Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog

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Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 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, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

themilkbank.org

The matter of what to feed an infant has been a historically controversial one. August is National Breastfeeding Month, which is not only meant to draw attention to the fact it's generally considered the best food for babies, but also that not all newborns have access to breast milk - which can be a life-threatening thing for some. Carissa Hawkins is with 'The Milk Bank' - located in Indiana and a supplier for states in the Midwest. She recently spoke with us about it:

CLICK HERE for more info about The Milk Bank.

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

On Monday morning Michael Brown was laid to rest by not only family members, but politicians, community organizers, and hundreds of other members of the public. It's been two weeks since the teen was killed by a police officer. We checked in with St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann for an update on the situation in Ferguson. This interview took place on Monday morning:

CLICK HERE for updated coverage from St. Louis Public Radio.

Derek French, a recent UIS grad says he's part of a "youth movement" concerned with standing up for citizens' constitutional rights. While he says the rally planned for Saturday from noon to 4:15 at the Old State Capitol is not directly related to the situation in Ferguson, the recent turmoil there makes this an important time for community activists in Springfield to stage a "peaceful assembly." Here's our interview with French:

chathamschools.org

Chatham school district is growing at a steady pace, adding about 75 to 100 students each year. That means changes are on the horizon and schools are undergoing much-needed construction in order to expand. Meanwhile, as is the case in many other school districts in the state, it's a challenge to keep the budget balanced. In this interview, Superintendent Carrie Hruby speaks to WUIS about this and more, including school lunches and a mentor program started by a student...

    

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Watching one power-point presentation after another probably doesn't sound all that fun to most folks. But a local version of a worldwide happening strives to make it that way. The unique event draws in a host of diverse characters from the community and gives them about seven minutes to tell their story while showing images that correspond with their talk, each presenter has 20 slides with an image only, that last 20 seconds each.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

All Springfield public school students will get free lunches this year. Most schools in the district already were part of a free meal program that qualified students automatically, no matter their household income. This year, all schools in the district will participate. Iles and Ball Charter Elementary schools were added along with Lincoln Middle School and Springfield High.

Ryne Goodrich

It's been over a week since an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The demonstrations against what many consider police brutality have yet to end. Some Springfield residents have gone to join the protests, including Ryne Goodrich. He's a hip-hop promoter, a rapper, and a community activist. Goodrich shares his take on the situation in this interview:

It's a modern turn of phrase you've probably heard before: "driving while black." It's the notion some people hold that simply being a black driver can make you a target for traffic stops by police. And, it's the topic of Illinois Times Reporter Patrick Yeagle's recent feature article. He spoke with police, and drivers who say they've been a victim of racial profiling in Springfield. He also looked into a study released by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which collects data about race and traffic stops.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

District 186 students are back in the classroom on Monday.  They will see some changes,  including all Springfield public schools observing a one hour early dismissal every Wednesday. Bus routes will run an hour early and after-school programs are available on those days. The district also has a new superintendent, Jennifer Gill. She joined us for this interview about how budget cuts will affect students, why she's hoping to focus on the district's drop-out rate, and more: 

Lincoln New Salem's Theatre in the Park Facebook page

There's more than one venue in the Springfield area to see a show while enjoying some time outdoors. New Salem's Theatre in the Park is bringing back a musical celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Pajama Game follows the story of a pajama factory going through labor disputes, and an unlikely romance that transpires there.

We recently spoke with the two lead actors, Becky Bertram and Mark Wheeler, as well as director Sean VanAusdall-Rose.

The DEMO Project in Springfield showcases contemporary art, much of which is in the form of installations. The pieces come out of the walls, wind around the room and even jump out of the fireplace. Artist and Illinois native Lauren Turk's exhibit titled 'Communal Paradox' opens on Friday evening on the Springfield Art Association's campus. We recently spoke with her.

Ferguson demonstrators
Chris McDaniel/St. Louis Public Radio

18 year old Michael Brown was shot by police on Saturday in a St. Louis suburb called Ferguson, and what was originally a peaceful vigil and protest the next day became a night of arson, rioting, and theft. Since then police and the community continue to square off as tensions around the shooting of Brown, who was black and unarmed, continue to spread. St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann updates us on where things stand as of Wednesday morning.

Native American culture is known for being particularly in tune with the natural world. This has translated to a long tradition of treating ailments with plants and herbal remedies. A presentation on Tuesday afternoon at SIU’s Pearson Museum in Springfield will feature multicultural educator, Arloa Wheeler. She’ll talk about medicine and Native American culture, and recently joined WUIS to tell us about it. 

The presentation is Tuesday noon to 1.

The popular comedic play, Greater Tuna, takes two actors and thrusts them into the world of a fictional Texan town. The actors play a host of characters, who come together and create a world ripe with low-brow and politically incorrect humor. The play opens in Springfield at the Hoogland Center for the Arts Friday night. WUIS was recently joined by the cast members Rich McCoy and Darin Harms to talk about it: 

facebook.com/TheBrianBanksStory

 To date, over 300 people have been let out of prison before their sentences are up because of a group called The Innocence Project. Many of those people were exonerated because of advances in DNA evidence. In Springfield on Saturday, the Illinois Innocence Project hosts its 7th Defenders of the Innocent Awards Dinner. Brian Banks will be one of the key speakers. He knows first hand what it's like being in innocent and sent to prison anyway: 

springfieldchoralsociety.org

Here in town, there's a chorus made up of professional singers, housewives, state workers, and other area residents who audition and make the cut to be part of The Springfield Choral Society. Marion van der Loo has been leading the charge for several years as the music director and conductor. Her poetry will part of the group's concerts this weekend. She recently stopped by WUIS to tell us more about it: The Springfield Choral Society performs twice this weekend - on Saturday night at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Springfield and on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Church in Chatham.

Carl Van Vechten

 75 years ago an African-American singer named Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C and performed for tens of thousands of people. It's been called “The Concert that Shook the Establishment." During her lifetime - Anderson's unique voice was heard and praised around the world. She remains an important figure for music as well as civil rights.  Ollie Watts Davis, a professor of voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is paying tribute to Anderson this weekend.

old-shoe.com

It's been twenty years since the roots-rock group called The Band was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. And Illinois-based band will be paying tribute to them at Donnie's venue in Springfield on Saturday. Called Old Shoe -- the group's original music is heavily influenced by The Band and The Grateful Dead. Old Shoe's Matt Robinson tells us more in this piece produced by Rachel Otwell:

sps186.org

The board president of the Springfield School District says there's no chance a tax referendum will get on the November ballot. 

A community group is pushing an idea to raise property taxes,  and the board's vice president is pushing for a county-wide sales tax hike. Both would benefit district 186, though the county sales-tax hike would help all schools in the county and most the money would have to go to facility costs.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Springfield public schools may start classes later once per week, beginning next school year. But the district is going to garner more public feedback before making a final decision. After district officials spoke with a group of parents, it was clear some are against the original plan of pushing back the start of the school day. Now another option is on the table: early dismissal. Either way - it'd be a redistribution of hours slated for professional development.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Public schools are not allowed to forbid students' right to freedom of speech, unless it disrupts education. But that wasn't necessarily true until a court case from Iowa made its way to the Supreme Court back in the 60s. John Tinker was behind the case, known as Tinker v. Des Moines. He and other students went to school wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. They were kicked out and told not to come back to class unless they removed the bands and the rest as they say, is history.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Charter schools have long been a divisive issue. Supporters say they allow schools to teach kids free of burdensome regulations.  Opponents say they take money away from traditional schools.  In Illinois this year, those views are colliding.  In the final installment of our series, we find out about the fight at the statehouse and what it might mean for charters:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Nearly two decades ago when the state legislature paved the way for charter schools, Republicans were in control and touted them as an innovative way to improve education by removing many rules and regulations. Now there are about 145 charter school campuses across the state, the vast majority in Chicago. Supporters say they are the change an ailing education system needs, but it's a contentious topic. In this report, the first of a two-part series, we visit a charter school and explore the differing opinions about them:

The theater department at University of Illinois Springfield is known for putting on thought-provoking and modern plays. The one premiering this weekend is no exception, called 'How I Learned to Drive' it follows the tale of a woman looking back at her adolescence, a time wrought with some pretty heavy issues. Rachel Otwell recently spoke with the director, Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson and actor and co-dramaturg Christina Craig: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

This weekend two openings will take place on the campus of the Springfield Art Association. One will combine the artworks of University of Illinois Springfield faculty in an exhibit called, Trigger: New Work by UIS Art Faculty. That will be in the new M.G. Nelson Family Gallery. The reception is on Friday, 5:30-7:30pm. The exhibit will run through April 25.  

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Enchanted April is a play set nearly a decade ago about two English women who go off to Italy together for a vacation in an empty castle. They advertise for traveling companions, and the result is a story rich in self-awakenings that combine the unique personalities and life-experiences of four women. We recently spoke with two actors in the play which opens this weekend in Springfield, Carly Shank and Leigh Steiner.

It's been nearly a century since women gained the right to vote through a federal amendment. But there are still lessons to be learned from the suffrage movement, and many women still face inequality. Female lawmakers, historians, and political scientists will convene at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum's Union Theatre in Springfield on Thursday night to discuss the lasting impact of women's suffrage. Issues discussed will include the fight for equal pay and representation in government.

 The Springfield school board had earlier approved the reduction of over 40 positions for next school year. On Monday the board identified which specific workers may be without a job as a result. Dave Heinzel is one of them. The board voted to give him what's called a reduction in force notice. He oversees media production - and helps keep the district website up and running.

Rachel Otwell

School districts across the state are facing increasingly desperate budget situations, and the future doesn't look much better if things continue down the some path.

Rachel Otwell

Adam Perschbacher's artwork is edgy - quite literally. His geometric, 3D works range from black and white simplicity, to the jagged and colorful. The local artist's work is currently on display at the Madden Arts Center in Decatur and runs through March 29th. The solo-exhibition is called, "DISILLUSION: The Objects of Adam G.

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