It’s Friday and it’s gonna be hot 🔥 as heat indices of 108-114° will be found across Northwest Florida. More on that below.
(Oh, and the story on the students building a Rover is a little long…but a REALLY good look at what’s happening with STEM in our local community.)
Okaloosa Schools releases updated COVID-19 info
With the first day of school on the horizon, the Okaloosa County School District has released new COVID-19 information for parents as it pertains to the upcoming school year.
“We’ve taken a three-pronged approach that focuses on student’s safety, academic growth and mental health,” said Superintendent Marcus Chambers. “Each of these areas are critically important to the development of our students. As we have prepared for the upcoming school year, we felt it important to review data from last year provided by the department of health.”
According to Chambers, data from last year in Okaloosa County schools led the District to return to more “normal school operations.”
“With safety measures in place last year, the Department of Health quarantined 10,396 students through contact tracing that occurred in our schools,” continued Chambers. “It’s important for our parents to know that of the 10,396 quarantine events, only 1.3% of the students developed COVID as a result of transmission within the schools.
Chambers added that although the OCSD would like to see zero transmissions between students in the schools, this was still an exceptionally low rate.
“That means that almost 99% of contact traced students did not develop COVID,” said Chambers. “Our goal is to keep healthy students in school.”
With that goal in mind, the OCSD created a Q&A Guide for parents that will provide more specific information on how Okaloosa schools will operate this year.
“At this time, we are allowing students with no COVID symptoms to remain in school in order to balance the student’s health with their academic growth and mental and social, emotional wellbeing,” said Chambers. “Rest assured, we will still have procedures in place to keep our buildings clean and sanitized with safety measures implemented.”
A few highlights from the new Guide:
Masks were not required last year, and they will not be required this year. Parents are welcome to provide a mask for their child if they choose. Schools will have a supply of masks available.
Wellness/temperature checks will not be done daily upon arrival to school.
Normal school activities such as field trips will resume. Athletic events and extracurricular activities such as band and choral concerts will occur as normal.
Parents will be able to volunteer in classrooms this fall and chaperone trips.
Desk barriers are not part of the classroom plan this year but will be available if requested by a parent.
Students build remote-controlled Rovers from the ground up
It’s been a busy week at the HSU Innovation Institute in Fort Walton Beach.
All week long, the Wizzy Rover Arduino/Robotics camp participants have been building remote-controlled cars from the ground up. This includes the use of an Arduino controller, soldering all components onto the controller board, adding proximity sensors, some LEDs and PS3 controllers.
Students have also been writing code to handle the initial controller start-up functionality as well as hazard avoidance.
And the team at Bit-Wizards could not be happier to be a partner on this camp and have some of their subject-matter experts teach the students.
“When you have an expert, that’s doing this every day in the course of their job, they’re able to share what it would look like to work on an aircraft or work on a car, or apply the skill in a real way, and that makes it come to life,” said Amanda Negron, Hsu Innovative Institute.
This week, that expert was Dave Perkins.
Perkins is the Principal Senior Software Engineer at Bit-Wizards where he writes computer software for Windows apps, Windows services, phone apps, IOT projects and more.
Back in March of this year, Bit-Wizards held a GameChangers event with the Hsu Innovative Institute at their headquarters on Memorial Parkway. The original plan was to do this robotics project but soon realized that they would need more than just the half-hour time slot for the class.
When given the opportunity to do a week-long camp, Perkins knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“One of the things that we found that we wanted to get away from was a bunch of the wiring that was involved,” explained Perkins. “So that led to us doing our own circuit. Then we decided to make a second circuit board, which is a light bar for the back. By doing that, we were able to brand it with our at the same time.”
For the students, in order to make the Rovers work, they started with learning to code.
“We walked through the code so that they could go through and figure out how it all works, and then they can make changes if they want,” explained Perkins.
According to Perkins, the Rovers will drive forwards, backwards, make turns, and avoid obstacles.
“We added light detection, so if the Rover detects that it’s in a dark dim-lit room, then it turns the front light bar on and brightens it up,” he explained. “If it’s too bright, then it turns the light bar off unless it was manually turned on. We’ve also added obstacle avoidance with lights so as it’s driving along, it detects what’s in front of it and it determines if it needs to stop.”
And while Perkins felt like the students would enjoy building a Rover, he laughed when admitting that he was “scared to death” leading up to the first day.
“I was terrified that the kids wouldn’t find it exciting and be engaged,” said Perkins. “But it has totally gone opposite of that. It has been a blast. We’ve got a lot of kids eager to learn, and they’re coming up with their own ideas on how they can make their Rovers behave differently.”
“It’s part of what we want to do to give back to the community and to get kids involved in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Vince Mayfield, Bit-Wizards CEO. “It’s part of the core thing that we do here at Bit-Wizards. Louis (Erickson) and I remember back in the early 2000s, they were telling everybody that all of our jobs are going to be outsourced overseas. A lot of kids quit going to math and science and engineering and so we’ve had a shortage for a number of years.”
Bit-Wizards fully supports Dr. Paul Hsu’s mission to get kids started early, even if that means getting their own employees to spend a week teaching these students.
“Dave gets to really immerse himself in something that he really loves and he’s great with the kids,” said Mayfield. “You should have seen the excitement around the office as we printed up specialized circuit boards with our Wizzy logo on them. Dave came back and went ‘Oh dude, I can make the eyes light up!‘. So it was a lot of fun.”
“This is something where we can take our tools, our talent, and our time and make something happen with these kids,” continued Mayfield. “I think we’re giving them a spark, piquing their interest. Not every kid loves science, math, engineering & technology, but we give them that opportunity to be exposed to it. Once you sort of ignite that fire in somebody it could turn into a lifelong career or a lifelong dream.”
For Mayfield, he knows that not all of these students will stay around here locally, and that’s ok. To him, it’s still a great benefit to our society.
“These are the people that are the producers, the makers of new things,” he said. “This is the innovation that’s going to create the tomorrow for us, and so that’s why I think it’s important. It’s all about inspiration and getting kids interested in cool things.”
“We’ve been very excited to see the students exploring robotics and not only building the robots, but programming them,” said Amanda Negron, Executive Director Hsu Educational Foundation. “There were students that came in not knowing what to expect and who were new to our program. This is a great introduction to science, technology, engineering, and math in a hands-on way. So I hope that the students are going to walk away realizing that math and science are fun.”
It’s a hot one today 🥵
It has been ridiculously hot this week as our area continues to be under an excessive heat warning and heat advisory.
“Hot and humid conditions will remain in place across the forecast area through the weekend,” said Patrick Maddox, Okaloosa Public Safety Director. “This will result in dangerous heat indices across much of the region, to extremely dangerous heat along coastal areas.”
The excessive heat may extend into Sunday.
According to Maddox, high temperatures will rise into the middle to upper 90s each day through the weekend.
These hot temperatures will combine with dew-points well into the 70s to result in afternoon.
Early evening heat index values between 113 and 115 degrees across the Excessive Heat Warning area, and 108 to 112 degrees over the Heat Advisory area.
In addition, overnight low temperatures will remain very warm in the middle to upper 70s, with oppressive humidity levels, which will offer little in the way of relief during the overnight periods.
“These very hot temperatures and heat index values will create an extremely dangerous situation, especially for those participating in strenuous outdoor activities or individuals with underlying health conditions,” Maddox continued. “Prolonged outdoor activities should be postponed during this period of very dangerous heat conditions.”
Maddox reminds residents to check on those without air conditioning and also remember to care for outdoor pets.
Stay safe out there this weekend!
Airport Road Safety Improvements in Destin
On July 21st and July 22nd, safety improvements began to include the milling and resurfacing of the curved section of Airport Road, along with temporary striping and new asphalt.
High friction surface treatment will be installed late August and project completion is scheduled for mid-September, according to Catherine Card, Public Information Manager for Destin.
“Please be patient as we provide these additional measures to promote driver safety and use caution while driving through the work zone,” she continued.
Other improvements will include new signage, new pavement markings, and speed detection devices.
🚐 “Cram The Van” school supply drive
Help the Emerald Coast Association of Realtor’s Community Military Outreach Committee (CMOC) “Cram the Van” and “stuff the truck” to help local elementary school students!
Help teachers and students have the best, stress-free school year possible by picking up the supplies listed here and dropping them off at AJ’s on the Bayou on Friday, July 30, from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Mask-wearing and other public health protocols are again in effect at Eglin Air Force Base and other local military installations under guidance from the Department of Defense (DoD) for military facilities in areas of “substantial or high community transmission” of the coronavirus.