Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog

217-206-6407

Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel focuses on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, and WorkingNow.org. 

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District 186
9:30 am
Wed February 19, 2014

District 186 Moves Up Vaccination Deadline

Springfield District 186 plans to give parents and students a shorter deadline for immunizations and physicals next school year. They'll have to be completed by the 10th day of school, which means around the end of August. That's much sooner than this year's mid-October deadline. Around 500 students failed to comply and some were out of school for up to 3 weeks.

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District 186
9:24 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Parents Angry School Stayed Open, District 186 Responds

Credit Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Monday's ice storm didn’t stop Springfield public schools from holding classes. But it also meant many school buses were late to pick up students. Parents complained of students waiting up to 45 minutes in the cold and freezing rain as buses maneuvered the slick roads. Many took to the district’s Facebook page to hurl insults about the decision to keep school open.

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Education Desk Features
8:00 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Illinois Lottery: A Shell Game For School Funding?

Lottery ads at the Hometown Pantry
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Many people are aware that the Illinois Lottery helps fund schools. But just how much do the proceeds actually help? Well, that's what we aimed to find out:

    

Most of the money for the state's public schools K-12 come from local sources, like property taxes. The state contributes a large portion as well, and the lottery profits are part of that, but just how much? To find that out, our first stop is the Hometown Pantry at the intersection of Edwards and MacArthur in Springfield.

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District 186
12:43 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Interview: Jennifer Gill, Incoming 186 Superintendent

Jennifer Gill
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It took about a year - but Springfield has officially found a replacement for its previous district 186 superintendent. Jennifer Gill will take over the role on May 1st. She's been a teacher and administrator in the district. She'll be leaving her current role as the director of teaching and learning for the McLean County Unit 5 School District. This interview begins with Gill reflecting on how she became a third-generation educator:

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District 186
11:05 am
Mon February 10, 2014

District 186 Considers Tax Referendum Possibilities

Springfield's district 186 is struggling to fill a 5 million dollar gap in the budget for the coming school year. A group of parents and community members say they have an answer to supplementing the district's budget: raise property taxes. But passing a referendum will prove challenging. And if it's going to happen, some say efforts to get the word out need to ramp up now. 

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Local Bands
10:51 am
Thu February 6, 2014

The Complaint Line: Love, Marriage And Rock & Roll

http://thecomplaintlinemusic.com

It's no secret that marriage, disagreements, and nagging can sometimes go hand-in-hand.

And, with lyrics highlighting the challenges of romantic relationships, a local wedded pair has started a band together - calling it 'The Complaint Line'.

The duo is joined by two others who complete the rock set. The group (Shawnda Phillips on bass and vocals, John Phillips on guitar and vocals, Dayton Cripe on guitar and vocals, and Randy Anderson on drums) recently joined Rachel Otwell in the Suggs Studio for this performance and chat: 

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The Legacy
3:22 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Last Chance To See Hedwig And The Angry Inch’s Gender-Bending Rock

Patrick Russell as Hedwig. Photo by John Muchow of Muchow Photography.

(We're revisiting this year-old interview since the musical has made a return. Friday and Saturday are the final performances at The Legacy Theatre in Springfield. Tickets here.)

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UIS Visual Arts Gallery
9:27 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Artist Explores IL Environmental History & Hopes To Change Its Future

 Kevin Veara’s interests and passions may seem a bit unrelated. From wildlife preservation, to tattoos, to bird-watching and painting. Lately he’s been working to restore the presence of wildlife – on his own property and through his art. His work is on display at the UIS Visual Arts Gallery and there’s an opening reception tonight there from 5:30 to 8. WUIS’ Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Veara:

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Education
3:34 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Quinn Lays Out Ed. Initiatives But Doubts Arise

Governor Quinn spent much of his State of the State address on Wednesday addressing education. He says investing in education is a sure way to grow jobs as well as the economy. It's a sentiment that's hard to argue with. His focus on early education was an echo of President Obama's own emphasis on the subject in his last two State of the Union addresses, and Quinn has also previously pushed the idea of making pre-K more widely available. New this year though, Quinn says he wants to double the amount of MAP scholarships offered, which help low-income students attend state universities.

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UIS
9:52 am
Tue January 28, 2014

Decision Made: UIS Will Remain 'Prairie Stars'

uis.edu

The UIS team name will remain the same, after over a year of discussions on whether or not to change it. A consultant group hired by the university came up with suggestions like  the Springers, Sabers, and Mammoths. The consultant group cost the university nearly $20,000. After putting together a task force and soliciting the opinions of students, alumni, and faculty, a decision has been made. UIS Chancellor Susan Koch told WUIS, "Prairie Stars may not be the perfect name, but it's our name. And it's been our name since the 1970s ...

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School Choice
7:00 am
Tue January 28, 2014

School Choice Movement Pushes Agenda

Credit http://schoolchoiceweek.com

 Ask any teacher, superintendent, or government official about it and many would say education funding is in need of some serious change. Local districts are struggling to make ends meet as state and federal appropriations drop - and that means layoffs, school closures, and even shortening the school day in some cases. Some education reform activists say the answer to fixing this problem and others within the system is something called "school choice."

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Education
12:57 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Students Must Make Up Cancelled Classes

 Four extra days of class have been added to the calendar for Springfield public schools, pushing the last day to June 4th. WUIS took a look at how it's decided that school should be canceled ...

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Education
2:13 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

U of I Board OKs Tuition Increase & UIS Student Union

The future UIS student union
Credit uis.edu

Newly approved tuition increases at the University of Illinois mean that four years of college on the flagship campus will top $100,000 for many students. Trustees voted Thursday to raise tuition by 1.7 %. They also increased fees and housing costs. Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Pierre says the increases sticks to a university plan to keep increases in line with inflation.

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The Hoogland
10:34 am
Wed January 22, 2014

Johnny Molson & Gus Gordon Are The Odd Couple

The story of The Odd Couple is one that's been told not only on stage, but as a movie, TV series - even a cartoon. The story is a classic one full of comedic one-liners, but also a lot of heart. Starring in a new local production is radio personality Johnny Molson, and the head of the Hoogland Center for the Arts, Gus Gordon. They recently joined us for this interview, which begins with Gordon explaining why he thinks it's a good fit for local audiences: 

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Live at the Suggs
10:00 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Mulligan Munro Fuse American & Irish Folk

Mulligan Munro
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Mulligan Munro is a folk band consisting of Mark Butler, Maureen Douglas, Don Wright, and Mark Hudson. The group brings an eclectic set of influences to the table, resulting in a repertoire of pub-friendly songs that sound uniquely their own. Mulligan Munro recently joined WUIS in the Suggs Studio for this performance and interview: 

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Arts & Culture
11:57 am
Fri January 10, 2014

'Dumb Records' Is Latest Addition To Southtown Culture

blacksheepspringfield.com

A new record store is opening in Springfield this weekend. Making a profit off vinyl records may sound risky, but the four co-owners have a lot experience building a following in the punk music scene especially. Kevin Bradford recently joined us to talk about it. He owns Black Sheep Cafe, a music venue, and will be one of the co-owners of the record store at 1107 South Grand, called Dumb Records: 

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Education
9:17 am
Tue January 7, 2014

District 186 Still Negotiating With Gill

Jennifer Gill

Jennifer Gill was chosen as the new superintendent for Springfield District 186 after a months-long search. But negotiations have yet to be finalized.   Gill, who currently works for McLean County schools, says the holidays slowed talks, but expects a contract will get done.

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Local Authors
3:49 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Local Teacher & Author Offers New Writings

Cover design for 'Figures in Blue' by Felicia Olin

Ted Morrissey teaches English to high school and college students in Williamsville and Springfield. He manages to write plenty of his own material in his free time. He joined us recently to talk about his unique writing style, what writings he has in the works - and his recently published novella titled 'Figures in Blue':    

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Arts
5:06 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

Local Artist and Veteran Hosts First Gallery Opening

Midnight Beacon
Photo by Dan LoGrasso A Feral Gentleman Productions

December visitors to downtown Springfield's Café Andiamo will be greeted by the photography of artist and Springfield native Dan LoGrasso. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, LoGrasso has honed his camera skills as a military journalist on multiple international and domestic deployments.

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Local Music
7:00 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Epsom Offers Music Scene Shock Rock & Sarcasm

Local band Epsom is Steven Sgro on vocals and guitar, Scott Faingold on vocals, Timothy Harte on drums, and Kristopher Zander on guitar. The group describes their music as "gratuitous shock rock." They joined us recently in the Suggs Studio for this set of performances and an interview: 

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Arts Benefit
7:00 am
Mon December 2, 2013

UIS Art Gallery Kicks Off Silent Auction Fundraiser

From a previous silent auction
Credit uis.edu/visualarts/gallery/

The UIS Visual Arts Gallery hosts multiple exhibits throughout the year that highlight the work of contemporary artists from all over the country. But once annually, the gallery walls are filled with mostly local art - and it's all for sale to the highest bidder. Jeff Robinson heads the UIS gallery - he recently told us all about plans for this year's silent auction,  December 2nd through the 12th: 

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District 186
6:00 am
Tue November 26, 2013

Expelled Students Get A Second Chance

Elbert Betts, Adrianna Sivels, and Andre Williams
Rachel Otwell

When high school students in district 186 are expelled they're left with few options to obtain a diploma or GED. Over a decade ago, the Springfield NAACP started an initiative to address the number of black students being expelled. Since the year 2000, expelled high schoolers have been provided an alternative through those efforts - thanks in large part to retired teachers.

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Musicians
10:40 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Sherman Man Combines Christianity & Hip Hop

Zach Ayappa  is a 23 year old with a lot of passion for two things in particular: hip hop and God. The rapper goes by 'Momma's Boy' - it's a name that lends to starting conversation about his adoption, a topic he raps about along with Christianity. Ayappa hails from Sherman and brings his performances to churches around central Illinois. We caught up with him for an interview and performance at  a baptist church on Springfield's east side: 

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Springfield Arts Association
10:18 am
Fri November 22, 2013

First Night Organizers Plan 5K

First Night Springfield,  Springfield's most-attended public event to celebrate New Year's Eve, will host a 5K race this year. The run and walk will take place around the Scheels store off of MacArthur Boulevard. It's a new addition to the roster of activities that include various arts performances. The race will take place on December 29th.

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Student Debt
8:00 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Local Filmmaker Hones In On "Student Loan Debt Crisis"

Zach Baliva - Executive Producer of 'Deferred'
Credit http://deferredmovie.com/

Zach Baliva says it's become the norm for students to attend college with the help of hefty loans, and all that debt is becoming a serious obstacle for students and graduates. With the film 'Deferred' Baliva, a local documentarian, hopes to explore these issues. He recently joined us to talk about what inspired the movie and plans to get it off the ground: 

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District 186
5:00 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

NAACP Threatens To Sue District 186

Springfield NAACP President, Teresa Haley
Credit http://www.springfieldnaacp.org/

District 186 says it's working hard to hire more minority teachers and administrators. Still, the percentage of minorities in those roles is only half of what it should be according to a decades old desegregation order. And the Springfield branch of the NAACP says it's preparing for a potential lawsuit. 

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UIS
6:06 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

UIS Team Names May Change

Mascot "Cozmo"
Credit www.uisjournal.com

The University Of Illinois Springfield continues to kick around the idea of a new school mascot. The Chancellor's office paid for a consultant whose suggestions include the Springers, Sabers, Mammoths and the Stampede. Aaron Mulvey is the president of the Student Government Association at UIS. He says some students are confused by the Prairie Star nickname and the mascot, a masked boy named Cozmo. Others say they just don't like either.

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Kidzeum
5:41 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Fundraising Efforts Continue To Build Science Museum

A drawing of the planned outcome
Credit http://www.kidzeum.org/

The Kidzeum has been collecting money since 2009 in order to build a science museum for kids. The ongoing goal of raising enough funds seems to finally be near. The museum's board is kicking off its final fund raising phase, 2 million dollars is still needed. We recently caught up with board president, Rachael Thompson, about where the museum is headed, where it will be located, and what it will feature: 

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UIS Events
4:49 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

UIS Hosts 36th International Fest Friday

Springfield-area residents have a chance to get a taste of all things international on Friday. UIS hosts its annual International Festival with food, booths from area groups, entertainment and more. Erica Suzuki and Sarah Jome with UIS's International Student Services joined us for this interview about it: 

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Innocence Project
11:49 am
Tue November 12, 2013

Woman Once Convicted Of Causing Shaken Baby Syndrome Visits UIS

Audrey Edmunds' case is one of the first of its kind taken on by the Innocence Project. Shaken Baby Syndrome affects infants who have been abused, though they often show no external injuries. Medical experts are becoming increasingly wary of the diagnosis - and some say thousands of cases have been misdiagnosed.

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