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Wilson County Schools shutting down

As predicted by Director Jeff Luttrell on Tuesday, Wilson County Schools announced Friday that it would be closed until after Labor Day.

“I know this is a hardship on everybody,” Luttrell said in a phone interview Friday. “This was not an easy decision.”

The number of COVID-19 cases and absences as a result of close contacts with positive individuals continue to drive student, staff and teacher absences with the trend lines all going in the wrong direction.

Attendance districtwide as of Thursday was 85%, Luttrell said, and nine schools were below that level. As of Wednesday night, the district had recorded 684 positive COVID cases since school started. The district only had 1,300 cases all of last year. This year, 4,174 students have been ID’d as close contacts. That compares to 5,863 all of last year.

“I cannot deny the fact that cases are continuing to rise,” Luttrell said, adding that he’s hoping the shutdown works. “It’s is the only tool I have in my toolbox.”

On Friday, 208 teachers and staff were absent, he said, compared with a typical number of 90 to 95. The district had 96 unfilled classroom positions, mostly teachers, for which certified substitutes could not be found. Thirty-three bus routes were down Friday.

“Principals are indicating an inability to staff classrooms,” he said.

There will be no remote instruction or learning expectations while school is out, the district said. But, it is not canceling extracurricular activities, so sports and other activities will continue outside of normal school hours, a decision Luttrell acknowledged will be criticized.

“Our students have lost so much because of the pandemic,” Luttrell said. “They’ve lost the opportunity to make memories that we have for the rest of our lives.”

That, combined with the fact that COVID transmission is reduced when outside, contributed to his decision, Luttrell said.

“I’ll take the criticism for that,” he said.

The Lebanon Special School District, which closed this week due to COVID-19, plans to reopen Monday. It will return with “masks requested,” which means that all students and staff will be strongly encouraged to wear masks.

In announcing its return, the LSSD said district officials have been lobbying state leaders for more flexibility in dealing with the pandemic, something Luttrell has also said is needed.

This year, schools in Tennessee cannot use a hybrid/remote system that proved successful last year in keeping schools open.

When asked to assess the prospects for getting through the school year successfully, Luttrell called himself an optimist, but he urged county residents to take action while stopping short of actually calling for people to get vaccinated.

“I encourage people to really think about taking care of themselves and their families,” he said. “I encourage people to go to their doctors and get with them to make the best decision.”

Anniversary celebration at Pickett Chapel

The restoration of Lebanon’s historic Pickett Chapel continues, and the Wilson County Black History Committee is inviting anyone interested to an open house today to come celebrate the church’s 155-year anniversary.

Committee Chairman Mary Harris said Thursday that the event will showcase the renovations made to the chapel as well as several cherished memoirs reflecting its past.

The two-hour event starts at 4 p.m. and will feature several guest speakers prominent in the local community. It is free, but donations for the restoration of the original building are welcome. Those speakers include Gratia Stother, Conference Archivist for the Tennessee United Methodist Conference, Pastor Grace Zimindi, Seays Chapel UMC, Phillip and Shannon Hodge, Lebanon First UMC, Linda Collier, Bethlehem UMC.

Harris, who is also Pickett-Rucker UMC historian, and author of “A History of Pickett Chapel,” has organized the event with the help of clergy and laity from Pickett-Rucker UMC, Lebanon First UMC, and local historians.

There will be a program about the history of the chapel, as well as booths and fellowship.

Chapel history

Pickett Chapel was built in 1827 by enslaved and free blacks, some of whom were skilled laborers, to serve as the building for the congregation that today is known as Lebanon First United Methodist Church.

In 1866, the property was sold to free blacks, and named Pickett Chapel. In 1973, the congregation, now known as Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church, marched to their new location at 633 Glover Street in Lebanon.

The historic building was one of the earliest brick churches built for Methodists in Middle Tennessee, and was the second brick church building in Middle Tennessee to be used exclusively as a Historically Black Church. The congregation likely began with some of the 78 African Americans recorded as members of the Lebanon Circuit in 1820.

Local counselor turned YouTube sensation

A Lebanon-based clinical psychotherapist, Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes has just crossed a major milestone on her YouTube channel, 100,000 subscribers, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Snipes describes herself as a disruptor, someone who’s helped turn the continuing education industry for counselors, social workers, nurses and case managers into a system that opens doors instead of putting up barriers.

Snipes provides a service to counselors and others seeking information about mental health research. Her YouTube channel is called AllCEUs Counseling Education and offers free in-depth integrative video lectures for health and behavioral health professionals as well as the general public to learn about mental health issues and the mind-body connection.

For Snipes, the calling stems from what she sees as an “ethical responsibility,” to ensure affordable, effective and free education materials for clinicians and to enhance the health and mental health literacy of the general public. She identified this need after observing a noticeable lack of content that translated research to practical useful tools for enhancing mental health and addressing issues like addiction, depression, anxiety and trauma, she said.

She gave an example about how someone can read a book on how to tune up a car, but taking that consumed content and applying it to the actual car isn’t so easy.

Snipes said for her, helping anybody access that kind of information is what drives her. “I really feel a passion to make sure anybody had access to it in an understandable way.”

She said she regularly gets comments like “I wish I had known this years ago,” and “Thank you so much. What I have been experiencing makes so much more sense now.”

According to the counselor, getting CEUs has historically been pretty expensive. Her service has disrupted that trend and the industry by slashing costs for students.

Although she does have a large contingency of subscribers who are interested in learning about the topics of the lectures, her channel’s biggest group comes from those seeking to gain the credits needed for a continuing education program. She said this group comprises about 60-70% of her subscribers.

While Snipes’ main focus is running the YouTube channel, she does still make time for a small caseload of patients. “It’s another one of my ethical things,” she said. “If I’m going to teach something I need to have actually implemented it myself.”

Path to 100K

Although she’s had the channel for a decade, she’s seen large jumps in subscribers over just the past three years. She said Thursday that she had resisted turning on ads on the service. “I didn’t want to bother my viewers. I wanted them to have a clean experience. Eventually my partner convinced me to try it.”

“As soon as we turned on ad monetization about 3 years ago, we went from not much of anything to 100,000 followers. In hindsight, this makes sense, because YouTube is going to be more likely to promote videos that make them money, rather than cost them money.”

That uptick has happened “exponentially,” according to Snipes, who feels like that will only continue.

“The YouTube algorithms seem to give you a lot more love once you hit the 100K mark. We are expecting to hit 500K probably in the next two years.”

Snipes said her current reach is particularly strong in the U.S., Germany, South Africa, India, Australia and Canada.

“We also have a really strong foothold in Alaska, which I think is really cool.,” she said. Without abundant resources for mental health counselor education in the Last Frontier State, some have had a hard time getting proper training.

“We have been able to work with them and tailor culturally competent services to Alaskan natives.”

Identifying and targeting windows of need like this is probably one of the things that has propelled her to such success.

Problems facing

people today

Although every person faces their own individual challenges in different ways, Snipes said one of the largest issues facing people, particularly adolescents, today is anxiety.

Anxiety comes in many different forms, and can manifest itself across a spectrum of symptoms.

“For some people, anxiety affects them somatically. Some get upset stomachs, experience gastro-intestinal disturbances, or have difficulty sleeping. Others get irritable, agitated, some people experience feelings of depression.”

One such type of anxiety is abandonment anxiety. This is experienced by people in relationships who are afraid the other person might leave. According to Snipes, it usually occurs after someone has experienced trauma.

“It makes it hard to be in relationships because they don’t trust the other person is gonna be around for a long time,” she said.

Snipes also said that this was hardly something brought on exclusively by COVID-19.

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing much higher rates of anxiety among adolescents.

“Adolescence is a time of individuation, figuring out who they are. There are almost too many options now. And people are getting overwhelmed.”

“Before the internet, we often chose to exert more effort into maintaining relationships,” she said.

“Due to an abundance of options these days, people are more likely to cut bait at the first sign of distress leading the other person to experience a sense of abandonment.”

Snipes cited “ghosting,” as a phenomenon which didn’t really happen before the advent of the internet.

“As soon as there seems to be any boredom or disconnect in a relationship, people are more inclined to say ‘ehh,’ there’s other people out there.”

This can have a lot of negative repercussions, Snipes said and it comes from a lack of skills for how to deal with conflict.

She hopes that her channel can provide a little direction for viewers.

Channel perks

and offerings

Her live stream session Thursday was about positive parenting and featured a Q and A portion, which differs from her typical programs. She wanted to make an interactive component to the channel, so she offers this once a week.

She said the way she constructs these streams is to have a topic of discussion, which she briefs viewers on, before taking the questions from the floor.

Snipes discussed a little about positive parenting prior to the stream.

“It’s about creating a nurturing parenting strategy.

“It’s not just saying everything is fine, you’re wonderful and everything you do is perfect. Its kind of the opposite. It’s about creating a safe and nurturing environment in which the caregiver can provide constructive feedback about behaviors,” she said.

Doing so will increase the child’s sense of self esteem. “When something happens, we teach them to separate the action from the person. For example, Johnny is not a bad boy. Johnny is a good boy who made a choice.”

Mt. Juliet, county to discuss ambulance service

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners will be meeting with Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto on Monday to discuss the relocation of ambulances from the Mt. Juliet fire stations on Belinda Parkway and East Hill Drive to two new Wilson Emergency Management Agency stations on Central Pike and Clemmons Road.

Last December, the Wilson County Commission approved the relocation as part of a $43.5 million bond alongside the expansion of the Wilson County Jail.

The new WEMA stations will be under construction in the coming months and operational in about a year.

Mt. Juliet decided to separate from WEMA and work on a partnership with a private ambulance company a month later.

City officials believed a private/public partnership would maintain ambulances services in Mt. Juliet.

In a work session last January, Fire Chief Luffman told city commissioners a private company could be hired at no cost to provide emergency services for residents.

City officials also thought that moving the WEMA ambulances to the new county stations will lead to longer response times to different areas and neighborhoods in this city.

Luffman said that he and the Mt. Juliet Fire Department are noticing a growing trend of ambulances from other zones having to make longer trips to Mt. Juliet to answer calls for emergency service.

Ambulances from WEMA stations in Lakeview, Laguardo, and Gladeville enter Mt. Juliet an average of 3-5 times daily.

“These stations make it difficult to provide efficient service for our city because it leaves those three zones without EMS transport,” said Luffman.

Hutto said WEMA’s two new stations will help ambulance service and fire protection overall in Wilson County.

“We’ve got all the citizens to think about,” said Hutto. “We’re still servicing Mt. Juliet; we haven’t diminished any ties. The move is to make things better, not worse.”

WEMA provided fire protection for Mt. Juliet prior to the formation of the city fire department in 2014.

The MJFD wants to keep ambulance services available from their stations and add an ambulance to the North District station upon completion of its construction.

“We want our ambulances to stay in Mt. Juliet because they have been in this city for a long time,” said Luffman. “We think much work has been done to nurture the relationship and service for our citizens.”

Mt. Juliet’s work on building its third fire station near Green Hill High School has gotten city officials to believe a third ambulance for this station is needed due to the city’s growth.

In last January’s work session, Luffman presented a model in which three ambulances would be placed at the city’s three fire stations.

Mayor James Maness thought that if the city agrees on a private-public partnership for MJFD, they have to take further details including call dispatching and workflow into consideration.