July 24, 2014

Early childhood education touted as way to fight crime (AUDIO)

Lincoln Public Safety Dir. Tom Casady leads news conference with (from L) Joshua Spaulding with Fight Crime and Sen. Burke Harr

Lincoln Public Safety Dir. Tom Casady leads news conference with (from L) Joshua Spaulding with Fight Crime and Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha

A push is underway to promote early childhood education as a way to reduce crime.

Advocates admit this is a long-term solution, but argue that money spent upfront in the first few years of life could make the difference between a child growing up to be a criminal or growing up to be a productive member of society.

State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha stated during a news conference in Lincoln the discussion underway at the Capitol on reducing prison over-crowding needs to be expanded.

“It’s obvious we have a problem. We have got to find a way to lower our prison rates. I don’t think anyone wants to build new prisons,” Harr said. “So, the question is, how do we do that? It’s not an overnight fix.”

A group called “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids,” hosted the news conference at the Justice and Law Enforcement Center in Lincoln.

The group touts research which indicates early childhood education has a number of benefits, including reducing crime. Its report, “I’m the guy you pay later,” outlines the benefits, such as a drop in abuse and neglect, better school outcomes, less need for special education, better reading and math scores, fewer drop-outs, and less crime.

Sen. Harr answers questions from reporters

Sen. Harr answers questions from reporters

The report argues that states can either fund pre-Kindergarten education or pay a greater price down the road when children grow into a life of crime.

The group has attracted the support of 5,000 law officers throughout the country, including nearly 80 in Nebraska.

Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady spoke for the Nebraska officers, stating that the current discussion about ways to fight crime needs to be broadened to ways to prevent crime.

“So, if we can expand the discussion a little bit and get all of our citizens to start thinking more about the importance of prevention so that we’re really not just thinking about the end of the road, with adding a judge, increasing the number of deputy sheriffs, and building a new jail, I think we’ll all be better off for that discussion,” Casady reasoned.

Sen. Harr acknowledged that can be a difficult argument to make in the Unicameral, but insisted it is one that can be made.

“We policy makers, just like law enforcement, we like our facts,” Harr said. “So now, we have facts that prove, it’s not easy, but over the long term this is the better way.”

AUDIO:  Open to news conference on the benefits of early childhood education. [9 min.]

Expert: Too much social media can make kids anti-social

Summer should be a time for kids in Nebraska to play at the park, ride bikes and learn how to paddle a canoe, not to while away the hours on Facebook.

One expert suggests parents should limit a teen’s access to social media, internet and T-V during summer vacation.

Peter Komendowski, with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, says too much screen time can raise the risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

“Children are not happy if they spend an excessive amount of time on Facebook,” Komendowski says. “We’ve even heard children say things like, ‘I OD’d on Facebook.’ They start sensing that there’s a problem with how much involvement there is and what we forget as parents is they count on us to lead them and to give them guidance as to what to do.”

Social media can be a very antisocial experience, he says, when it reduces the actual time spent in activities with friends and family members.

Komendowski says, “Studies are showing that the more time children spend on the media as a basis of how many hours a week they spend doing things, the more difficult time they have structuring decisions when it comes to high-risk behavior.”

Too much social media and screen time can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which he says is setting the stage for substance abuse and other high risk behavior. Smart phones aren’t evil, he says, but they need to be used properly.

“If you use your cell phone to make a date with somebody to meet at the ball field to play ball or to go to a movie, that’s a great tool,” Komendowski says. “But if you’re spending all of your time just interacting on the media, the risks in terms of how children feel, their psychological strength, their behavioral sort of aptitude, those things begin to get diminished.”

He says parental involvement in youth-focused media improves a children’s physical health, sleep, school performance and social behaviors.

The average Nebraska teen spends 35 hours a week in the classroom and more than 55 hours a week engaged in social media, video games, television and internet activities.


Interim NU President Touts Competitiveness Initiative in Advance of Budget

A $20 million economic competitiveness initiative is part of a University of Nebraska budget proposal, driven by continued economic development.

Interim President Dr. James Linder notes that the university is taking a long term view of future budgets and where the university can excel to meet those needs.

“They are all large complex programs–Innovation Campus, Peter Kiewit, and other long term programs,” according to Dr. Linder. “It’s not as if we’re going to invest a dollar today and see a return on it tomorrow.”

“These are programs which will benefit the state over the next decade.”

Dr. Linder notes that the university must continue to conduct cutting edge research and be at the forefront of new developments.

“We live in a dynamic world and we constantly face competition from both other states and globally,” Linder says. “Activities like the Nebraska Innovation Campus, Peter Kiewit Institute, and Rural Futures Initiative help us compete on a global scale.”

Areas of proposed investment include supporting the relocation of UNL’s Department of Food Science and Technology to Innovation Campus. The NU budget proposal will next be taken to the Board of Regents before going to the governor and legislature for passage.

UNL to lead $11.5M research into building blocks of universe (AUDIO)

UNL Physicist Aaron Dominguez

UNL Physicist Aaron Dominguez

University of Nebraska-Lincoln physicists will lead a team from eight universities in a five-year, $11.5 million research project looking into the building blocks of the universe.

UNL Physicist Aaron Dominguez said the grant will allow for an upgrade of the accelerator at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

“And it produces these very violent explosions similar to the Big Bang,” Dominguez told a small gathering at the Lincoln campus. “It allows us essentially to have a microscope looking down at the smallest structures of the fabric of the universe. And what we’re doing is upgrading our microscope. We’re upgrading the part that can actually see these collisions.”

Dominguez stated the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has proved invaluable in leading scientist closer to an understanding of how the universe began. It helped find the Higgs boson. Still, he says much remains unknown.

The UNL team helped build the original Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, one of two large particle detector experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

The National Science Foundation grant will allow the accelerator to be upgraded in stages from 2019.

Collaborators include the University of Kansas, University of Illinois at Chicago, Rutgers University, Cornell University, SUNY Buffalo, Purdue University Calumet, University of Notre Dame, and Northeastern University.

According to the university, UNL’s role will be to build new modules for the pixel detector capable of taking 40 million images a second at a total resolution of more than 120 million pixels.

Dominguez called the grant a first step with a lot of exciting and stressful work ahead.

“I got an email from one of my colleagues that I respect very much at Princeton who has similar cooperative agreement and he said, ‘Aaron, congratulations, you’re troubles have finally begun,’” Dominguez said to laughter in the room.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

AUDIO:  UNL Physicist Aaron Dominguez explains the work the $11.5 million NSF grant will fund. [1:45]

Nebraska kids in seven grades to be subjected to new health screenings

Students attending public schools in Nebraska this fall will undergo a different set of health screenings as new standards are being issued by the state Department of Health.

Judy Martin, Deputy Director for Community and Environmental Health, says the changes should help student performance.

“These new screenings will also include height, weight and body mass index,” Martin says. “We feel those new enhanced screenings give both schools and parents a better picture of what’s going on with their children’s health.”

Martin says children in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, seventh and tenth grades will be screened.

“These are key grades for students,” Martin says. “Know that these screenings are a big job for schools to undertake. It’s a fewer number of students that are being screened each year but the amount of screening by adding the height, weight and body mass index has increased.”

Martin says the screenings are designed to identify any health issues that may prevent children from performing at their full potential.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton