The New York Times Highlights Partnership with Benito Juarez Community Academy

‘Herculean Task’: Chicago Public Schools Scramble to Launch Online Classes

Originally posted by The New York Times on April 10, 2020.

By ReutersApril 10, 202

CHICAGO — During a typical school day at Chicago’s Benito Juarez Community Academy, James Klock’s high-school students can be found splicing and connecting wiring, getting the hands-on experience needed to become skilled electricians. 

The coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. 

Beginning Monday, Klock will have to teach his budding electricians online, forcing them to learn by watching, not doing, with their tools and equipment locked away in a shuttered classroom – but that depends on internet access. 

The move to online learning has exposed a digital divide that plagues the entire Chicago public school system, the third largest in the country. Some 70% of its 360,000 students are economically disadvantaged and a third have no access to a laptop or desktop computer. 

“This moment in time is really revealing the systemic and structural inequities that are built into the system,” Klock said.

Klock is one of 25,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers who have scrambled to start online classes by Monday, a deadline set by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker after he extended a stay-at-home order that shut down all 600 schools in the system to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The weeks-long closure of the city’s 600 schools is the latest blow to a school system perpetually bruised by budget shortfalls, classroom overcrowding and labor battles.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the shift to online learning a “Herculean task.” 

Chicago teachers have had two weeks to develop online lesson plans and arrange online teaching resources. They have had to set up livestream video and messaging platforms to interact with students. After consulting with parents, many have created flexible teaching schedules to work around their student’s upended lives. 

Chicago is not alone. Many school systems from New York to Los Angeles have launched remote learning programs, after the pandemic forced the cancellation of classes for the vast majority of American students.

“Some pieces of this are playing out all over the country, especially in urban and rural places that are dealing with extreme amounts of poverty and trauma,” said Stacy Moore, executive director of the Chicago chapter of Educators for Excellence, a teacher advocacy organization.

What makes Chicago different is that the school system is coming off a bitter, 11-day teachers’ strike in October. One of the main issues in the work stoppage was a demand that the district do more to address inequalities and inequities. 

“It’s been a tough year in Chicago when it comes to education,” Moore said. “All of those things that already existed are being further exacerbated by the current situation.” 

‘INCREDIBLY RESILIENT’ 

Many of Klock’s students live in the working-class neighborhood of Pilsen on the city’s west side, where nine of every 10 children live in low-income, minority households, district data showed. Three of four only have cell phones to connect to the web, and a few have had to get grocery store jobs to support their financially strapped families, according to Klock’s own assessment. 

“They’re incredibly resilient,” he said. “They are going to figure it out because that’s what they and their families do.” 

In parts of the city’s south and west sides, more than half of households have spotty internet connections or none at all, according to a recent Chicago Tribune-ProPublica Illinois analysis. The district estimates that 115,000 students, or a third, lack a device for e-learning. 

Officials are scrambling to distribute 100,000 laptops to students while internet service providers are offering special deals for Chicago families. 

In the Englewood neighborhood, one of the city’s most impoverished, Winnie Williams-Hall, a special-needs teacher at Nicholson STEM Academy, braces for what may be in store for her on Monday.

“I have no idea if all of my 14 students will be logged online,” Williams-Hall said. “So there’s a level of uncertainty.” 

She plans to use textbooks, dry erase boards and giant sticky notes to teach her middle-school students reading, math, social studies and science through live and recorded videos.

Williams-Hall said most of her students rely on personal relationship with her. Some are dealing with trauma; others have learning and intellectual disabilities and emotional disorders. A few read at a kindergarten-first-grade level, despite being only months away from high school.

“They can message me and text me, but that’s not the same,” she said. 

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)

Powering Chicago offers free solar safety training for area fire departments

Posted on Solar Power World on March 24, 2020.

Powering Chicago, the voice of Chicago’s unionized electrical industry, announced a free solar safety training program for Chicago area fire departments designed to help firefighters safely handle solar panels while on the job. Launched in late 2019 as a pilot program, more than 150 firefighters from 12 suburban departments have successfully completed the training to date.

With generous federal and state incentives available to homeowners and business owners who adopt renewable energy practices, solar panel installations are on the rise in Illinois.

As the prevalence of solar panels in the state increases, so too do the risks for firefighters who lack proper education and training necessary to safely deal with them in an emergency. Electrocution, exposure to hazardous substances, and roof collapse from improper installations are just a few of the risks firefighters face when they encounter solar panels on the job.

“Solar power is an important element of Illinois’s renewable energy future, but it presents unique challenges for first responders when they arrive on the scene,” said IBEW Local 134 Business Representative Bob Hattier, who leads the program in his capacity as an IREC Certified Master Trainer PV. “We offer this training as a free workforce development program to ensure firefighters are knowledgeable about the latest technologies and can work with their municipalities to enact codes that ensure public safety.”

The training program, which can be completed at the fire department’s facilities or at the IBEW/NECA Technical Institute in Alsip, Illinois, focuses on system awareness and identification, safety concerns and hazard mitigation, and codes and standards affecting solar and energy storage. The program is offered in two formats to best meet the needs of those participating, either as a three-day unit to reach all shifts from the participating fire department or as a one-day session only for key personnel.

To date, firefighters from Alsip, North Riverside, Berwyn, Tinley Park, Park Forest, University Park, Crete, Lockport, Dolton, Chicago Heights, Oak Forest and Cicero have participated in the training program.

“The training Powering Chicago’s members receive in renewable energy sources like solar panels is among the most advanced in the country,” said Gene Kent, director of the IBEW/NECA Technical Institute. “We want those who help keep our communities safe to benefit from those same training resources, which is why we’re providing this program free of charge. We know that in doing so, the firefighters who participate will be better able to identify potential problems, respond in a safe manner and serve their communities.”

News item from Powering Chicago

Chicago IBEW 134 Trains Fire Inspectors and First Responders in Solar Safety

Originally posted by Electrical Contractor in January 2020

By  Susan Degrane  Published In January 2020

Solar installations are heating up in Illinois due to robust state incentives that reimburse homeowners and businesses for costs. Unfortunately, hazards for fire fighters are also on the rise.

Addressing this circumstance is IBEW 134, one of the nation’s largest IBEW local unions with 13,000 members in the Chicago area. Experienced in solar installations, Local 134 aims to train and educate labor partners in addition to apprentices and journeymen.

“Burning panels may produce hazardous substances, but most firefighters can handle these with standard gear,” said Bob Hattier, IBEW 134 business representative and master trainer for the Illinois IBEW Renewable Energy Fund. “Electrocution is by far the biggest danger. It’s hard to stop an array from generating power. Even lights from fire equipment can energize it. The only way to truly shut it off is to remove all light sources. Also, backup batteries continue to power lights and appliances even when utility power is shut down”

Alsip Fire Department, which serves the community where IBEW 134’s apprenticeship school is located, inspired Hattier to develop first responder training.

“They started seeing more requests for solar installations and contacted us,” Hattier said. “It made me realize, we’re always thinking of the electrical inspectors who work with permitting authorities to prevent problems, but what about the first responder’s safety?”

So far, about a dozen Chicago suburban fire departments have received training.

“All 60 of our firefighters went through the training in three shifts,” said Berwyn Fire Department Captain Joseph P. Lotito. “Now we can tell by just looking at a house if there are going to be problems. Are the panels set back properly—three feet from the roofline and sides of the building? If we don’t see that, a lot of other things may be wrong.”

Those other wrong things can include conduit placed too near the rafters, which increases risk of electrocution when fire fighters pierce roofs for ventilation; lack of roof support, which increases risk of collapse; and lack of hazard labeling for solar conduit leading to inverters and batteries.

“This training definitely adds to safety,” said Robert Morris, executive director of the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association. “Fire inspectors work to prevent problems at the installation stage, so it definitely helps knowing what to look for in building plans.”

In March, Hattier will train inspectors from 100 or so Illinois municipalities at the association’s Fire & Life Safety Conference.

“We don’t charge for the training,” Hattier said. “This is a workforce development program. It’s designed to bring allied professionals up to speed on current technologies and to encourage municipalities to adopt the most recent codes to ensure public safety.”

Training at Park Forest Fire Department

Robert Hattier of Illinois IBEW Renewable Energy Fund provided a solar panel hazard training to the Park Forest Fire Department. In order to address all of the stakeholders in the renewable energy industry the REF facilitates trainings for electrical and building inspectors, elected officials, firefighters/first responders, contractors, developers, educators and the general public. Reach out to us here if you are interested in training.

Donations Collected with Truck

Illinois IBEW Renewable Energy Fund semi truck carried socks, boots, books and toiletries collected for veterans facing homelessness. These items went to the VA hospital. The truck was escorted by Cook County Sheriff’s police, and our IBEW Local 134 motorcycle club.