Emily Donaldson is a native of Houston, Texas currently living in the heartland while studying at the University of Missouri. She is a sophomore pursuing degrees in Print and Digital News and Political Science with a minor in French, hoping to graduate in May 2015.
Emily aspires to work in the magazine industry, reporting on legislative affairs and other political news. In spring 2012, she wrote for The Maneater, the University of Missouri student newspaper.
This is Emily's first semester working at Missouri Digital News.
Posted 04/17/2013: In a hearing that I attended last week, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, introduced an interesting amendment onto a bill that would allow school board members video chat into meetings to cast votes upon their absence. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, gave a passionate speech about how this would allow all school board members to have their voices heard despite the many burdens of their busy lives. I found myself thinking that this would be an easily passed bill until Schaaf rose to propose his own addition to the piece of legislation.
Schaaf so eloquently suggested that to go beyond the step of video chatting, so long as a quorum is present, lawmakers should allow video chatting so long as a quorange is present. This new term refers to what Schaaf referred to as one less than a quorum. He spoke in rhyme via a poem that expressed his amendment's purpose to try to get his point across.
Although Chappelle-Nadal swiftly dismissed his proposed amendment, he still enjoyed the fact that his creative verse had achieved such interest on the Senate floor. While his fellow public officials learned that he had a poetic personality, I learned that not everything done in Jefferson City is meant to go into law.
This past week, while other students spent their time in Panama City or Destin, Florida, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to work with AIDS and HIV patients to spread awareness. During my time in the South, Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama and lobbyist for Southern AIDS interests, spoke with my volunteer group and educated us greatly about government funding for such issues.
Hiers said that the South received about $1000 less per person than in the North. Because Missouri is sometimes confused with its identity in the North or South, I wondered where it stood within national rankings for federal funding.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Missouri ranks 21st in the country for AIDS federal funding. New York tops the list with the most funding, which seems logical because it has the most cumulative deaths from the AIDS epidemic. However, as Hiers asked, does most cumulative deaths require the most funding? Or should the current number of infected residents determine the amount of national support? This question will most certainly be resolved on a national level.
Two weeks ago, I covered a story on web cam abortions. You heard it correctly, abortions via the internet. My first thought was probably the same as yours: what? But yet something that seems so futuristic is entirely possible. Abortions actually are being administered via a web cam system in which a physician sits in a central location with access to lots of web cams. A person with no medial training administers an exam to the person asking for the abortion and after the physician views the results, they can either deny the abortion or give the go-ahead based on the stage of the pregnancy.
The actual abortion occurs through a series of pills which terminate the pregnancy, then start contractions.
The entire process started in Iowa where the rural nature of the state causes problems for physicians who are normally in remote locations. My main concern when hearing of this practice was the safety of the patients with the danger of the drug, RU 486. Even though the doctor, once deeming the procedure as safe, has the ability to open a drawer with a button from his or her location, the entire process seems risky to me.
RU 486, according to an FDA press release, is not safe to buy over the Internet or via foreign sources. Another drug on this list, Actiq (fentanyl citrate) is treatment for cancer. Personally, I would never want to treat myself for cancer, much less have someone who is web-conferencing me tell me that life-terminating drugs were okay to use, without having an actual look at me in person.
However, I realize that throughout my life I have constantly had access to doctors whether it was around the corner at a practice, or next door with my neighbor. In places like Iowa there may not be access to a doctor for hours. Some people may not be able to make multiple trips to see a doctor and vice versa. Doctors cannot travel all days of the week to constantly be performing procedures.
After covering this story, it seems to me that there must be a balance between accommodating those without access to necessary medical resources and keeping health risks at a minimum.
Common Core Standards. These words were all over a hearing I attended last Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee Hearing. Something I had barely heard mention of in the past three years were now overwhelmingly referenced in a matter of 60 minutes. This common phrase refers to a set of national education standards that would cover the nation, asking that all schools require the same educational basics out of their students.
This means, that from district to district, city to city, county to county, and even East to West, a student will be required to have the same reading level when graduating from eighth grade as any other. Some residents were in uproar at the hearing, saying that these requirements would homogenize our education and make all students come out of high school as robots, with no variety. Parents complained that information collected by the assessments required by the Standards would be collecting information and distributing it to third parties around the country. But mostly, complaints centered around the idea that President Barack Obama was once again bringing about ObamaCare but in education form.
I was dumbfounded by the accusations that education could be standardized and uniform throughout the country. Wasn't it a parent's perogative to choose a school based on the quality and method of education? I looked into the Common Core Standards for a little more information.
Upon simply clicking on the PDF for an outline of the Common Core Standards, I learned that the so called ObamaCare argument was not the case.
Page 6 of this PDF reads, "The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach."
This means that teachers can still maintain their wacky methods of teaching while sticking to a strict basic level of lessons required throughout the nation. Any student moving from state to state would be able to almost seamlessly make the transfer into one school's curriculum from another.
So, more than learning about the reality of Common Core Standards, I learned that people will fuss about something, even if it may not be that big of a deal. The issue at hand, in fact, might be solved on the first couple pages of an easily accessible document. If people take the time to look at the details or even do a modicum of research on a matter, they might discover something that they never thought possible.
"Team by team reporters baffled," REM sings in their famous song It's the End of the World as We Know It. Last week, more true words could not have been spoken as people, both reporters and non-journalistic Missourians, were baffled and confused by the bizarre weather conditions afflicting the Midwest.
Coming from Texas, I could count myself in that flabbergasted group that stared in awe at the blizzard like conditions happening around me. Not only had my classes been canceled, causing a snow day I could have never dreamed of having in my hometown, but also my trip to Jefferson City because of all of the fleeing legislators, scared of the waking storm. Then, the end of my world really did strike when Gov. Jay Nixon declared Missouri in a "state of emergency."
To me, a state of emergency brings back memories of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, weather disasters that halted life as my high school self knew it for weeks at a time. But hurricanes like these could never affect my new heartland centric life. So, I decided to look back and see just how common these states of emergency were in Missouri. I looked to the Missouri Department of Public Safety's State Emergency Management Agency and found interesting results.
I learned how rare these states of emergency are when I saw that since 1957, only 53 times have they been declared. But times are changing. Six of those states of emergencies were declared in 2008 alone. In 2011, another three were issued. I asked myself whether or not this really was the end of the world?
If not, it certainly asks for debate on whether the government has become more cautious toward emergency conditions or just more adept at identifying the increasing amount of them.
As a third grader, I never could have known that my one time summer experience with the DECATS program, a gifted education summer course, would return to my life so far in the future. Last week, I was surprised therefore to reminisce on my educational summer when I seated myself in an education hearing featuring legislation on gifted education programs. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed a bill in the hearing to expand upon this kind of education throughout the state of Missouri, saying that current programming just wasn't sufficient. Most of Schaefer's fellow Senators seemed to instantly agree and not raise any questions. Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, did not fall into this mollified category, however.
Emery boldly asked whether this bill meant that current education was just fine for those who were not lucky enough to be seen as special or gifted. I wondered how Schaefer could ever respond to such a seemingly threatening statement. However, with almost no hesitation, Schaefer, and then all of the witnesses following him impressed upon the Senate Education Committee that gifted students are at more risk of dropping out than any other group. I thought to myself, could this be true? If a student is deemed "gifted," were they really at risk of losing something that supposedly came so naturally? This foreign concept stunned me from the moment I first heard debate on the issue.
To my astonishment, a study conducted by the National Association for Gifted Children does show that there really is more to lose with a gifted dropout. Of the students identified as gifted (which is only 10% of the student population), between 18-25% are dropouts. Of all students, the drop out rate is only 7.4%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Even though the gap is easily identifiable, it is much harder to recognize the reasons behind the statistics. Some reasons cited behind gifted dropouts included becoming pregnant (for females specifically), getting a job, or simply not liking school.
Coming from Houston, Texas with an all girls, private, Catholic education and a graduating class of 58 students, this was a very different type of story for me to cover. Not only had I never experienced the gifted education program that Schaefer advocated so strongly for, but I never realised that there was a need. In my graduating class, not one student even considered dropping out or skipping college to get a job.
With only two weeks of capitol reporting under my belt, I have come to realise that not only will my eyes be opened to journalistic principles, but also to issues that could never have affected my naive, third grade, unsuspecting, self.