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Electrical teacher blows students’ minds with hands-on training, daily code checks

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WCPS Electrical Teacher Darren McKinney (left) and Warren County School Board member James Wells.

Blue Ridge Technical Center Electrical Teacher Darren McKinney last week showcased his career and technical education (CTE) class for the Warren County School Board.

“Sometimes we forget the emphasis that trades programs play in our daily lives,” McKinney told board members during their Tuesday, November 16 work session. “We’re backing the professional lives of the people who are needed to do this.”

McKinney, a Sperryville, Va., resident who owns and operates McKinney Services, has been a Warren County Public Schools electrical teacher for almost three years and has taught at Lord Fairfax Community College as an LFCC workforce adjunct since January 2016. He’s been in the construction industry for more than 25 years, so he knows a thing or two about the skilled trades industry, which currently is experiencing workforce shortages.


“It’s not only electricians but all tradespeople. And this is nationally, too,” McKinney told the Royal Examiner today in an email.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook projects roughly 84,700 openings just for electricians each year, on average, through 2030. Many of these openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or who retire, according to the bureau.

Employment of electricians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations, the bureau says, noting that the 2020 median pay for electricians was $56,900 per year, or $27.36 per hour.

Most electricians learn through an apprenticeship, according to the Labor Department, but some start out by attending a technical school. Most states require electricians to be licensed. Almost all electricians work full time. Work schedules may include evenings and weekends, and overtime is common.

Left to right: WCPS student Ben LeBlanc, WCPS teacher Darren McKinney, School Board members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Catherine Bower.

Ben LeBlanc, a second-year electrical student of McKinney’s who joined the teacher during the School Board presentation, plans to work in the field. He and his classmates are learning a national curriculum, said McKinney.

For instance, the Electricity I class is an introductory course that covers the basics of safety, tools, code, construction drawings, and electrical theory. Students cover two nationally accredited textbooks during one semester, he explained.

Specifically, Electricity I students cover construction and electrical safety, hand and power tools, rigging and material handling, communication and employment skills, construction and electrical drawings and schematics, basic electrical theory, Kirchoff’s Law, Ohms Law & Resistance, how power is generated, the National Electric Code, device boxes, conduit bonding, and more.

“It’s amazing and surprising to me sometimes because I was a kid who was always in my dad’s toolbox,” McKinney told the School Board. “But these kids never in their life have touched a screwdriver, a saw, a pair of pliers — they don’t even know what this stuff is. So, this introduction [course] helps.”

Electricity 2 is a formational course that builds on the concepts introduced in Electricity I. Students learn about the functionality of the aspects of electricity and during this second year, students have the opportunity for more hands-on experiences than in the first course, said McKinney.

For example, students will take their knowledge about the meaning of a transformer to create a transformer in order to understand how it works. LeBlanc explained that in year one, students would go through the codebook and learn about transformer theory. Comparatively, during the second year, students actually get to make a transformer, he said. McKinney said he helps students build them and learn about their scientific properties.

Electricity 2 “blows these kids’ minds,” McKinney said, noting that while students question why they must know certain math or science concepts, they soon realize how such topics are so applicable to trades.

And while students tire of hearing about it, McKinney said safety is discussed daily with them “because that is the most important thing, to come and be in a safe environment, to be able to go home at night and see our families and come back the next day.”

Another daily practice that students take on is a 30-minute code check. Students get five questions at the end of every class and then they spend the last 30 minutes of every class going through the codebook to find what’s right and wrong in the code.

“If you don’t understand how something works, then you can never fix it. And if you don’t understand how it’s supposed to be, then you don’t know whether it’s right or wrong,” said McKinney. “So, my whole goal is to give them the correct theory, the correct knowledge, and then let them know what’s right and wrong.”

He also teaches them professionalism, which includes how they dress and the language they use. “There is a profanity problem and I let them know that it’s not acceptable,” McKinney said. “It’s not just right and wrong, it’s a way of life.”

In Electricity 2, Warren County students also use their skills on campus to build electrical trainers for the Agriculture Department, for instance and installed an outlet for a temporary heater in the Ag Greenhouse at Skyline High School. They also learn about capacitors, bending conduits, and how to wire switches, outlets, cubicles, and then an entire modular home.

In Electricity 3, students get to start building things and experience a combination of in-class time to expand their experiences from year two, and get in-the-field experiences, in many cases as interns for local companies.

LeBlanc is also an intern for McKinney’s company and receives one credit for the semester. “Ben works with me every Saturday. He earns money and he gets real-life experience,” McKinney said.

The third-year is all about putting everything that was learned during the first two years into practice in real-world experiences. The goal is for students to use their skills in the workforce.

Students who go through the program earn their OSHA 10 card, which essentially lets the real world know that the students have learned the basics. Specifically, McKinney said that an OSHA 10 card proves to employers that a person has completed 10 hours of OSHA-authorized training on critical workplace safety topics. Entry-level workers with this credential have industry-specific knowledge and skills that help prevent injuries and keep workplaces safe and productive.

“Two things I’m really concerned about when I teach a student — I’m not concerned if they go into the electrical field,” said McKinney about his students. “I want to make them a good member of society and give them a good work ethic.”

Warren County Public Schools also tracks the employability of its CTE students. McKinney said that eight of his students from the last three years he has taught with WCPS do work in the electrical field now. He said some go on to the local union, which has its own training program, while others attend LFCC.

In Virginia, state licensure requires 240 vocational hours, 8,000 hours in the field, and a passing grade on a journeyman’s exam for a journeyman’s license, which is good for one year. Students, or apprentices, then can sit and take a master’s exam.

“It’s not as easy as people think,” McKinney said. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of education.”

Watch the latest Warren County School Board meeting in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.

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Last call to share library feedback and win!

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Samuels Public Library’s community survey will close on December 31st. The survey opened on September 1st and has drawn in nearly 300 responses so far. The Library hopes to receive 400 responses.

“We are very excited about the number of responses we’ve received so far,” says Executive Director Michelle Ross, “Our community has wonderful ideas about new library services and we hope to gather even more of those ideas before the survey closes.”

Each person who completes a survey may be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet. Limit one entry per person. Every Warren County citizen is invited to share their feedback to enhance our community’s Library.

Print copies of the survey can be found at each Samuels Library public service desk. The survey can also be completed online.


Results from the survey will be shared on the Library website, www.samuelslibrary.net.


About Samuels Public Library

Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Canada Goose

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Clean up your fishing line!

This Canada Goose was found and rescued in Sherando Park in Stephens City, VA. The finder came across this bird struggling in the water while entangled in fishing line. Luckily, the goose was untangled and transported to the Center for care.

Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

We see many cases each year of animals (mostly waterbirds) entangled in fishing line. Please help our wildlife and make every effort to retrieve lost hooks/sinkers/line while fishing, and even if you aren’t the person who left it, remove line and other dangerous debris that you find while out enjoying nature.

This goose did not suffer any fractures, but has muscle damage that will take at least a few days to resolve if all goes well.


The struggle and near drowning experience puts this goose at extreme risk of exertional myopathy (muscle damage caused by extreme stress and struggling that creates physiological imbalances and can result in death). We are doing everything possible to monitor for signs of this condition and address changes quickly.

We are glad to be able to help this bird, but many aren’t so lucky. The best prevention is to clean up the dangerous trash we put out in nature. Please dispose of hooks and line properly!

This goose is our 3,237 patient in 2021! 

Our patients can’t pay for their care and we don’t receive state or Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to help wild animals and return them to their wild homes. Please consider donating to BRWC today.

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Children honor memory of local librarian

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The students at Mountain Laurel Montessori School conducted a book drive to honor the memory of Kathy Jacob, the children’s librarian from Samuel’s Public library who passed away earlier this fall.

Kathleen “Kathy” Ruth (McGillen) Jacob

The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.

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‘Tis the Season for Kindness

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A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.

“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”

Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.

“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.


Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.

“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.

Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.

“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”

While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.

The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.

Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.

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Community Events

Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday

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Today is Giving Tuesday!

What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.

It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!

  1. Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
  2. Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)

That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!

We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.


We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!

Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!

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Crime/Court

Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges

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Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.

By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.

After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.

While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.


Richard Matthew Crouch in July 2021 mug shot from Northwestern Adult Regional Detention Center. Below, charged as an accessory in the murder of Tristen Brinklow, George Lee Good (Oct. 2020 RSW Jail mug shot). Good received 10 years of active incarceration for his believed role in the killing. On Monday Crouch was sentenced to a total of 30 years and 9 months.

Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.

The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.

The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.

While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.

He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.

She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”

 

Tristen Brinklow’s photo from the family social media page was reproduced and displayed in court Monday in support of his mother Jennifer Brinklow’s testimony as an auxiliary victim of her son’s murder. The second photo of him with his mother and grandmother was also displayed. Below, ‘Justice for Trey’ demonstrators outside George Good’s plea agreement hearing in August. More support was promised during Monday’s plea hearing for Richard Matthew Crouch.

Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.

“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.

“Thank you,” Crouch replied.

 

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