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Senior volunteers: pillars of the community

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For 30 years, the United Nations has recognized October 1 as International Day of Older Persons. It’s an annual opportunity to highlight the valuable role of seniors in society. While many have retired from the workforce, they tend to dedicate more time and money to volunteer work than any other demographic. Here are some ways seniors contribute to their communities:

• As caregivers for an ailing spouse, with responsibilities ranging from managing household tasks to offering emotional support and providing medical care.

• As babysitters for their grandchildren, whose parents are productive members of the workforce.

• As organizers for events hosted by religious groups and other types of community-based organizations, which often struggle to attract younger participants.

• As donators of time and money to charities, foundations, and non-profit organizations that support members of the community.

• As mentors for the next generation, passing on family legacies, a lifetime of experience, and a career’s worth of knowledge.

• As part of a support system for other seniors, such as by planning activities at their seniors’ residence or running errands for someone with reduced mobility.

In addition to recognizing the generosity of seniors in your community, October 1 should be a time to reciprocate and thank these caring members of society. Whether it’s a phone call to an older relative, a day spent volunteering at a retirement home, or a donation to an elderly rights advocacy group, there are numerous ways to give back to the seniors in your life and community.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.: Those who knew him grow old; the promise lives

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The people who heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in person, or live on the television or radio–those people have grown old.

Is time that those old people ask the young: Have you heard his speech? Have you read about Martin Luther King’s dream? Did you read his Mountaintop speech?

Any of King’s speeches evoke spirit and truth, but one speech shines out for its hopeful and, in retrospect, its chilling words.

That is the Mountaintop speech, given April 3, 1968, at the Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn.

In this speech, King mused that if given any time in history, he would have chosen that moment, that very day above all others. He spoke about the great and pivotal hour for the country and the world as all confronted injustice.

Then, he remembers his brush with death years before when he was stabbed and how close he came to missing that day.

And then he proclaims that he has seen the Promised Land:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But
I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

The next day, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated.

King’s words, later recalled, send a shiver through hearts and minds. Those words are worth recalling even 53 years later, that one was led by God to the mountaintop, and he saw the promised future of his people fulfilled.

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Ice fishing: tips for a successful day

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Ice fishing is a great way to relieve stress, reconnect with nature, and enjoy your own company or that of your fishing buddies. Whether you’re ready to go or still waiting for the ice to thicken, here are a few tips that will help guarantee you have a good experience.

Check the regulations
Before you head out, make sure you have the necessary permits and that you’re allowed to fish in the intended area. You also need to be familiar with the catch and possession limits for various species. Having this information will allow you to avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that your activities are legal.

Check the conditions

Take into consideration the weather and ice conditions before you decide if you’ll be fishing in a shack or simply out on the ice. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and without the right gear, you may have to turn back before you make your first catch.

Check your equipment
Many parks and lodges offer all-inclusive ice fishing packages. In this case, all you need to bring are your warm clothes and plenty of enthusiasm. However, if you have your own equipment, you’ll want to assess its condition before you head out. Visit hunting and fishing shops in your area if any of your gear is damaged or needs to be replaced.

Following these tips will ensure that once you drill your holes, you’ll be able to relax, unwind, and fully enjoy the ice fishing experience.

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How to safely watch wildlife in winter

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If you spend time exploring the outdoors this winter, you might cross paths with hares, foxes, deer, and other wildlife. Here’s how you can observe these creatures safely (and comfortably) without disturbing them.

Act appropriately
It’s important to always treat wildlife with caution and respect. If an animal reacts to your presence, you’re too close. Since these creatures need to conserve energy to stay warm in winter, startling them causes undue stress. In fact, keeping your distance is as much for their safety as it is for yours.

Dress appropriately

It’s best to wear layers and opt for breathable fabrics when you engage in outdoor winter activities. Keep in mind that you won’t produce as much body heat when you’re standing still to watch wildlife. You’ll also want to have binoculars or a camera to make the most of your sigh-ting. However, keep in mind that drones shouldn’t be used around wild animals.

If you want to reconnect with nature this season, look for places where you can hike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski in your area.

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Time to learn a second language? Bienvenido! Language apps await

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Let’s be honest. Despite what online language apps tell you, a year of online learning won’t qualify you as fluent in a language.

But here is the good news: You could manage enough useful language for travel, business or visiting with people in different countries. But chances are that you won’t successfully converse about the philosophy of Kant.

Still, there are good choices out there for learning a second language.

One of the senior language resources is Rosetta Stone and it is well worth a first look. It offers a free three-day course with no credit card needed. Of all the online apps, Rosetta Stone seems best at starting you at the right level. If you have a passing familiarity with Spanish, for example, you probably don’t need to start at “hola.” And Rosetta Stone won’t put you there.

Like every online app, it isn’t obvious at first how to use the question-and-answer modules. That seems true for every app and you will get a few instructions in English. But users will quickly get the hang of the app’s interface.

Trending among language apps are Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel.

Duolingo and Memrise both work on the idea of spaced repetition for better memorization. Rosetta Stone and Babbel may seem more immersive–at least in the beginning.

All the apps have combinations of flashcards and listening exercises. Rosetta Stone features a listen-respond tableau with every lesson. Memrise offers its Learn With Locals videos that demonstrate a new phrase.

Babbel focuses on conversational examples to show the context of words and phrases. It also has a speech recognition feature designed to give you confidence in actually speaking the language.

Memrise is unique in that about 90 percent of its course offering is free. You can buy the pro package, which is supposed to be helpful, especially as you progress. It also has a social element with a leaderboard, which has actually been controversial since some people hacked their way up the board. This is why we can’t have anything nice.

Duolingo calculates your streak in coming back to the app and its little bird mascot regularly (and somewhat infamously) exhorts your participation.

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Students push back against cheating software

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Educators are fighting cheating with software, but students are fighting back.

Online learning and test-taking have opened new doors for the ancient art of cheating. To fight it, some schools require students to take tests over webcam while professors or teaching assistants observe. But according to TechDirt, a growing number of institutions are using anti-cheating software instead, which uses a mix of human proctors and algorithms to spot what they classify as signs of cheating.

These online proctoring companies use webcams, microphones, and algorithms to monitor eye and head movements, background noise, mouse movements, scrolling, and keystrokes. The software flags suspicious behavior for instructor review. Even something as simple as multiple users taking the test on the same network, connectivity issues, or too much background noise can be flagged, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the popularity of online proctoring software continues to grow. According to EdSurge, the online proctoring company Proctorio is partnering with McGraw-Hill and other textbook publishers to include its software with courseware, meaning that even homework may be tracked for cheating in the future.

As the software has gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, students say that it violates privacy and causes intense stress for test-takers, according to the Washington Post. And according to NBC News, students have little recourse when penalized for things beyond their control, like interruptions or unconscious behaviors, such as reading out loud. The anxiety they experience while trying to satisfy the software’s demands, they say, is too much.

According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, dozens of petitions are circulating at colleges and universities to abandon platforms like Honorlock, Proctorio, ProctorU and Respondus. And some schools are receptive to the complaints — The City University of New York recently decided that professors cannot require students to use online proctoring software.

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Lack of rural broadband access hurts American students

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that much of the world goes to work and school, rural Americans were less likely to have access to broadband internet service. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Eighth Broadband Progress Report, nearly a quarter of Americans who live in rural areas–about 14.5 million people–lack access. In tribal areas, nearly one-third of the population lacks access.

The benefits of broadband access are well-established. In a webinar for the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, Federal Reserve Bank economist Alex Marre pointed out that broadband access is linked to higher wages, lower unemployment, more population growth, and higher home values. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts Broadband Initiative, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced disparities in access to the forefront and highlighted the need for universal broadband access.

But the cost associated with extending rural broadband to every American is high–about $80 billion, according to Farm and Dairy.

Lack of broadband access in rural areas particularly hurts America’s children. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts Broadband Initiative, an estimated 15 to 16 million elementary and secondary students do not have adequate internet access or digital devices at home to support online learning. At present, 12 states are seeking to alleviate this burden on families by using Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars to help students purchase internet-enabled devices, wireless hotspots, or both.

According to a Common Sense Media report, issued during the summer of 2020, about 50 million children have engaged in remote learning as a result of the pandemic. Even in states with the smallest disparities, about one in four students lacked adequate internet access. In states with the largest divides, half of the students lacked access.

The incoming Biden administration will spend nearly $5 billion in annual rural telecommunications subsidies, according to Bloomberg Law. Critics of the fund say that it is needlessly complex and distributes necessary funds unevenly between and within states.

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