the survey here.

This came after NFIB released its monthly jobs report last week. That report showed a net 30% of small business owners, seasonally adjusted, raised compensation and 26% planned to do so in the coming months, up four points and the highest level since December of 1989. Job creation jumped last month, with an average addition of 0.29 workers per firm, the highest level since May.

This being said, finding qualified workers remains the top issue for NFIB members. Last month, 26% reported that this is their foremost problem. That number is one point below August’s record high.

The totality of November’s economic news reflects a stark departure from previous months, as speculation about a possible recession was dampening small business owners’ economic outlook. Additionally, NFIB noted that the current focus and noise in Washington, D.C. around impeachment is proving to have little, if any, impact on small business owners.

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

12 hours ago

Two officers on leave amid investigation into inmate’s death

Two Alabama prison officers are on leave as the department probes the use of force in the death of a state inmate.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said it is investigating the alleged use of force that resulted in the death of an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility inmate.

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Fifty-five-year-old Michael Smith of Fairfield, died Dec. 5 after being removed from life support following a November incident at the prison.

The prison system said it is also investigating the death of another inmate at Holman Correctional Facility.

 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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13 hours ago

U.S. House Dems throw their support behind historic Trump USMCA trade deal supported by Alabama job creators, officials

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday announced that her caucus will support the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the replacement to NAFTA negotiated by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The ratification process, which needs to be complete by all three countries, will now move forward in Congress.

Pelosi’s announcement came the day after four Republican members of the Alabama legislature sent a letter urging Pelosi and her fellow congressional leaders to ratify the new trade agreement.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), along with State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) and State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy), joined other state legislative leaders from across the country in sending the letter on Monday.

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During its 2019 regular session, the Alabama legislature passed SJR 11 sponsored by Sen. Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), formally urging Congress to ratify the USMCA. The resolution was carried by Rep. Allen in the House and was co-sponsored by Marsh.

In a Tuesday statement, Marsh said, “Trade is an issue which is vital to our state and our nation, and my colleagues in Alabama and from around the country recognize that the USMCA is a good deal for everyone involved.”

“I am glad that Members from both sides of the aisle were able to come together and agree that this is the best deal to ensure that the strongest economy in our lifetime continues to grow,” he added.

The USMCA is supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation, Manufacture Alabama and other major industries in the state. You can view a fact sheet on the USMCA pertaining to the Yellowhammer State here — and specifically its manufacturing sector here.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) president and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said, “The Business Council of Alabama is encouraged by the news of a bipartisan agreement on USMCA.”

“Farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses all stand to benefit from an updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has modern provisions for digital trade, financial services, and agriculture trade. We will continue to review this issue with input from our members as more details emerge,” she concluded.

Political candidates and elected officials across Alabama have also expressed their support for the USMCA over the last year. This includes Governor Kay Ivey.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday, Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) called the latest development “great news,” adding, “Barring any surprises in the final language, I look forward to supporting this agreement.”

“I have consistently supported the idea of a new strategic trade agreement with Mexico and Canada – especially an agreement that would bring stability to the businesses and markets that are desperately seeking reassurance right now,” Jones advised.

“Although I haven’t seen the text of the final agreement yet, the fact that the White House and the House of Representatives were able to work out a bipartisan agreement is great news,” he outlined. “Barring any surprises in the final language, I look forward to supporting this agreement. I hope once it passes, we can build on this success by working with other allies around the globe and removing the threat of punitive tariffs on our farmers and automakers once and for all.”

Jones has previously spoken out against the president’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico if the country did not stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States. Jones has also been vocal against Trump imposing tariffs on China and the president’s trade policy in general.

The latest on the USMCA comes as the House Judiciary Committee is set to draw up two articles of impeachment against the president, which are expected to pass the House with only Democrats voting for them.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday said he will not take up ratification of the USMCA until the Senate has finished with what appears to be an imminent impeachment trial.

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

13 hours ago

Auburn honors Dr. James Andrews with International Quality of Life Award

Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences recognized internationally renowned Birmingham-based Dr. James R. Andrews at the 26th annual International Quality of Life Awards (IQLAs) on December 9 in New York City.

The IQLA’s were launched in 1994. According to their webpage, an IQLA “honors people and partnerships who have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family, and community well-being locally and around the world.”

“Tonight, we celebrate the ways in which our honorees improve quality of life for all people and their strong spirit of philanthropy—both of which are critical to the human sciences mission,” said Susan Hubbard, dean of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “And it is our hope to see their legacy reflected in our graduates for many years to come.”

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NBA Hall of Fame’s Charles Barkley, an Auburn alum, presented the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award to Andrews.

Andrews currently serves as medical director and orthopaedic surgeon for Auburn Athletics, senior orthopaedic consultant at the University of Alabama, senior consultant for the Washington Redskins, orthopaedic medical director for the Tampa Bay Rays and medical director of the LPGA. He serves on the Medical and Safety Advisory Committee of USA Baseball and on the board of Little League Baseball, Inc.

Andrews founded the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham and co-founded the American Sports Medicine Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to injury prevention, education and research.

“To be successful at any profession, you must apply and understand the basic ingredients of motivation and goal setting. The attitude for success includes a burning desire, humility, honesty with ethics, compassion and appreciation,” said Andrews. “Take a hold of those that fall behind you, give them a hand and help them along.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was also honored at the ceremony.

According to an Auburn University press release, “St. Jude advances the search for cures and preventive measures of childhood cancer and other life-threatening pediatric diseases as one of the world’s premier pediatric research institutions. The families affected by these diseases never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food.”

“I certainly want to recognize the College of Human Sciences for coordinating this annual event that represents the Auburn Creed and demonstrates how individuals both inside and outside of the Auburn Family are personifying our institution’s values,” said Auburn Provost Bill Hardgrave.

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

14 hours ago

City of Auburn probes halt on student housing projects

A college town in Alabama has proposed temporarily halting construction on any new student housing developments amid concerns the number of existing facilities exceeds the amount of students in the city.

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders proposed an ordinance at last week’s city council meeting that would stop new student housing developments for about 90 days to give leaders time to figure out a long-term solution.

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Data from a city task force showed the number of beds designed specifically for students in the city is too high at approximately 37,000, and Auburn University officials say the school isn’t forecasted to see major enrollment growth.

The ordinance will be introduced Dec. 17.

 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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