News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

March is about honoring women

Tomorrow kicks off a month dedicated to celebrating the many contributions women have made and continue to make in our community. In Lowell, it has become an annual event featuring a week’s worth of activities—from films, breakfasts and lectures, to “Because of Her” awards and opportunities for networking. We certainly have come a long way from when Susan B. Anthony made impassioned speeches about how the mothers, sisters and wives of America were not inferior to men, but deserving of the right to vote and participate in government. Today, women in Lowell are active leaders in business, government, education, non-profits, the arts, and community groups. We still, however, do not hold our share of decision-making positions given our population–only about 25% of the state legislature is women, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is the only female representative from Massachusetts. Check out this year’s schedule and make time to participate in an event. It’s important. When women share in each other’s successes, we help pave the way for today’s young sisters to become tomorrow’s leaders.

posted in City Life, Local Groups, Women's issues | 0 Comments

Senator’s “breakfast after dark” unprecedented

PaulM on richardhowe.com has a great post on last-night’s festivities, so I won’t be redundant but wanted to add my perspective on the evening. Being cramped into the venerable old Owl Diner eating their famously delicious eggs and pancakes was an unusual way for elected officials, community leaders, and non-profit administrators to enjoy a Thursday evening together. But then to have host Senator Steve Panagiotakos spend his brief speaking moments personally thanking leaders from 12 neighborhood groups and more than a dozen non-profit providers was more than unexpected—it was unprecedented. As Deb Chausey, executive director of House of Hope, noted on her way out: “In my 25 years of working here, it’s the first time that’s happened.” Chausey, like many others I spoke to, appreciated the senator’s recognition of the important contributions their organizations make to people, both young and old, throughout our city. We ought to be thankful, say it more often, and especially during these tough economic times, we must work together to weather the fiscal storm. The reality is, everyone is hurting for funds, and we need the non-profits more than ever. The only way Lowell will get through this fiscal crisis is together.

posted in Local Groups, Local Politics | 0 Comments

Trash day in the Highlands…could get messy

As much as I want folks to recycle and am particularly enamored with the new barrels (such a pretty color), I was disheartened today to see so many of the new containers on the streets loaded with trash and waiting for pickup. (I counted at least a dozen on Westford Street alone.) Thinking perhaps it was a Highlands disconnect, I called the Health Department and they confirmed it: Citywide, lots of loaded barrels were put out early—BEFORE the program was set to begin. As the instructions on the containers state, the program starts March 2, which is next week. No problem, they emptied them anyway, but it got me worried that the transition to the new trash system could get messy…


It also got me thinking about what to do with the old containers. There are several options: Reuse them for “Yard Waste” or “Bottles and Cans” by getting free stickers from the Health Dept, 341 Pine Street, or Lowell City Hall (weekdays 9-5) and placing them on your old containers. Or if you don’t have storage space, in a few months the city will schedule pickup of the old barrels. Just think, no need to purchase bags for leaf raking in the fall—another plus for a more recycling-friendly waste system that will save money too! For more information about the new system, check here.

posted in City Life, Environment | 1 Comment

Solving homelessness together: Forum this Sunday

The other day, a soup-kitchen volunteer recognized a former Westford neighbor, now homeless and living at a Lowell shelter. He was stunned to realize the face of homelessness could be someone he knew, someone from a wealthy suburb. No matter where they come from, most homeless folks land in our cities—that’s where the limited services exist. (I’m pretty sure they don’t have shelters in Andover, Westford or Chelmsford.) In Lowell this Sunday, a variety of faith-based groups will meet to address homelessness because although the burden is weighted heavily on the cities, they feel the responsibility is shared. Solving homelessness makes sense from a selfish perspective too: How can I safely enjoy my shelter when increasing numbers of people are literally out in the cold?


Here is the information I got on the event: Homelessness is a real and growing challenge for faith communities in Greater Lowell. As people of faith, we are called to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless. Are we doing enough?  Join us for an informative and inspiring event to learn how you can be a part of the solution.
WHAT: The Greater Lowell Interfaith Forum on Homelessness
Keynote Speakers:  The Reverend Liz Walker and Lt. Governor Timothy P. Murray
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 2009.  2pm-4pm, Registration begins at 1:30pm.  Networking session with refreshments from 3:30-4pm
WHERE: Christ Church United UCC, 180 E. Merrimack St. Lowell. For more information, contact: Brent Rourke at 978-459-0551 ext 219. (Also, check out this article in the Sun.)

WHO: Christ Church United UCC in Lowell, the S.H.I.F.T. Coalition, Social Action Ministries of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Eliot Presbyterian Church, New England Prison Ministries, One Family Inc., and the Lowell Transitional Living Center.

posted in City Life, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Clear scans, skip town

As many of you know, we’ve been dealing with a family health crisis these last seven months. My son Luke has been battling Hodgkins lymphoma while attending high school and swimming for the LHS team, which the Sun wrote about here. After watching him endure months of chemotherapy and radiation, last Tuesday we travelled to Children’s Hospital in Boston for a day of tests and post-treatment scans to determine if we had killed the disease. We got the results that the scans were clear just hours before last Wednesday’s school committee meeting. By Thursday evening, we had packed the car, picked up two more kids—one friend for each of ours—and headed to the White Mountains for a long weekend of cross-country skiing, skating, snowboarding (the boys), and best-of-all, sitting in a steaming hot tub surrounded by mountains with snowflakes kissing our cheeks. (That is, until the boys snowboarded to the base and threw snowballs at us!) Despite driving home in last night’s blizzard, the entire trip was a much-needed escape from months of worry, heart-wrenching treatments, and stress. It occurred to me as we travelled the winding roads and I marveled at the evergreens clothed in thick white blankets, a living testament to beauty and strength: We suffer so we can appreciate the magnitude of our blessings.

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

Student travel update

At the Lowell School Committee meeting last week, more than 18 travel requests were unanimously approved, including several involving students travelling out of the country (one during school vacation in 2011). While the committee voted to approve these future trips, a group of students from the LHS Crew Team and their coaches were traveling in Europe. The group kept a daily log of their experiences online, which you can access here.

As mentioned in an earlier post, more information on the updated policy regarding student travel follows: The new policy requires that trips be approved BEFORE any money is collected from students and families. In addition, field trips—that is, travel that does not include students representing Lowell Schools in a formal event, such as a sporting or band competition, requires written justification of learning standards if students will miss time from school.  The new policy does not minimize the importance of student travel or the educational and cultural learning involved in such experiences, but is more in line with the district’s policy regarding attendance. Since parents are expected to plan trips during school vacation and not impose on the 180 days of instructional time allotted each year, field trips are also encouraged to occur during vacation periods. If there is to be time lost from school, the approval process calls for discussion and voting on a case-by-case basis with consideration given to the justification for days missed. For the full policy, see: more »

posted in Education, Lowell High | 0 Comments

Technology changing elderly care

Although she lives in Boston, my friend travels to Lowell several times a week to care for her elderly parents. Her phone alarm goes off periodically, no matter where she is, to remind her to make sure her mother has taken her medicine. She gets them to appointments, checks up on their medications, prepares their food, and discusses their treatment with multiple caretakers and specialists; but she cannot be there 24/7 and she worries about them. My own dear mother-in-law died four years ago after having a stroke in her apartment at an independent living facility for seniors.  When she didn’t come down for breakfast or lunch, a facility manager checked on her, but by then the damage from the stroke was too severe, and she was gone from us.  According to this recent article in the New York Times, new personal health technology could have saved my mother-in-law’s life, or at the very least, could help put my friend’s mind at ease regarding her parents’ care. As many of us live longer and have to face the inevitable health complications that go along with aging, perhaps these new technologies will allow us to “rage against the dying of the light,” a bit more.  If the technology—such as sensors noting you got out of bed and didn’t go anywhere prompting emergency personnel at your door—feels too Big Brotherish for you, consider it a tool to remain independent long “into that good night.” Anyway, it’s something to think about.

posted in In the News, Just life | 0 Comments

Take yesterday’s “Chat” with a grain of salt

Self-described as an upbeat column, yesterday’s “Chat” took a side trip from its usual tone to swipe at the Lowell School Committee: “The best idea I have been given over the years calls for an abolishment of the school board and the addition of three to five members to the Lowell City Council — five of whom would sit as a subcommittee on education…” notes Kendall Wallace, chair of the newspaper and longtime critic of the school board. As a five-year board member who has worked for more than a decade to improve our public schools, my initial response was: How does eliminating the school board and making it a subset of the Council improve its focus or efficacy? Secondly, if there were some justification for that and it happened, count on me to run for Lowell City Council. (I don’t imagine I would be alone in that pursuit.)

The problem with this column is its attempt to paint the entire board with one brush regarding recent student vacation trips on school time. All votes permitting such trips, specifically to Quebec and Spain/Portugal, have been approved by the vast majority of the board, and one member’s comments against them clearly does not represent the entire committee. Student attendance matters, yet my primary concern has always been improving the quality of the school day. We only have our students for 180 days, making it imperative that they attend school, yes, but also that each moment in school offers students engaged, meaningful learning experiences. That means our focus, from the board to the classroom teacher, must be on high-quality instruction and effective curriculum that challenges our students to their potential. I recognize that learning happens outside the classroom, which is why the board unanimously supported the policy update regarding student travel. (More on the district’s travel policy in a separate post.) In the meantime, read the “Chat” with a hefty grain of salt, as with most education editorials in this paper—there’s more to the issue than printed here.

posted in Education, In the News, Local Politics, school committee | 1 Comment

Share the love: take your honey downtown for a meal

Traditionally, dining out is a favorite way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and with many area restaurants offering specials these days, it’s affordable and fun. A friend told me about dining at La Boniche the other night and ordering from their Tuesdays-fixed-price menu—four delicious courses for $25; they not only enjoyed an exquisite dining experience, but had enough food for lunch the next day. Also, as noted in yesterday’s Sun, many Lowell restaurants will be offering Great Plates, three courses for a fixed price, beginning next week and continuing until Feb. 28.


For Valentine’s Day, in addition to sharing a special meal with the love in your life, spread the warmth by celebrating early and taking your date to the Heartiest Lunch in Town, from 12-3 tomorrow. The fund raiser for Lowell’s homeless shelter is being offered by Cobblestones and Brew’d Awakenings. For a cash or check donation of $10 to the shelter and a mention of “heartiest lunch,” you can enjoy macaroni and cheese, soup and salad, or a special sandwich at Cobblestones, or a BLT, coffee, and a famous homemade cookie from Brew’d Awakenings—a real deal of a meal for a good cause. Bon appétit!


posted in City Life, Local People | 0 Comments

Visiting the Whistler House

While roaming around downtown during Winterfest last weekend, we decided to visit the Whistler House Museum. We spent an enjoyable 45 minutes looking over the historic house and viewing some of the period art – an engaging mixture of landscapes, still life paintings and portraits as well as a room full of Whistler’s etchings. Of particular interest were the tidbits of Lowell history and Whistler trivia that we picked up from our enthusiastic young guide, Vanessa. Whistler, for example, was expelled from West Point for failing chemsitry, a problem that surfaced when he varnished his own paintings and they later became brown and discolored. When a cousin of his, Edith Fairpoint Davenport, was allowed to do an exact copy of his most famous work, Arrangement in Grey and Black, more commonly known as “Whistler’s Mother,” she faithfully copied the dull brown tones. This work is now on view at the Whistler House, but if you visit the original at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris you will see the true colors as intended. We also enjoyed the painting “Lowell in 1825″ by Benjamin Mather, which showed St Anne’s church and a few brick buildings in a green, pastoral setting. In the same room are portraits of Theodore Edson Parker, long the Reverend at St Anne’s and a champion of education for girls (leading Lowell High to become the first co-ed high school in the nation), and James B. Francis, the brilliant engineer whose massive floodgate, once called “Francis’ Folly” has saved Lowell many times from the raging waters of the Merrimack. All in all, between the art, architecture and history, the museum proved to be a rich and satisfying outing for our out-of-state visitors. Even though Whistler himself moved away from Lowell at an early age and in later years would never admit to having been born here (preferring to say he was from Baltimore or St. Petersburg), we were quite proud of our city as we showed our friends his birthplace.

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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