News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Students beware – quick guide to financial literacy

As students head off to college, parents should be aware of the need for them to have some degree of financial literacy. As a parent of a college student, I’ve seen the lure of easy credit dangled in front of my teen’s eyes as he routinely gets offered credit cards and tuition loans. A friend tells of freshman orientation at an out-of-state institution last year where the local banks were in the lobby, offering student checking accounts with debit cards – the fine print was certainly buried and they had no idea that automatic overdraft protection was bundled into the account. This specious “service” basically allows students to overdraw their accounts and then hits them with penalties and shockingly high interest rates. The student was home on vacation and carefully checked his balance at the ATM machine before using his debit card, little realizing that he was being charged a few dollars each time he checked, further whittling away at his available funds. Within a few weeks, he got a phone call from the bank about the $120 in fees and penalties owed to them! So, is your college student prepared for financial independence? Is he or she ready to handle a credit card, budget expenses and live within available means? While researching this issue, I discovered that Massachusetts has launched a financial literacy program called HiFi which trains teachers, financial professionals and community members to offer financial literacy classes to teens. The one-day training workshops are free, include lunch and are eligible for Professional Development Points. I’m not sure if any Lowell teachers have taken this on, so in the meantime, here is a good guide for discussing financial habits with your children. As a conversation starter, have them take JumpStart’s Financial Literacy test and then try the Reality Check.

posted in Education, Lowell High, Money Matters, Youth | 0 Comments

Some painful realities

I almost didn’t attend the June meeting of the Non Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell, but I’m glad I did as the presenters brought some disturbing facts to light concerning Lowell’s high school dropout rate and the prison situation in Massachusetts.   These are not new issues, nor are they unrelated. Just think about where many high school dropouts are heading when they disappear off the radar of the school system. Victoria Fahlberg, the Executive Director of OneLowell, the highly-effective, yet woefully underfunded agency that works with Lowell’s highly-truant students in the middle schools and at the high school, tackles this problem every day. The statistics that she presented were startling:  Lowell’s graduation completion rate is 70%; this means that 30% of our incoming freshmen drop out of high school.  Even worse, the dropout rate for Hispanic students is 52%.  According to this study, funded by the Asian American Legal Defense and Eduation Fund, the rate for Asian students is 42.9%. (Hispanic students comprise 22.4 % and Asian 28.9 % of Lowell students.)

The prison issue is also not a new one.  We know about ‘three strikes you’re out’ and mandatory sentencing, but have we thought about the results?  Mark Hemenway of New England Prison Ministries, a faith-based group that works to help released prisoners establish a life and stay out of jail, spoke us about our current culture of incarceration.  Some facts:  the United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world.  The cost has been estimated at $40,000 to $50,000 per year per prisoner, with a rate of recidivism that may be as high as 75%.  According to Hemenway, we now spend more on our prisons than on our public universities (as someone pointed out, that’s not saying much; Massachusetts is near the bottom for spending on public higher education).  We constantly hear that there is no money for the schools or for other local services, but where is all the money going – to fund wars and prisons. It’s time to rethink our priorities as a society and direct our spending accordingly.

posted in Education, Local Groups, National issues, Youth | 2 Comments

Barcelona – sister city in art!

When I was in Barcelona last year, I marvelled at the amount of public art that enlivens that city; there are new and exciting pieces around every corner which refresh the eye and stimulate the mind.  Thanks to the wonderful Revolving Museum, Lowell is on it’s way to becoming a ‘mini-Barcelona’ – well, without the ocean and the fabulous, fresh seafood, the Gaudi buildings and Picasso and Dali museums  - okay, maybe it’s a stretch, but still, public art is a great thing, for tourists and residents, that we should celebrate! Tomorrow afternoon, at 4:00 pm,  come on downtown for the latest installation by the museum’s Teen Artist Group (TAG).  For sixteen months, the young artists have been working on panels reflecting concern for the environment that will be placed side-by-side between Enterprise Bank and Sovereign Bank on Merrimack Street. The completed mural, entitled “We Are One…Love Our Mother Earth,” is the fourth Merrimack street mural installed by TAG.  At the opening ceremony, you can meet the artists and learn about their thoughts, concerns and hopes for the future.  In addition, Gunther Wellenstein from Lowell’s Recycling Department will be on hand to share green solutions for everyone. 

posted in Art, City Life, In the News, Youth | 0 Comments

Annual celebration of giving highlights LHS connection

It was a morning to celebrate giving and thank key volunteers who provide services to our community. It was also an opportunity to welcome Joshua Kraft, president of the New England Patriots Foundation, and learn about his family’s twin priorities: winning football games and supporting community work. Kraft was a speaker at today’s Greater Lowell Community Foundation Philanthropy Day Conference, which was the best I’ve attended. The speeches were short, the anecdotes poignant, and perhaps best of all for me, the connections to Lowell High School were palpable. Many of the speakers, award founders and recipients, and major players in local philanthropy are former LHS students and faculty—a tribute to our public schools and our future. In fact, the Youth Service Group Award went to Lowell High’s National Honor Society, one of the oldest, largest, and most diverse in the country. The LHS Honor Society started in 1927 with a Jewish student president under the guidance of a female faculty advisor—just seven years after women got the right to vote. (The second student president was an African American.) The current Honor Society president is senior Tim Bergeron, who also received the Coach’s Award for Track last night and was named LHS Idol a few months ago—a talented athlete, performer, honor student, community volunteer, and genuinely nice boy. Eddie Mercado, another youth leader honored at the breakfast, received the Rising Star Volunteer Award for his work at UTEC and his role in the creation of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council. Mercado’s $1,000 award will go toward UTEC’s continued work with youth in the city. Although not quite as young but certainly as inspiring, Stephen Conant received the Banker’s Volunteer Award for Lifetime Achievement. Conant, a 1972 LHS graduate and successful businessman, has been committed to protecting Lowell’s natural resources for more than a decade. The annual event provided a glimpse of key people making a positive difference, and it offered an update on the foundation’s $128,000 in awards to 50 different groups this year—both significant in their impact on our communities.

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

Art & poetry from the Revolving Museum

All roads lead to the Revolving Museum this week, starting tonight! This is short notice but you can join other poetry lovers at the museum from 6-10 pm, to celebrate the release of local poet Walter Bacigalupo’s new book of poems, A Trip Down Salem Street. Congratulations, Walter!  (Free and open to the public; beer, wine and light refreshments will be served). Tomorrow night, from 6-9 pm, the Lowell Canalwaters Cleaners will hold an open house fundraising event to raise money for the cause of clean canals as well as awareness about their mission.  There will be raffles, an auction, wine bar and finger foods and a lot of fun for just $20, payable at the door. 

Finally, tomorrow afternoon, at 2 pm, you can see what else the Revolving Museum folks have been up to by visiting the Molloy Alternative High School (125 Smith Street) to see the old building transformed by the artwork of its students.  Part of the Revolving Museum’s Visionary School which provides a community arts curriculum to high school and college students, this yearlong project, entitled “Taking the Right Path” celebrates students’ identities, while a garden labyrinth symoblizes the challenges many of the Molloy students face.  The email notice from the museum reminds us that:

The building’s namesake, Hugh J. Molloy, was Superintendent of public schools in Lowell for 21 years, before his death in 1933.  Molloy was a well respected educator, who was renowned for his close relations with students and faculty alike, and for his commitment to the quality of education provided to the residents of Lowell.  That legacy continues at the school which bears his name.   

posted in Art, Education, Youth | 0 Comments

Middle-school students sound their own winning notes

This just in from a proud parent of a band student: “I wanted to share with you that the Lowell Public Schools middle-school-band members traveled to the Great East Middle-School Band Festival in Westfield last Friday, May 23, and took the gold medal.” Congratulations to the students, teachers, and parents committed to the band program at our middle schools. As many of you know, the Lowell High School band has enjoyed many successes over the last years due to students’ hard work, and faculty and parent commitment. Clearly, that would not be possible without a great feeder program from the earlier grades.

posted in Education, Youth | 1 Comment

UTEC honors Dr. Baehr

Before you go away for the long weekend, make plans to attend this event next week:

The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) is honoring Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr as “Adult Ally of the Year” at their annual semi-formal fundraiser on Wednesday, May 28, 5:30-8:30, at their new location at 34 Hurd Street (across from the Doubletree Hotel).  Dinner will be served, along with fabulous performances by UTEC’s talented teens; there will be a silent auction and the opportunity to both honor our outgoing school superintendent, who has truly been a force for positive change for youth in the city for 8 years, and support UTEC’s dream of building a brighter future for Lowell.  Tickets are $60 and can be purchased online.

posted in Local Groups, Youth | 0 Comments

Bartlett program teaches “whole child” after school

Imagine if schools were judged not only for their MCAS scores, but also for how well they encourage student creativity, health, and engagement in a variety of activities—from debate teams to science fairs and art festivals. Given today’s tough fiscal climate and the narrowing of curriculum to meet test standards, this concept may seem like a fantasy, but the reality is schools need to do more than simply focus on reading and math. Last week, I attended a meeting on educating the “whole child,” an initiative of the Mass. Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD), the state chapter of a national group. In Lowell, our youngest students spend more time on math and reading that ever before—obviously important skills; but they no longer have science in the elementary grades, and across the district, music, art, gym and hands-on programs have been the most impacted by years of budget cuts.

Yet at the Bartlett School, due to a successful partnership with UMass Lowell, students enjoy art, dance, theater, fitness, and science experiments after school.  A week ago, I visited the program and was truly impressed. For instance, I watched as a spellbound audience of parents and children were transfixed by a student performance of The Untold Story of Little Red Riding Hood. Later, a group of youngsters did a riveting dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. As shown by the photos below, the quality of art work, created by children no older than eighth grade, was exceptional. 


These youngsters were engaged in painting, dancing, and experimenting with concepts of flight and electricity as an extension of their school day. With so many children checking out of school, either by literally dropping out or simply not trying, providing more opportunities that interest and engage them in learning is not only necessary for a 21st century education, it’s vital preparation for their role as future leaders.

Another group focused on improving education statewide, Citizens for Public Schools, is sponsoring a campaign around educating the whole child; the whole child initiative is also part of Governor Patrick’s readiness project for improving public schools.

posted in Art, Education, National issues, Youth | 1 Comment

Governor visits LHS and interacts with students

In what was expected to be a photo opportunity to announce funds for summer jobs turned spontaneously engaging as Governor Deval Patrick left the stage and ventured into the audience to answer random questions from Lowell High School seniors. After making his points about the need for more jobs for kids and his commitment to helping with that—which included telling students to take out their cell phones and record this number (866-968-8461), he politely answered selected-in-advance student questions read by Senior Class President Natalie Petit. Once he finished answering those questions, however, he surprised everyone by jumping off the stage and moving through the audience, taking questions from randomly selected students on a variety of topics.

Issues raised by the students included dropout rates, gas prices, cost of living in Mass., income gap and middle-class squeeze, environment, gay marriage rights, violence in the streets, lack of scholarships, and the economy. Other questions included asking the Governor for a date to the prom (he replied he’s married), if he can dance (he said yes but that he wouldn’t demonstrate), and what it was like being the first African-American governor of Massachusetts (“way cool”). In his remarks, the Governor restated some messages that had been key to his campaign–that is: We must try new things and see our stake in each other’s success.” He spoke of revitalizing a sense of community, the idea of service and connection with our neighbors. For me, I couldn’t have been prouder of our students, who represented LHS and the city with respect, humor and intelligence, and our Governor. For a summary of his responses to some of their questions, check: more »

posted in Education, Local Politics, Youth | 0 Comments

Rowing on the river tomorrow

Let’s hope for sunshine because Lowell High School will host 22 teams at a regatta on the Merrimack River tomorrow and it’s always more fun when the sun is shining. Beginning with a boat christening at 8:30 a.m. in honor of the parents of LHS Rowing who raised the funds to buy it, the all-day competition will be centered at the Bellegarde Boathouse. The racing begins at 9:30 a.m. and will culminate in an awards ceremony at 6 p.m. at the Sampas Pavilion. Despite fierce competition among the 22 teamsmany from wealthier communities that often have newer boats, more coaches, and fancier uniforms and equipment, LHS crew students hold their own and win often. Join the LHS crew community and support our team as we continue to excel in an activity that is growing in popularity across the state. It also provides more college scholarships to our students than any other sport. Go Red Raiders crew team! 

posted in Sports, Youth | 1 Comment

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