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Behind the scenes of Shenandoah University’s new film, ‘Santa Girl’

Westlake Legal Group shenandoah-university-santa-girl-feature Behind the scenes of Shenandoah University’s new film, ‘Santa Girl’ Students Shenandoah University Santa Girl News & Updates Netflix movie McKayla Witt Jennifer Stone Hollywood holidays holiday season film Culture Features Culture Christmas movies christmas Blayne Weaver acting
Shenandoah University students filmed, edited and starred in Santa Girl alongside well-known Hollywood actors. (Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University)

This holiday season, Santa’s daughter is all grown up and heading to college. That’s the plot of Santa Girl, an independent, feature-length film created by Shenandoah University students during the 2017-2018 academic year, which was released in late August.

How did a holiday film with commercial appeal get made on a Virginia campus? Shenandoah University’s Mass Communications Department created Santa Girl through a partnership with Capital Arts Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based film and TV production, financing and distribution company. Students helped write and film Santa Girl, worked as cast and crew members and completed post-production editing. The movie was also shot entirely on Shenandoah’s main campus and in the surrounding Winchester area.

Westlake Legal Group blaine-weaver-feature Behind the scenes of Shenandoah University’s new film, ‘Santa Girl’ Students Shenandoah University Santa Girl News & Updates Netflix movie McKayla Witt Jennifer Stone Hollywood holidays holiday season film Culture Features Culture Christmas movies christmas Blayne Weaver acting
Blayne Weaver, Shenandoah’s first director in residence. (Photo by Aaron Spicer)

The production was led by Blayne Weaver, Shenandoah’s first director in residence (whose resume boasts writing eight produced feature films and directing award-winning movies), and producer Paul DiFranco. “I was very nervous that this job was just going to be me isolated on an island,” Weaver says. “Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case at all. There’s a great support system here. The students were very talented and motivated.”

Westlake Legal Group santa-girl-actors Behind the scenes of Shenandoah University’s new film, ‘Santa Girl’ Students Shenandoah University Santa Girl News & Updates Netflix movie McKayla Witt Jennifer Stone Hollywood holidays holiday season film Culture Features Culture Christmas movies christmas Blayne Weaver acting
McKayla Witt (left) and Jennifer Stone (right) starred in Shenandoah University’s newest full-length production. (Photos courtesy of Shenandoah University)

Santa Girl follows Cassie Claus, Santa Claus’ only daughter, played by Jennifer Stone and Barry Bostwick, respectively. Cassie wants to go off to college to experience the “real world,” before she has to marry the son of Jack Frost (who she’s never met) and take over the family business. It may be a Christmas tale with a classic love triangle thrown in, but it isn’t your typical holiday film you’d find on the Hallmark channel. In fact, Weaver did his best to not let the movie become that prototype. “I think Santa Girl really benefited from the fact that I don’t normally like these kinds of movies. The challenge was making a family-friendly holiday film that my mom will like, but one I will like too.”

And for those who aren’t huge fans of watching romance and love triangles on the big screen, Weaver found a solution to that too. “It’s about the things that I think are funny,” he says. “I love the character Pep, Cassie’s elf. She was played by McKayla Witt, who was 17 during filming, who is incredibly funny. My direction to her repeatedly was, ‘Just say this like a 40-year-old man and it’ll be funny because you’re not a 40-year-old man.’”

Although Santa Girl premiered over the summer in select theaters, Northern Virginians can still watch the film on the big screen on Dec. 4, for a special viewing event at Alamo Drafthouse’s Winchester location, with a portion of ticket sales benefiting Toys for Tots. The movie is currently available on Netflix, Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon and on DVD.

Fans of Santa Girl should keep their eyes peeled for more Shenandoah University-made feature films in the near future. “Right now, we’re on post-production for a horror film called Getaway,” Weaver says. “It’s important to me to show that we can do all kinds of things in this program.”

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more local happenings, subscribe to our weekly newsletters, here

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Here’s how to find the right college experience for you

Westlake Legal Group college-campus Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
© jonbilous / stock.adobe.com

In high school, when JonDavid Nichols stepped onto the William & Mary campus in Williamsburg, he knew it was the place for him.

“It was my top selection because whenever I walked onto campus, I immediately had ‘the feeling’ that people talk about when making a college decision,” says Nichols. “The campus was stunning, the student body was welcoming and passionate, and the programs were extensive and exciting.”

But things didn’t go as planned.

Nichols had applied early decision to William & Mary as a high school student and was rejected, a result he says “devastated” him.

He ended up going to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, in the fall of 2016, but found the campus climate and learning mindset did not meet his needs.

“The student body was much less open to outside perspectives than I was anticipating,” he says, and thus he made the decision to transfer, reapplying—and this time being admitted—to his first-choice school.

He’s now in his senior year at William & Mary, majoring in government and marketing.
For a student, transferring can feel overwhelming, but, it’s not uncommon at all. It turns out, a large portion of those students heading off to college with their new school’s bumper sticker proudly displayed on their car, find that the school wasn’t exactly the right fit.

A 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2% of college students changed schools at least once within six years, and of these, 45% changed their institution more than once.

It’s with those types of statistics in mind that college counselors and other school officials work with students to help them navigate the college application process.

Westlake Legal Group teacher-and-students-at-desk Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling at Flint Hill School in Oakton, advises college-bound students. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Figuring out what you want

Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling at Flint Hill School in Oakton is intimately familiar with the college application process both professionally and personally. She has worked in Flint Hill’s college counseling office for 21 years and in September 2019, her second daughter began her freshman year at Syracuse University.

“I’ve seen the process evolve over time,” says Chiarolanzio. “Everybody from the chairman of the board down really wants kids to find the best schools for them. We help them focus on where they can be successful—how they learn, what the best setting is for them. We assess what works for them and encourage them to expand on that.”

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more education-centered content, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Heather Deardorff, director of college counseling at The Potomac School  in McLean, advises students to consider their non-negotiables, the things they absolutely must have in a college. For some, it might be an urban setting. For others, a Greek system, or lack thereof. Some might want a small student-to-teacher ratio, while another might require a journalism program or an intramural badminton team.

“You have to get to know a student before you can sit down, ask their preferences and reel off a list,” she says.

Braden Peterson, director of student services at Langley High School in McLean, emphasizes that not only is it vital for the counselors to get to know the students, but the students to know themselves. “If you want to find the best fit you have to figure out who you are, and our students are trying to bypass that work,” he says. “They want to try to fit into what the college wants from them, rather than find the school that best fits them. It doesn’t start with finding the college, it starts with understanding who you are. Students aren’t taking time to be aware of what impacts them and what they really like, they’re just trying to keep up with their neighbors.”

Deardorff and her two colleagues have the students fill out detailed preferences worksheets with questions that range from academics to social life to class size. They are focused, she says, on helping students find the school that is right for them, not necessarily the “top” school.

“We really try to not rely so much on college rankings, and casting a wide net,” Deardorff says.

Westlake Legal Group students-and-teacher-at-computer Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Heather Deardorff, director of college counseling at The Potomac School in McLean, helps students find the right fit for college. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

A two-way street

Concurrently, having the best grades will not guarantee a student’s admission into a top school. Admissions counselors at several area schools, including George Mason University and William & Mary, describe the process as “holistic,” taking into account factors such as course rigor, test scores, letters of recommendation, essay and extracurriculars, along with transcripts.

“All of those things are very important to be able to glean if the student is the right fit,” says Melissa Bevacqua, director of undergraduate admissions at GMU. “We make some assumptions, of course, but based on all that is how we determine if the student is going to be a good match at Mason.”

“No decision is based on a singular element. We use all of the information available to us to make what, in many cases, are difficult decisions,” says Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission at William & Mary. “We’re fortunate enough to have a strong enough applicant pool where it isn’t a matter of choosing between a student with an outstanding academic record or a student who can contribute from a student community and extracurricular perspective. Rather, we hope to find students who have demonstrated previous success and potential to thrive both as a student and as an engaged member of the community.”

While the bulk of the college search and application process takes place between junior and senior years, some high schools encourage students to be conscientious of the college process much earlier.

“The college admissions process really starts freshman year,” says Miriam Buono, associate head of school for operations at Oakcrest School in Vienna. “It’s good for them to get a good sense of the trajectory. We sit down with the parents and the girls to get them to think about where they see themselves, what their interests are.”

The extended process, says Buono, helps students know themselves better so they can make a more informed choice that is best tailored to their needs.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure for young people to succeed,” she says. “There’s a trend of anxiety. We try to tell our students to look at themselves honestly to learn who they are. By the time they’re getting to the formal college admissions process they have a sense of who they are, the virtues they’re trying to work on, so approaching college is more of an informed choice rather than throwing things at a dartboard.”

Elysse Catino, college and career counselor at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, encourages families to think not only about the school environment that will best serve the student, but where the student can also make a contribution.

“A student can do really well and thrive on many campuses,” she says, “but [it’s best] if they’re able to do research and find a school that is not only going to help them grow, but where the student can really help the school community.”

Students and families at Trinity School at Meadow View in Falls Church are also introduced to the college guidance process beginning in the ninth grade, says director of college guidance Randy Lovdahl.

The curriculum gives teachers and administrators the opportunity to be well-acquainted with students and families.

“We know the students quite well by the time they are applying to college because we’ve taught them, in most cases, for six years,” says Lovdahl. “We generally have a good feel for their strengths.”

Westlake Legal Group Maher-Kanwal-in-MD-sweatshirt Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Maher Kanwal. (Photo by Christin Boggs Peyper)

Get to know the campus

Maher Kanwal, a Potomac native who now lives in Arlington, had a similar experience. She applied to the University of Maryland at College Park as a high school senior, but wasn’t accepted, so she decided to attend Penn State. While Kanwal liked the school spirit of Penn State, the cost was daunting and she found Pennsylvania to be too far from home. She was accepted to Maryland upon reapplication and made the change.

Kanwal advises applicants, especially those applying to be first-year students, to visit campuses and have conversations with students beyond those who work in the admissions office.

“Talk to people who are students there,” she says. “Stop someone who isn’t a tour guide and talk to someone who isn’t trying to persuade you to go.”

Taking the time to visit campuses whenever possible is something both Deardorff and Chiarolanzio encourage families to do. Deardorff even takes it a step further: Have fun with the visits.

“I wish more families could enjoy the process,” she says. “Especially for the families of rising seniors, spending time traveling to colleges, on the campus visits and in the debriefing afterward is one of the last times they may have real, quality time with each other. I wish they could slow down and enjoy the experience, maybe visiting fun local places near the colleges or, simply, talking in the car or over lunch.”

Those fun, local places near the college can be essential. After all, Chiarolanzio points out: The student will be living in that town or city for four years. They need to be able to make a life there.

Part of that life often includes on-campus residences. Buono says she encourages her students—who are coming from a single-sex environment—to consider their housing-related needs. For example, do they require a school with an all-female dormitory?

Westlake Legal Group susan-chiarolanzio Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling, at Flint Hill. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Look for lifelines

She also urges them to look for what she calls lifelines.

“Lifelines can be family nearby, enrichment centers, a church or temple they would affiliate with,” she says. “A lifeline can be a sibling at the school. She noted that her own children went to the same college and would attend church together on Sunday. A lifeline can also be an alum of one’s high school alma mater. “We encourage [our students] to look for Oakcrest alumni,” Buono continues. “They get there, they have their fellow Oakies who can help them make friends.”

When Kanwal transferred to College Park from Penn State in her sophomore year, she had two lifelines of sorts. The first was her roommates—she shared an apartment with three other transfer students and appreciated that sense of common ground. Kanwal had also pledged a sorority at Penn State and was able to join the same sisterhood at Maryland. While she only remained a member for a year, she says she was able to make several friends.

However, Kanwal encourages new students, and especially transfer students, to not rely only on the comfort of lifelines.

“The hardest part was putting myself out there,” she says. “I wanted to immerse myself fully. I went up to people when I felt uncomfortable, I put myself out there. In the end, it pays off, you make a connection with someone you went out of your way to become friendly with.”

Fairfax native Emma Powers echoed Kanwal’s sentiment. Powers transferred from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to the University of Virginia where her boyfriend at the time was attending.

“Having my boyfriend there was great because I had a group of friends to jump into, but I didn’t want to rely on that,” Powers says. “If you want to feel at home somewhere you have to feel like you created it yourself.”

Indeed, while some students might thrive better with a lifeline—a soft place to fall—others need to fly without a net, so to speak.

Deardorff recalls one student applied to almost all liberal arts colleges, mostly in New England rural areas, but ended up choosing Columbia University in New York City “because it scared her a lot,” says Deardorff. “She had never lived in a city, she knew it would be chaotic and messy. She hadn’t identified those things as what she wanted, but she ended up realizing that would be more of a growth experience.”

But even a safe choice—or a dream school—doesn’t always work out as planned, and often not for negative reasons.

Powers and Kanwal are both proof that the decision to transfer is not always about having a bad experience or making the “wrong” choice. Plenty of factors can come into play.

Powers made the decision to leave UNC Wilmington, where she’d been very happy, and move to UVA, where she felt like there might be more opportunity.

“It wasn’t until college that I really started loving academics and learning,” says Powers, who graduated from UVA in 2013. “I was doing creative writing and decided to double major in psychology. Then I learned about cognitive science at UVA, and that was a perfect fit for me. The name recognition value was a factor. It was nice to have the prestige of a public Ivy.”

Encouraged by a psychology professor who noted in a lecture that people are more likely to regret the decisions they don’t make than the ones they do, Powers decided to take the leap. “I thought I was going to stay [in Wilmington] until the day I accepted [UVA’s offer].”

Westlake Legal Group hope-breen-in-plaid Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Hope Breen. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Exploring alternate options

For some students, beginning at one school and finishing at another as a planned course of action makes sense.

In some instances, an immediate transition from high school to college might not be the way to go. For other students, a gap year to work or travel might be preferable. Others might fare best attending another school, such as Northern Virginia Community College, which might be less challenging, less costly or closer to home, before transferring to another college or university via a guaranteed admission programs.

William & Mary has a guaranteed admissions agreement with the Virginia Community Colleges system for students who fulfill certain requirements, including completion of a transfer-oriented associate degree and a minimum GPA of 3.6 prior to submitting the application. UVA offers a similar agreement for students who complete their associate’s degree in good standing at any of the VCCS schools, as does GMU.

Hope Breen transferred to GMU in January 2018 after earning her associate’s degree in hospitality management from Monroe Community College in her hometown of Rochester, New York, in 2016. Going back to school was a challenge, she says, albeit a worthwhile one. While her major-specific credits transferred, her liberal arts ones did not. The social mindset also struck her as different.

“Going to a community college, you know that your time with your friends is on a deadline,” she says. “Every semester I was losing friends to new colleges and gaining new friends who were deciding to go back to school. There was a constant ebb and flow. It seems like people [at four-year colleges] make their friends freshman year and don’t open or close their circles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a totally different mindset. It doesn’t seem that people at a four-year university see the value in meeting people that they won’t be friends with for very long. I feel like I am finally settling into my friend group, but I graduate in December. I love Mason but it was frustrating taking so long to find my own personal groove.”

The right fit

Ultimately, choosing a college is going to be about finding that personal groove—socially, academically, extracurricularly—and each student is going to have different needs when it comes to finding the place they fit best.

“My hope is always that the student is the one that is leading the charge,” says Deardorff. “My hope for these young people going through this rite of passage is that they know themselves pretty well and they can be introspective about who they are and what they need, and that they don’t have to have it all figured out.”

Keeping a healthy perspective is also important for students when going through this fraught time. Nichols, now at William & Mary, says even though he had to transfer to find his right fit, he’d still advise other students: Don’t worry so much.

“Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice,” he says. “It is easy to get caught up in the idea that your college decision is the biggest decision of your young adult life and that if you choose the wrong one, you’ve messed everything up. That’s not true. The reality is that there are probably several, if not dozens, of schools across the country where you could be happy and content. If you make the wrong choice, and you aren’t as happy as you thought you’d be, it’s not the end of the world.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

George Mason University opens applications for Young Alumni Commissioning Project

Westlake Legal Group Center-for-the-Arts-Concert-Hall-Interior.-Photo-by-Evan-Cantwell-Creative-Services-George-Mason-University-feature George Mason University opens applications for Young Alumni Commissioning Project visual arts Students scholarships performing arts painting george mason university fairfax Education College of Visual and Performing Arts arts Alumni
Center for the Arts Concert Hall at George Mason University (Photo by Evan Cantwell Creative Services – George Mason University)

The Young Alumni Commissioning Project from George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts is back for a second year, looking to support three alumni with grants to create new, original art pieces.

“The first round [earlier this year] yielded promising work in theater, film and photography, and we expect that we will receive another strong group of proposals,” stated Rick Davis, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts in a recent press release. 

The project is funded by a generous donation from the estate of Linda E. Gramlich and donors on Mason’s Giving Day. Its goal is to support three young alumni, who graduated in 2009 or later, with up to $5,000 in funding to create any form of art suitable for performance, exhibition or screening in a George Mason University venue. 

The alumni get to decide the size, length, duration, magnitude and content of the original work, and will also be supported with the venue, production and marketing support for the eventual public showing. 

The three winners of the inaugural year included Zachary Wilcox (a 2015 alumni) who received the Young Alumni Commissioning Project Award and $5,000 to support the development of his play, The Waning Island of Tangier, and why it maybe should be saved

Photographer Valerie McKenna (a 2018 alumni) received the Young Alumni Creative Development Award and $2,500 for her landscape photography exhibit, Albright, which was on display in Buchanan Hall Atrium Gallery from August to October. Andrew Jorgenson (a 2017 alumni) received the second Young Alumni Creative Development Award and $2,500 to develop his upcoming film, The Sun and the Medicine Man.

Proposals and applications for the project are open through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The College of Visual and Performing Arts will host online grant writing workshops on Wednesday, Dec. 11 to assist those submitting applications. // George Mason University College of Visual and Performing Arts: 4400 University Drive, Fairfax

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Neil O’Brien: How we can win support from younger voters – and turn our present strength into an enduring majority

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

It’s time to look to the future. Brexit isn’t quite over yet, but the Prime Minister has landed a great deal, and he has got off to a fantastic start, with a blistering series of popular announcements on the police, schools and hospitals. We’ve soared in the polls, while Corbyn deflates like a sad balloon

But let’s not stop now. Let’s work to turn our present strength into an enduring majority. In particular, let’s think about how we do better among younger voters.

In elections between 1950 and 2010, the Conservatives were on average eight per cent behind Labour among younger voters, but nine per cent ahead among older voters. But in the last election, we are were 35 points behind among the young (18 to 24-year-olds) and 36 points ahead among over-65s.

For me, the most concerning thing wasn’t being behind among the very young, but being behind among everyone under age 47. That meant we were behind among people with jobs, kids, bills… responsibilities – all things which tended to make people Conservative during previous years.

Doing better among younger voters isn’t about gimmicks: it’s about having answers to the big issues facing young people and young families.

Some of this is about action on issues younger voters care about. For example, we have a great record on the environment. We have the lowest emissions since 1888, and are one of the first countries in the world to set deadlines to end coal use, to go to all electric cars and net zero emissions.

But a lot of it is about doing things that will benefit young people directly.

Let’s start with housing. Declining homeownership explains a big chunk of the age gap in voting that has opened up. Looking at middle income people aged 25-34, the home ownership rate fell from two thirds in 1996, to just a quarter by 2016.

I’ve written elsewhere about the long term action we need on both supply and demand to drive up home ownership: building upwards and regenerating brownfield sites in our cities; rebalancing the economy to spread growth beyond the south east; getting away from the kind of piecemeal, tacked-on development in our towns and villages which maximises opposition to new housing; and making sure developers pay for the cost of the new infrastructure that’s needed with new housing.

But it’s also about building the tax reforms we’ve made since 2015. Those rebalancing tax reforms have led to the first sustained period for some time in which we have seen growth in home ownership, not just growth in the private rented sector.

But a plan to fix the housing problem over the coming decades isn’t enough. As well as a long-term solution, we need to provide immediate help. Many young people feel they’re on a cruel treadmill, unable to save because they are paying high rents. There are many who could afford a repayment mortgage (in fact it would be cheaper than renting), but they can’t save up for a deposit. So let’s create deposit loans: like Help to Buy, the government would take a repayable stake. But unlike Help to Buy, the purchaser would not have to provide a deposit up front.

There are a further group of people who might be able to save up a deposit over time, if only their existing rental costs were lower. They are the sorts of people who would have been helped by council housing in earlier generations – but (perversely) wouldn’t get it today, precisely because they’re working, so don’t qualify.

We could fund the creation of a huge number of cheap rented homes for young working people by transferring the remaining local authority housing stock into charitable housing associations, unlocking huge value.

Another part of our offer to younger people has to be about the cost of education. We have to be bold, not tinker.

Let’s cut the cost of going to university in half. And let’s pay for it by driving down the number of low value, mickey mouse courses which aren’t good value, either for students or the taxpayer. At present, one in ten graduates isn’t earning enough to pay back a single penny of their loan even ten years after graduation. And thanks to the LEO dataset, we now have a good idea of which courses they are, at which universities.

We need to build up technical education and apprenticeships. In Germany 20 per cent of the workforce has a higher technical qualification, but in Britain it’s just four per cent, while we rely heavily on importing electricians, plumbers, technicians and engineers from the rest of the world.

Tony Blair set a target for 50 per cent young people to go to university, but no such target for technical education.
We spend six times more per person on university students than technical students. We should become the champions for the 50 per cent who choose not to go to university too. We are introducing the new T levels, have brought in the Apprenticeship Levy, and are driving up number of Higher Apprenticeships. But there is much more to do.

But if we are serious about winning over younger voters we also need to talk about the pressures of life with a young family. Childcare costs are a huge worry for many.

Successive governments have built up a rather a confusing array of policies: the 15 and 30 free hours offers, Tax Free Childcare, the Childcare Element of Universal Credit, not to mention other benefits for children like Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. Each has complex rules on eligibility and requires a certain amount of bureaucracy to claim.

We could be incremental, and refine and build on existing policies. For example, one frustration with using the 30 free hours for working families is that it only covers 38 weeks a year, following school terms. So how much you pay yo-yos up and down wildly each month. We could make it year-round, so it is more generous and predictable.

Or we could think more radically. As Conservatives we think people are best placed to make their own decisions. For example, when two police women were prosecuted for looking after each others’ children in 2009, conservatives saw it was an example of socialist meddling gone mad.

One way to simplify this alphabet soup of complex policies would be to bring back the tax allowances for children which Labour abolished in the 1970s. Tax allowances for children existed between 1909 and 1977, and gave a higher personal allowance for people with children, on the conservative principle that you should be able to provide for your own family before you pay tax. Rather than taking money off people, and then getting them to jump through hoops to claim it back, we could go back to just leaving it with people in the first place.

There are lots of other things we could do. But as we move into the post-Brexit era, it’s time to look to the future.
Let’s make sure that in our next manifesto, we think big for younger people.

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Peter Ainsworth: Universities, rather than government, should lend to their students

Peter Ainsworth is the Managing Director of EM Applications and is the author of Universities challenged: funding higher education through a free-market ‘graduate tax’.

James Frayne astutely explains that once Brexit has occurred a major plank of the Conservative Party’s appeal to working-class voters falls away and it “needs to do a lot more for working class voters – and very fast.”

Perhaps anticipating this requirement, the Institute of Economic Affairs ran a competition over the summer to identify a policy proposal that would provide opportunity for all. The winning entry, announced last Thursday, could well be the proposition the post-Brexit Conservative Party needs as it distributes state largesse from the privileged and remain-voting university-educated to the broader population.

“EdEGG”, as the policy proposal was named, aka The Education, Enterprise and Giving-back Grant, is an innovative policy which, without costing the government a penny in additional expenditure, provides a nest egg of opportunity at age 18.

By re-arranging the flows of money into higher education so that universities, rather than the government, lend to their students, and receive income-related repayments from them, the taxpayer is saved the £10.6bn that is currently lost on student loans. Combined with the £2.7bn generated through the Apprenticeship Levy and sharing equally and fairly between all 18-year olds there is enough to provide each of them with a £20,000 credit. This can be used towards: (i) further education or training, (ii) the launch of a new business or (iii) voluntary activities. The money does not have to be used at age 18. It is a Lifetime Opportunity Credit, offering financial support at many different stages of life.

Rob Owen OBE, Chief Executive of the St Giles Trust, which helps people facing severe disadvantage to find jobs, says: “Many of our clients feel they have no stake in society. They don’t have a bank of Mum and Dad and have no access to even small pots of money to pay for training courses – especially pragmatic skills.”

Ironically, while St Giles’ clients receive little support, those children who attend university, coming predominantly from wealthier backgrounds, do benefit from significant state aid in the form of the subsidisation of their student loan. EdEGG’s re-distribution of this subsidy addresses a root cause of inequality and provides the same help for all, regardless of region or social background.

Under EdEGG, universities and other post-18 providers can set their own fee levels but must share the risk faced by the student, relying in part on post-graduation income-related payments in order to survive and prosper. With this alignment of interests, institutions will ensure that what is being taught is useful, they will re-design courses to make the most effective use of time on campus and provide “after-sales-support” to un- or under-employed graduates. Arts and Humanities courses will thrive as they develop the creativity needed in the robot age. The NHS will benefit from more doctors being trained as the limit on the number of medical students, a consequence of the government bearing the cost, can be lifted. The institutions will benefit from less red tape and a government guarantee on loans made to them.

EdEGG funds may also be used to help launch a business by providing the necessary initial capital. To give every start-up the best chance of success, EdEGG funds are only released after a bank has agreed to lend it at least an equal amount. As the bank will be at risk it will have a powerful incentive only to approve propositions that have merit.

Alternatively, EdEGG will help finance the creation of a Community Interest Company (CIC), to provide services – which could be a youth, elderly, music or theatre group – that benefit local people. To confirm that a CIC has popular support, and that the community is willing to share in the risk of the venture, a total of £1,000 must be raised from 100 local citizens.

Finally, any EdEGG credit that is unused by age 55 will be paid to that person’s pension plan, subject to them confirming that they have carried out voluntary work that benefited others equal in hours to the EdEGG credit divided by the minimum wage.

At launch, EdEGG will create a wave of optimism among the 18-year olds who receive the £20,000 credit. Over the medium-term it will make a university education always worthwhile – any career hiccups and the institution will be in touch, keen to help. Many more people will be able to afford vocational training, there will be a jump in new business start-ups and a leap in the formation of community-enhancing projects.

In the long-term it is a game-changer, transforming the mojo of the country as each new generation has opportunities opened to them.

Using free-market principles to achieve a progressive end at nil cost to the Exchequer, EdEGG is not merely feasible, it is politically compelling. By requiring universities to share in the risk their students take and freeing them from much red-tape, it directs help to the voting constituencies the Conservative Party needs to win over – the young and Frayne’s non-university-educated “working class”.

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Schools Have Become the School Bullies, Are Now Arresting Children for Making Finger Guns

Westlake Legal Group woman-1006100_960_720-620x349 Schools Have Become the School Bullies, Are Now Arresting Children for Making Finger Guns teen Students School Police school Kansas Guns gun control Front Page Stories child bullying Allow Media Exception Academia Abuse of Power

In a totally reasonable response to a child doing something they shouldn’t, a 13-year-old girl was arrested after making finger guns at four other students at Westridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas.

According to the Kansas City Star, the girl had been bullied for months according to her mother, Vanessa McCaron. At one point, they found her in the corner of the cafeteria sobbing by herself.

The Star reported that, upon being asked by a classmate who she would kill in school if she had the chance, the girl pointed at other students with finger guns. She was promptly sent to the office where she was then arrested by the school’s on-duty police officer and charged with felonious threatening:

A school resource officer, employed, by the Overland Park Police Department, would have handled the arrest, Smith said. The department said it could not discuss the case.

But according to Johnson County District Court documents, on Sept. 18, the girl “unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence, with the intent to place another, in fear, or with the intent to cause the evacuation, lock down or disruption in regular, ongoing activities …” or created just the risk of causing such fear.

McCaron pleaded with the officer to not arrest her daughter, but the officer wouldn’t relent according to the Star:

“He said, ‘I will press charges against anyone who I think has broken the law,’” said McCaron, who contacted The Star following Wednesday’s initial story about the incident. “He had such a great opportunity to use his badge to change something in a child, but he chose not to,” she added. “I think this is an insane abuse of power.

The mother has reassured everyone that her child is “anti-gun” and that she would never harm anyone despite the constant bullying she endures.

So many things have gone wrong here.

For one, the girl is apparently bullied by cruel children to the point where she’s sobbing in corners, and yet no one wants to take action until she makes the shape of a gun with her fingers. An abuse of authority takes place in her arrest, all out of fear that the child’s “finger guns” are indicative of a greater oncoming threat. She’s put into handcuffs, doubtlessly further scarring the child emotionally.

Meanwhile, her bullies are going unpunished without a hitch.

What would have happened, if the adults in the room had their senses about them and had simply sent the girl to the principal’s office to talk with her? Upon speaking to her about the incident, they likely would have found that this girl would not have hurt anyone, but did have a reason for doing it.

Upon investigating this reason, a better course of action would have taken place. Perhaps they could be more on the lookout for bullying behavior from students and/or institute harsher punishments for those who do bully their fellow students. They could have helped this girl by giving her emotional support and making her very dark world appear a little brighter.

Instead, the school and local authorities joined in on the bullying.

I get that many schools are jumpy thanks to school shootings in the past, but abandoning every lick of sense and compassion because someone remotely perceives a threat is not going to make the situation better. In fact, this kind of abuse and isolation is how these killers are created.


The post Schools Have Become the School Bullies, Are Now Arresting Children for Making Finger Guns appeared first on RedState.

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TheCoderSchool opens in Ashburn with after-school coding programs for local students

Westlake Legal Group TheCoderSchool-feature TheCoderSchool opens in Ashburn with after-school coding programs for local students TheCoderSchool Technology Students school kids Education Computer Science coding children ashburn
Photo courtesy of TheCoderSchool

When it comes to local after-school programs, there is no question that there are a lot to choose from. Art classes, music lessons and sports practices are just a few that come to mind.

But with recent emphasis in educational settings on STEM education, there’s one topic that comes up as an important skill for students time and time again: coding.

Chad and Ellen Hamel saw the potential in the Northern Virginia area to reach more local children with the lessons of coding, especially with Loudoun County Public Schools starting to push more coding in its curriculum and the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington. So, they decided to open Virginia’s first location of TheCoderSchool.

The newly opened location offers one-on-one lessons and classes in HTML, CSS, Python, Javascript and more, and, unlike other coding schools in the area, allows students to take the program’s curriculum and software home in order to build on their skills outside of after-school lessons and day camps.

“It’s a passion project for us because we really want kids coding,” says Chad Hamel, a co-owner and operator of TheCoderSchool.

Chad Hamel, a local veterinarian, and his wife, Ellen Hamel, a local nurse, have both worked in the health care industry for nearly 20 years and have watched technology transform their jobs over time. Although they don’t have college degrees in coding or computer science, they believe strongly in offering the opportunity in an area that Chad refers to as, “a data hub for the internet and high-tech industries.”

“There’s a significant deficiency of high-quality coders out there,” says Chad. “It’s a skill that’s needed now, but also in the future as those jobs continue to grow.”

The location’s technical adviser is Stevens Miller, who holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Amherst College, a master’s degree in computer science from the Stevens Institute of Technology and is a Unity-certified developer. Working alongside Miller are other teachers, of which, according to Chad, 85% have college degrees in computer science.

Also, says Chad, TheCoderSchool prides itself on its low student-teacher ratios (two-to-one in lessons and six-to-one in classroom settings), so students can feel confident in learning the necessary skills and climb the “foundational tree” that includes evolving lessons on how the internet works, website development, game creation and more.

No previous coding experience is required to enroll your child, and since kids can be challenging with long-term commitments, there’s even a free trial where local students can try lessons, get their hands on the programming and understand what coding is all about.

“We want kids to be excited and to be fired up about learning,” says Chad. “And if your child is ready and interested, we are not cookie-cutter, so we can provide them with the opportunity to fit a curriculum, or a program or a coach into their life and get the foundational skills of coding.”

In the future, look out for partnerships with local nonprofits that will combine intellectual and physical activity for after-school participants. Ellen is a firm believer in instilling wellness behaviors in children from an early age, and is looking to partner with local martial arts locations, among others.

Until then, you can enroll or learn more about TheCoderSchool’s local offerings on its website. Plus, don’t miss the mascot, “Magellan, theCodingAlpaca,” who doesn’t make appearances at the actual Ashburn location, but does live on the Hamels’ 10-acre farm (with four alpaca siblings) in Round Hill, alongside their two young sons. // TheCoderSchool Ashburn: 42841 Creek View Plaza, Suite 110, Ashburn

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Sterling-based Cuisine Solutions expands K-12 lunch program in NoVA

Westlake Legal Group Yorktown-High-school-lunch-program Sterling-based Cuisine Solutions expands K-12 lunch program in NoVA Students school lunch school public schools lunch Health Food fast-casual dining Education Cuisine Solutions
Students wait in line at the Café + Tera in Yorktown High School in Arlington County. (Photo courtesy of Cuisine Solutions)

“Someone once told me that you can make a lunch as healthy as you want it, but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t taste good, kids won’t eat it and you’ll end up with healthy trash cans.”

That’s how manager of Cuisine Solutions K-12 program Bill Stablein explains the motivation for the Sterling-based company’s growing concept, Café+Teria, found solely in local school cafeterias.

The program began two years ago when the company decided to move away from catering to professional chefs and home cooks, and test out some of its sous-vide style recipes in three Arlington County public schools, ultimately gaining attention from board directors, nutritionists and dietitians alike. 

Westlake Legal Group Indian-bowl-cafe-tera Sterling-based Cuisine Solutions expands K-12 lunch program in NoVA Students school lunch school public schools lunch Health Food fast-casual dining Education Cuisine Solutions
Photo courtesy of Cuisine Solutions

That’s why when the academic year began in September, the customized lunch program debuted in four Virginia school districts, as well as one in Pickens County, South Carolina, expanding from eight school partnerships in 2018 to 16.    

“One of the biggest things people kept telling us was that participation in cafeteria programs tends to dip at the high school level, so that was really who we wanted to attract,” says Stablein of the program. “We’ve seen kids flock to fast-casual concepts after school, so we put two and two together and realized it’s an easy way to get them a credible, tasty meal following USDA guidelines.”    

At each Café+Teria site, students are able to choose their own base of grains, salad or a wrap, followed by a protein of antibiotic-free chicken, ground beef or paneer cheese. From there, a rotating menu of Asian, Mediterranean, Mexican and Caribbean-themed ingredients are available for students to pick from. 

The food also provides students with nutritious value not always offered at a typical public school cafeteria. And according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students with healthy eating habits are better learners, with research reflecting that nutrition has an effect on academic achievement.

Westlake Legal Group cafe-tera-wrap Sterling-based Cuisine Solutions expands K-12 lunch program in NoVA Students school lunch school public schools lunch Health Food fast-casual dining Education Cuisine Solutions
Photo courtesy of Cuisine Solutions

“We really wanted to incorporate vegetables as a component of the meal,” says Stablein. “A lot of the time, kids are offered vegetables as a side, like roasted broccoli or asparagus, but they often won’t eat it, because it’s on the side of a better option.”

The Café+Teria concept is now part of cafeterias in Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun and Frederick counties, with plans to expand nationwide in the future.

According to Stablein, the program thrives due to the enthusiasm from students, with favorite meals varying from district to district. But what is the most popular item in all counties?

“Hands down, it’s the taco,” says Stablein. “They can get a tortilla, salad or brown rice base and choose the toppings they want, and then the entire thing has taco seasoning. It’s really the most popular across the board.”

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WATCH: Australian Broadcaster Takes Down the Spoiled Climate Protesting Students In Epic Fashion

Westlake Legal Group Untitled-1-3-620x384 WATCH: Australian Broadcaster Takes Down the Spoiled Climate Protesting Students In Epic Fashion Students Sky News protest progressives Popular Culture Politics Media hoax Front Page Stories Featured Story Climate Change Climate Allow Media Exception Alan Jones

Alan Jones, an Australian broadcaster for Sky News had some choice words for students taking part in the climate protests that occurred on Friday, which featured these students ditching school in order to push the “we’re all going to die” narrative so beloved by the church of climate change.

Jones had a harsh reality check for these students, who he noted demand better action by people and government in the name of saving the environment (Jones calls it a “hoax”) while they themselves refuse to give up their own cushy lifestyles. His words came in the form of a letter which Jones said he might send to Al Gore.

“It says this: To all the school kids going on strike for climate change, you’re the first generation who have required air conditioning in every room. You want TV in every room, and your classes are all computerized. You spend all day and night on electronic devices,” said Jones

“More than ever, you don’t walk or ride bikes to school,” he continued, “but you arrive in caravans of private cars that choke suburban roads and worsen rush hour traffic.”

“You’re the biggest consumer of manufactured goods ever, and update perfectly good expensive luxury items to stay trendy,” said Jones. “Your entertainment comes from electric devices. Furthermore, the people driving your protests are the same people who insist on artificially inflating the population growth through immigration which increases the need for energy, manufacturing and transport.”

“The more people we have, the more forest and bushland we clear, the more of the environment that’s destroyed” continued Jones.

It was here that the letter writer proposed a solution, and Jones read it with clear satisfaction.

“How about this,” said Jones, “tell your teacher to turn off the air-con, walk or ride to school, switch off your devices and read a book, make a sandwich instead of buying manufactured fast food.”

“But none of this will happen because, the piece says, you’re selfish, badly educated, virtue-signaling little turds inspired by the adults around you who crave a feeling of having a noble cause while they indulge themselves in western luxury and unprecedented quality of life. The piece ends by saying wake up, grow up, and shut up  until you’re sure of the facts before protesting.”

I wish I could inject that letter into my veins.

As harsh as the letter that Jones read sounds, it’s brutally honest. Many of these kids so hyped about climate change likely don’t know half the science surrounding it that they think they do. The reason behind this is because those teaching them this are borderline militant about what kind of information these kids can and can’t learn. Any talk to the contrary is usually shouted down and dismissed as stupid or ignorant.

The truth is as Jones read, however. They want to complain about how people are messing up the environment as they themselves mess it up and refuse to change their lifestyles in order to fix it. One moment without their phone is enough to induce panic for some people, and keeping it charged requires electricity from an outlet that is generated by a coal-burning plant. We could easily switch to nuclear to keep the environment clean, but for some reason, these climate activists won’t give the cleanest energy source on the planet the time of day.

It makes all the outrage ring rather hollow.

The post WATCH: Australian Broadcaster Takes Down the Spoiled Climate Protesting Students In Epic Fashion appeared first on RedState.

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Richard Bingley: Five pillars of higher education success driven by Conservative reforms

Richard Bingley is the Managing Director of a private Higher Education Institution and former Director of a public sector UK University Business School.

What makes a good Higher Education Institution?

For almost a decade, I’ve read numerous policy documents and op-ed pieces about the supposed dire state of UK higher education. Despite the fact that the UK founded three of the world’s top ten universities and checks in at number two on the QS World Ranking of higher education systems.

Often such pontifications are by left-leaning societal advisers or consultants who – no matter how bright and passionate – perhaps have never taught within a university, nor gained the appropriate postgraduate qualification to do so. Their solutions are often to strangle our sector with yet more regulation or formal reviews. They usually involve cutting the tuition fees and/or not trusting the tutor to deliver in class.

Paradoxically, the longer I’ve worked in higher education – in both the public and private sector side – the more straightforward I’ve found it to understand the fee-paying customer. Most rightly want, and deserve, connectivity with experienced, industry-facing tutors, practical curricula relevant to the world of work, and the opportunity to realistically apply for decent job opportunities at the end.

So, let’s be clear: British higher education is at a far stronger place than perhaps it has ever been. The most recent Conservative government innovations have been refreshing both for providers (well, those who are ambitious for their learners) and also for consumers. They have introduced market realism and real-world innovation.

Higher Degree Apprenticeships (HDAs) stand to transform vast sections of the sector, with a major shift away from an outdated textbook approach toward teaching practicalities and underpinning theory hand-in-glove with employers. Graduates with HDAs will get jobs, quite simply because most already are employed by their sponsor.

The downside for higher education is that apprenticeships are too cumbersome to manage and the margin for the teaching institution is far too thin to incentivise widespread engagement or to build in student protection contingencies if something goes wrong.

The newly established Office for Students (OfS), which has already taken a robust intervention to ‘rescue’ a failing provider, has geared itself towards widening access and thinning down the frequency of intensive regulatory reviews, whilst the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has empowered learners to understand the roles and responsibilities of higher education providers.

Quite simply, if marketing is incorrect, then service providers will be held to account (often by publishing corrections and repaying a portion of money to the consumer.) After all, if a learner is paying almost £30,000 for course fees over three years, they surely should have the rights of any comparable consumer.

Most practical academics will tell you that there are common characteristics that drive forward higher-performing education institutions (note, that I didn’t use the word ‘ranking’). Aligned to most reforms described above, my five pillars for success are:

1) Effective, broad-based, governance. Independent-minded, qualified experts, key stakeholders, industry networks and paying customers (student reps) are at the heart of oversight and formal strategic advice. The institution and its staff intuitively know and subscribe to its core mission, inherent strengths and collective sense of purpose.

2) Focus on what matters. The institution’s senior management does not chase ever-changing shadows of market behaviour driven by today’s preposterous levels of media hype. Too many higher education Institutions mimic poor restaurants by offering a vast array of half-baked course products, unrelated to their unique origins and specialisms.

3) Discipline. Learners… turn up on time and be prepared. Turn off the phone. Tutors… informal and formal assessment promptly marked with personal, constructive feed-back. Non-attendees removed and Student Finance informed. The demoralisation of good performers, because bad performers are tolerated, should never be permitted

4) Quality of teaching. Tutors must exude authority. Authority is usually only earned from learners if a) the tutor can point to pre-existing high-achievement in both academia and the ‘real world’, and b) the tutor can apply their career achievement into the classroom in an engaging, structured manner. All tutors must be credible ‘captains of ship’. If you can’t command an audience, don’t apply to a profession which is all about working one!

5) Intensive academic support. If ministers want to widen access and ensure that learners can excel, intensive support of student engagement must be invested in. Academic support is costly and plans outlined in the recent Augar Review to significantly reduce student fees raises a problem in this regard.

Further sector concerns around finance are magnified by Jeremy Corbyn’s policy to scrap tuition fees altogether, and directly fund higher education by £9.5bn (funded by increasing income tax for those above £80,000). This is an unrealistic throwback, and would prove totally unworkable and destructive.

Firstly, the funding pot is too small for the modern-day global business that is British higher education provision.

Second, removing consumer power is likely to make degree programmes less job-market focused, and reverse employability progress made during the past decade. If universities and colleges struggle to gain income from teaching, the top-end will revert principally to research. (Most research that is not ‘world class’ is money down an endless drain: it earns, and pays for, nothing.)

Meanwhile other teaching-intensive institutions, usually the more accessible former-polytechnics and private providers, often sited within Labour’s own heartlands (if any exist these days) will collapse.

In the real world of higher education, cash flow generated by tuition fees matter. It provides more institutional stability and also drives up internationalisation and diversity, both within the teaching curriculum and among the audiences that an institution can reach out to and attract.

If providers struggle further to attract or retain decent lecturers (particularly those with industry experience and contacts – remember, this is a global employment market!), and academic staff development budgets are trimmed further, how can this ultimately help the learner?

For a ‘real world’ example in how a student fee cut might impact upon the coal-face, consider as follows: a Grade 9 ‘Lecturer with little or no classroom teaching experience, nor industry work experience, nor post-grad teaching certificate, is appointed to an undergraduate teaching post at £30,000 per annum. This is likely to occur because a Grade 10 ‘Senior Lecturer’ (circa £50,000 per annum), with much stronger career and academic credentials, including industry experience and contacts, had, in effect, made themselves too expensive for the sector.

This is where we are heading back to under Corbyn’s existing proposal. Lower fees and more regulation aren’t always the best fix.

Strong governance, strong institutional identity, strong discipline, strong teaching and strong academic support, always are.

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