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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Important community event tonight

The Lowell schools, police and attorney general’s office are sponsoring a community forum tonight at LHS Auditorium, 50 Morrissette Blvd., 6-8 p.m., on prescription drug abuse among our youth. (The meeting will be televised on channel 22.)This problem is not unique to Lowell, however, we are taking a proactive position of partnering together to do something about it. As the parent of teens myself, I know what most of you are thinking: This isn’t a problem that impacts my kids. In fact, when I told my son he was required to attend the event, he gave me a similar response. “I don’t do drugs, so I don’t have to go.” Wrong! We all need to be informed—whether the problem hits directly at home or not. Someday it may impact your teen’s friend, a neighbor, or (God forbid) a family member; well-educated means well-prepared to deal with the issue. Join with us tonight to learn the dangers, warning signs, and actions we can take to protect our young people. Even one life derailed from drug abuse, hurts us all.

After that, if you’re looking for more to do, attend the school committee meeting at city hall, at 8 p.m.

posted in Education, Local People, Lowell High, Youth | 1 Comment

Include the Friends in your weekend plans

There’s a lot going on around the city this weekend with the Lowell Open Studios and Arts Festival beginning tonight and running through Sunday. This year’s event will also feature a Youth Arts Recognition ceremony in honor of all the young people who participated in the festival. In addition, the Friends of Lowell High School will host a party on Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group. Along with great music by LHS alumnus Ralph Funaro, delicious desserts, and a chance to thank founding members for an astounding three decades of supporting one of the best urban high schools in the state, attendees will get to participate in a fabulous silent auction featuring more than 50 items. Money raised from the event will go toward the FLHS Scholarship Fund. Tickets are $30 each or $50 per couple, and can be purchased at the door Saturday evening, Sept. 26, at Long Meadow Golf Club, 165 Havilah Street, Lowell, 7-11 pm. Earlier this week, The Sun published an article about the group’s history and current role at the high school. Saturday’s anniversary celebration will not only mark the group’s longevity and impact on decades of high school students, but should also be a rocking good time.

posted in Art, City Life, Education, Local Groups, Lowell High, Youth | 0 Comments

President addresses students

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, at noon, President Obama will address students across the country with a welcome-back-to-school message. Lowell Public Schools will broadcast the address live for all schools to access on Lowell Educational TV (L.E.T.) Channel 22. In addition, educators may access suggested classroom activities via Obama’s website for further opportunities to engage students in discussion about education. I’m not sure if past presidents have made such a concerted effort to connect with our youth, but I applaud Obama’s recognition of how important it is to make that effort and the significance of his leadership in this area. Any attempt to make young people aware of the relevancy of their education and its role in our collective success makes sense and is good for the entire nation.

posted in Education, National issues, Youth | 0 Comments

You can’t have it both ways: no revenue=more pain

On Easter evening, we sat in horrible traffic on 128 heading home from Peabody. We were probably 20 miles north of the Mass Turnpike, yet we suffered from the state’s attempt to save money by limiting holiday toll workers. I also mourned the loss of lights on the Zakim Bridge to save money—albeit a cosmetic rather than critical expense. And last week, I listened to cafeteria workers and their supporters tell the Lowell School Committee about the “unfairness” of possibly losing their jobs. Believe me, I felt their pain. It’s unfair that the schools must cut between $5 and $10 million, and it’s unfair that the city may face even deeper cuts. It’s unfair that people are losing their homes and jobs. And it is unfair that the Senate’s proposed budget cuts even further than the House or Governor into human service programs that impact the neediest in our state. Yet, no one wants more taxes, and who can blame them? The reality is we are in a global economic crisis, and budgets must be tightened at all levels. Yet, there are some cuts that are simply too shortsighted and too deep to make sense, and that’s where the case for additional revenue must be made. No matter how you look at it, increasing taxes is nasty business, especially these days. But whether it’s the Governor’s gas and candy tax, the House sales tax, or another revenue-building scheme (such as closing corporate communication loopholes and municipal relief options), something must be done. We cannot sustain the level of cuts the Senate is currently proposing without severe impacts to our collective quality of life in the Commonwealth—not only because it will harm those most vulnerable, but because the losses will be far-reaching, long-lasting and in the end, more costly to recover. (The impact on youth program cuts alone—from gutting the Shannon Grant, DPH, and jobs for kids—will be felt for years in terms of increased crime and gang violence, more dropouts, drug abuse, and other related, costly ills.) As unpopular as it is, I stand for increased revenues along with smart belt tightening and sensible, much-needed reforms. Without it, there will be a lot more outrage and pain, and the road to recovery that much harder to find.

posted in Money Matters, State Concerns, Youth | 0 Comments

Swine flu confirmed in Lowell

Two students from a Lowell parochial school have been confirmed to have swine flu. The students and their mother, who is a paraprofessional in the public schools, never attended school since returning from their vacation in Mexico, which means their exposure to others has been limited and did not include school buses or classrooms. Given confirmation of their illness, the students and their mother will not be returning to school until this is behind them. Lowell schools will also follow the protocol recommended by the Mass. Dept of Public Health, which allows that students and school staff who have recently traveled to an area where swine flu cases have been confirmed and who do not have symptoms may attend school. (Keep in mind, the flu has a 24-hour incubation period.) Obviously, everyone is on heightened alert, and school nurses will be educating staff and children about ways to avoid exposure. According to the Mass. DPH website on influenza, you can protect yourself and others from swine flu the same way you protect yourself from seasonal flu: Avoid holding, hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with anyone who has a cold or the flu. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes, and clean areas that are touched often like door handles and telephones.

Yesterday, Lowell Public School students were sent home with an advisory from the state that included preventative information; additional information will come home with students today in English, Khmer, Portuguese and Spanish as needed as well as a ConnectEd phone call being made to parents at 5 pm tonight. If you have other questions, the Health Department advises calling Massachusetts Resources at the toll-free number:1-877-211-6277 or for more on the swine flu, check the Center for Disease Control website.

posted in Education, Healthy Living, In the News, Youth | 1 Comment

Hundreds attend middle-school college fair

There was no room left in the parking lot of the Butler School when I got there last night. About 500 parents and students attended the first annual Lowell middle-school college fair—The Pathway to CAN (College Awareness Now). The event offered families an opportunity to learn about college readiness, how to make the most out of high school, financial aid, and more. Tables were set up in the gym for the more than 80 colleges represented at the fair. Workshops on how to pay for college were held for parents in the library while students met with LHS guidance counselors in the auditorium. Along with plenty of information, there were raffles, refreshments, and free giveaways. In all, the event was an incredible success, and kudos to the coordinated efforts of school department staff, teachers, parent liaisons, guidance counselors, and administrators who pulled the program together under the direction of Dr. Phala Chea. In addition to the tremendous number of folks who turned out for the event, the diversity of the families in attendance was truly inspiring. (If only we could capture half that interest at a Citywide Parent Council or school committee meeting!)

No doubt, the earlier we start kids thinking about college, the better. To follow, are a few tidbits from the fair.  First, some advice to the students: Although they don’t have course selection, middle –school kids make choices that impact their college readiness: They choose to attend school, give it their best effort, do their homework, and behave. High school students should take the highest level classes their skills allow, work hard, get good grades, and be involved in other activities such as sports, student government, clubs, and community service. Second, financial planning for parents: Start saving now—even a little bit each month adds up, and take advantage of available resources through MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority). As usual when Lowell students are involved, high energy and creativity were rampant. As one Pyne Arts student noted in his rap to end the night: “The last thing I’m going to say is lead an educated life, and have a good day!”

posted in Education, Youth | 0 Comments

Late-night streets no place for young people

 I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly not an expert on Constitutional law, but it seems to me we’ve been limiting children’s civil rights (if you want to look at it that way) for years, and for their own good. Most kids I know would argue against anything that limits their freedom to do what they want. (Some youngsters—especially the two teens I live with—might also accuse us of being mean and unfair for doing so.) Be that as it may, it is appropriate to restrict children’s activities for safety reasons, and as a society we have been doing it for a long time. If the Supreme Judicial Court should rule against Lowell’s 11 p.m. curfew for youngsters under 17 years old, what next? Will it be unconstitutional to require children to wear helmets on bicycles and seat belts in cars? How about laws forbidding the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors? What about restrictions on attending R-rated movies? The fact that the SJC has chosen to review this law has made front-page news, both in today’s Sun and in yesterday’s Globe, but the concept that we might start down this slippery slope is frightening. Our young people should be safe at home in the late evening, whether they have a responsible adult demanding it or not. If they have good reasons why they are wandering the streets after 11, then the curfew gives police the authority to stop them and help sort it out. See LiL for additional thoughts and comments.

posted in City Life, Youth | 0 Comments

WinterFest offers some new and old favorites

Even though I’m not a cold-weather fan, I won’t miss visiting downtown Lowell this weekend to participate in the ninth annual WinterFest celebration—always a frosty good time for folks of all ages. The city has added new activities such as a Progressive Dinner & Jazz Night (tomorrow night from 6-10) that includes live music and special appetizers, entrees and desserts featured at downtown restaurants, as well as a Winter Cocktail Competition with choices such as Polar Berry Martini or Snow Blower (rum, cranberry, Schnapps, and orange juice). Diners “progress” through their meal by visiting the restaurants and sampling featured items. Also new is Merrimack Valley’s Got Talent, an entertainment competition that will showcase high school youth, as well as a Chinese Lantern Festival, and free horse-drawn sleigh rides. The best-loved old standbys, of course, will also be included, such as the Human Dogsled Races, the North Bowl Soup Competition, free skating and children’s activities at the Tsongas Arena, lots of music and art, and the grand finale on Saturday—fireworks over City Hall. So bundle up and join us for some winter fun.

posted in City Life, Local People, Youth | 0 Comments

Lowell teens armed with shovels to help their neighbors

With a forecast of 8-12 inches of snow predicted to start tonight, Lowell High School Jr. ROTC students are ready to launch Project Rosebud, a new community service program to help the elderly that partners the high school, city hall, and the business community. Project Rosebud provided 200 volunteer students with shovels, hats and mittens funded by local businesses so the students could shovel for seniors and disabled residents needing help with snow removal. A growing database of residents—at last count it was up to 50 names—will receive ongoing snow removal this winter by groups of students assigned to shovel in their own neighborhoods. The organized effort divides the city and students into sectors, with an adult responsible for each sector’s activities. Those who follow Lowell’s ROTC program, one of the largest and most respected in the country, know the group typically provides more than 15,000 hours of community service annually—from painting benches downtown to park cleanups and garden plantings. Given the heavy snowfall already, Project Rosebud will help make the city more pedestrian friendly during these difficult winter months, and special thanks to all those involved in this worthy effort. To get your name on the list, contact Lowell’s Neighborhood Services Hotline at 978-970-4035.

posted in Local People, Lowell High, Youth | 0 Comments

Putting school bullies out of business

Based on a comment I received to a recent post regarding “a disastrous and widespread bullying issue pervading the entire school system,” I thought I’d write about the issue, which profoundly impacted my own childhood and is a hot topic with the Lowell School Committee. (See safety subcommittee agenda for Thursday, Oct. 9.) There is no question that bullying happens in our schools, our playgrounds, and our sports fields. It also happens in our businesses, on our roads, and in all walks of life. If they don’t end up in prison, childhood bullies often grow up to be adult bullies. I have no doubt that bullying has impacted each one of us in some way. In my case, I was a silent witness to children being bullied on the bus and I never spoke up for fear the bully would turn on me. Later, as a seventh grader, I was the victim of bullying by a bunch of supposedly tough girls. I use tough loosely because I learned then and it remains true today that bullies are not tough, which is why taking a stand against bullying makes a difference.

In terms of Lowell, the culture and leadership at each of our schools have the greatest impact on reducing bullying, which is why the school committee continues to put time into establishing effective policies and procedures to make sure prevention and consequences are handled effectively district wide. My personal theory, based on anecdotal rather than actual statistical evidence, is that bullying is more vicious and prevalent in school communities where there is little diversity, where outsiders are so clearly marginalized because the general population is lily white and of a similar economic status. In Lowell schools, “everyone is different” to a certain extent and so there is more tolerance for being different. That said, bullies are out there, so we’re working hard to improve school culture and educate children and staff that bullying is not okay, and it will not be tolerated. (More on this in a later post.) In the meantime, think about your own experience with bullying and the impact it had on you. For me, standing up to those seventh grade girls changed my life.

posted in Just life, Youth, school committee | 0 Comments

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