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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

A look back at the Democratic convention

The Democratic Convention was held on June 7- a beautiful, hot Saturday. I spent the whole morning shivering in the air-conditioning, listening to speeches, waiting to vote and especially waiting to see Jackie graduate from the Emerge program. (Emerge is a program to educate, support and inspire Democratic women who want to run for elected office.) Jackie and her fellow-graduates, including one other from Lowell, were recognized for their seven months of workshops and seminars they attended and for successfully completing the Emerge curriculum which includes trainings in public speaking, fundraising, media skills and networking. From what I could tell, it was a rewarding experience for all involved. By this time, we were ready to get out into the sunshine, but were literally halted in our tracks by the final speaker, Van Jones. He is a man with a message and since I had been thinking about the connection between high school dropouts and our prison population, I was particularly interested in his call for a solution to social inequality as well as environmental destruction (reminds me of one of Karla Baehr’s “twofers”). He founded an organization, Green for All to “help build an inclusive, green economy.” His slogan is “green-collar jobs, not jails.” He has had some success in building support for his mission: in 1996, he co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights which promotes alternatives to violence and incarceration; in 2007, he worked with Democratic leaders to pass the Green Jobs Act of 2007, while at the local level, he helped the City of Oakland, California create a “Green Jobs Corp.” I’ll be waiting to hear and see more of this guy!

posted in Environment, In the News, Local Politics, National issues | 0 Comments

Lowellians in the Eternal City

(This just in from Jackie)
Last night we were strolling in Piazza Navona during a spectacularly balmy Rome evening (the days have been brutally hot at 90+ degrees under a blistering sun but by nightfall there’s a lovely breeze), when I turned to see a surprisingly familiar face. “I knew it was you; I couldn’t believe it, but I knew it had to be you,” said the man, who I recognized as Mr. Brunelle, a math teacher at the Daley Middle School. He immediately introduced me to his travelling companions, some of whom were teachers at the Rogers and Sullivan Middle Schools and one couple who lives just blocks from us in the Highlands. Although it was 10 p.m. Rome time, the Lowell group had arrived that morning from Boston and were leaving the next day for a cruise to Venice. We were in day three of our Roman adventure and were able to share some tips with them, such as the three-block rule: don’t eat at a restaurant within three blocks of a major tourist site or you will pay top euro for less-than-the-best food. We’d learned this the hard way after 6 euro (about $10) each for sodas near the coliseum. This night, however, we had just finished our best meal in Rome at a pizzeria filled with Italian families. It was fun being the only tourists in the house, the food was exquisite although still a bit pricey (the dollar is weak after all), but reasonable and well worth it. Here we were, a few hours later, standing in the Piazza Navano surrounded by art, fountains, music, and strolling Romans as well as tourists from all over the world, having a chat with some folks from Lowell.

posted in Travel | 0 Comments

Why did the chicken cross the road?

(An email from my brother)

  • BARACK OBAMA:
    The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a CHANGE! The chicken wanted CHANGE!
  • JOHN McCAIN:
    My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.
  • HILLARY CLINTON:
    When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure–right from Day One–that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn’t about me…
  • GEORGE W. BUSH:
    We don’t really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground.
  •  JOHN KERRY:
    Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken’s intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.
  • BILL CLINTON:
    I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What is your definition of  chicken?
  • DR. PHIL:
    The problem we have here is that this chicken won’t realize that he must first deal with the problem on THIS side of the road before it goes after the problem on the OTHER SIDE of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he’s acting by not taking on his CURRENT problems before adding NEW problems.
  • OPRAH:
    Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I’m going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.
  • GRANDPA:
    In my day we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.
  • JOHN LENNON:
    Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

posted in Laughing Matters | 0 Comments

Letter from Ireland

This just in from Jackie and her family:
In Ireland, even animals friendly

According to the guidebooks and general rumor, Ireland is filled with friendly, fun-loving people. This was certainly my experience in the six days I spent touring there last week. Some people, such as the hosts at our bed and breakfast in Cobh, were outstanding—going so far as to wash our clothes from the salty stench of being soaked in downpours at the Cliffs of Moher. Even the animals seemed more welcoming to strangers. For instance, we drove into Inch Beach on the Dingle Pennisula and noticed a band of three adolescent cats lounging in the parking lot—two orange tabbys that must have been siblings and a black one with white markings. I rolled down my window and made the universal cat sound. As I expected, they all immediately looked in my direction (cats can’t help but respond to that sound). What I didn’t expect was how they came running to meet me—not typical cat behavior. That same day, while walking back to our B&B, we encountered several dogs who simply wagged their tails and looked interested even as we strode near their property, a horse that ambled over to the fence for a personal hello, and sheep that bellowed a greeting (perhaps they just wanted dinner). Our hosts assured us there are barking, unfriendly dogs in Ireland and other unfriendly animals as well (humans too no doubt), but as far as our brief sojourn there, we didn’t meet them.

posted in Travel | 1 Comment

What’s the matter with kids today?

Remember the song from Bye, Bye, Birdie? The father sings

Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?

That song, written over 40 years ago by Charles Strause and Lee Adams, came to mind when I read the following quote:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter inplace of exercise. children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.

Guess who said it? more »

posted in Just life | 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

A look back – 8 years of excellence

I just listened to the podcast of Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr’s last interview with WUML/Sunrise on June 10th (still playing catch-up after the blog problems). I’m still a little melancholy about seeing her leave Lowell, but I think we were so lucky to have her for 8 years. She, however, is always upbeat and optimistic and indicated that just as she had been able to build on the work of her predecessor, George Tsapasaris, who was instrumental in getting the new schools built in Lowell, her successor, Dr. Scott, will be able to put her stamp on the Lowell schools. Karla is most proud of what has gone on inside the classroom and how that experience has changed since 2000, so that students are more active in their learning, helping each other learn, discussing what they are learning and responding to lessons in more sophisticated ways. The Freshman Academy is another highlight of her legacy. Created in 2003 to deal with the overcrowded high school, they use a team approach to help students through the critical freshman year, intervening to support those who are struggling or at-risk. In a few years, they have managed to cut the failure and absentee rates for freshmen in half! When asked what she felt was left unfinished during her tenure, she noted the need to make more effective use of technology, both to support teaching and learning and to support parent and community involvement with the schools (yes!) She also said that a renewed focus on Science was needed, especially since she had had to dismantle the program at the elementary level in 2003 due to budget cuts, and she hoped that there would be an effort to rebuild the Science program at all levels. Once again, we thank Dr. Baehr and wish her the best for the future as we look forward to great things from our new superintendent, Dr. Chris Scott.

posted in Education | 0 Comments

Something to laugh about

Rick was in trouble. He forgot his wedding anniversary. His wife was really angry. She told him “tomorrow morning, I expect to find a gift in the driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in less than 6 seconds, AND IT BETTER BE THERE!” 

The next morning Rick got up early and left for work. When his wife woke up, she looked out the window and sure enough, there was a box gift-wrapped in the middle of the driveway. Confused, the wife put on her robe, ran out to the driveway, and brought the box back in the house. She opened it and found a brand new bathroom scale.

Rick has been missing since Friday. PLEASE pray for him. 

posted in Laughing Matters | 1 Comment

Another event for Saturday

Don’t forget about the African Festival also held tomorrow, from 11 am – 7 pm, at the Sampas Pavilion. After a few hours of viewing gardens, what could be better than music, food and dancing on the banks of the Merrimack?

posted in City Life, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Urban oases

Here’s an idea whose time has come – urban garden tours! (I’ve been on garden tours that have you driving several miles between gardens, when you get there you see a lot of lawn). Urban gardeners make the most of every inch of space and, as at Fort Hill Park this Saturday, you can walk between the gardens. Here’s the scoop: Saturday, June 21, 10 am – 4 pm.

Meet at Fort Hill Park for free parking and tour information. Light refreshments will be provided along the tour, plus a plant and gift sale and a chance to ask questions of an expert horticulturalist. From 10-12, you will be able to view the park from a tethered hot air balloon! Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the park on Saturday and cost $25/$45 for a pair; $10 for Seniors, teens or Friends of Fort Hill Park; children under 12 free. Proceeds to benefit Fort Hill Park restoration fund.

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups | 1 Comment

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