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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Weekend drama

No, I’m not talking about the school committee, but our local arts scene: The last play of the season at the MRT is A Moon for the Misbegotten, a classic by Eugene O’Neil. Well, I say classic, but who knows? I saw this play in a college production about 20 years ago and was not impressed, as it seemed melodramatic, overwrought and dated. Still, I’m game to see it again. The great thing about live theatre is that there is always something to like, or to discuss or critique after the show. Productions can differ radically because of the added variables of directing, acting, even set design. I’m going Sunday night, but the play runs through May 17th with performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 8 pm; matinees run Saturdays at 4:30, Sundays at 2:00. Saturday night shows at 8:30 and Sunday night shows at 7:00 pm (call the box office at 978-654-4678). The recent positive review of the play in the Boston Globe indicates to me that some of the flaws in the production that I saw so long ago might have been countered by smart directing and excellent acting. It sounds like it might even be a bit humorous! On the other end of the spectrum, we have home-grown theatre right here in Lowell – the Image Theater strikes again with an ORIGINAL play by our own Jerry Bisantz. Entitled The Straight Line, featuring “beer, romance and gun fights,” the play will be upstairs at The Old Court for the next two weekends, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm. Last but not least, Lowell High School students will perform Little Shop of Horrors, opening tonight with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 pm at the Lowell Freshman Academy Theater (how do you spell that word anyway? – er as in Image Theater or -re as in Merrimack Repertory Theatre? These are the things that keep me awake at night!) So, there you have it, entertainment and then some for your rainy May weekend. There really IS a lot to like about Lowell! Enjoy!

posted in Local Groups, Lowell High, Theater, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

Out of state, out of mind

Aloha. Just got back to Lowell from a visit to the 50th state, and I gotta tell you, I’m not feeling Dorothy-like about being home. Thank God spring arrived in my absence! (Or have we skipped spring and gone straight to summer?) Anyway, the daffodils, grape hyacinths, and magnolia blossoms scattering my pitiful lawn offered a much-needed welcome. Yes, I am home again and completely out of touch with all the wonderful (not) things that have happened in my absence. Please bear with me as I recover from the marathon 16 hours of travel we endured and clear my mind of Hawaii’s white-sand beaches, aqua-blue waters teeming with colorful fish, and swaying palm trees to focus on being back in Lowell.  Swine flu?  Higher taxes? More information requests causing upset with particular school committee members? Whatever. Pass me some coconut shrimp and a Mai Tai: Re-entry is going to be difficult.

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

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

A thought for Easter

No matter what your religious affiliations (or not), Easter, like spring, is a time for rebirth, renewal and hope. Those of us who live in New England know how much a sunny day—albeit a cool one—can do to lift the spirits. During tough times, especially, it is important to remember to be grateful for our blessings and to put our fears aside. I found encouragement this morning from the words of Desmond Tutu, renowned South African peace activist and apartheid opponent:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

 life is stronger than death.

posted in Just life | 1 Comment

Will raising the age, lower the dropout rate?

Adults know you won’t get far without a high school diploma. Dropouts earn less, have poorer healthcare, and are more likely to end up in prison, on public assistance, or worse. Yet every year, too many kids quit school. According to the DESE, overall 11% of LHS students dropped out of school in 2008; that number jumps to 19% for Latinos and 22% for special education students. I attended a policy discussion today, sponsored by the Rennie Center, to hear opposing views about whether making kids stay in school until age 18 will reduce dropout rates.

On May 15, the state’s Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission will make recommendations on the compulsory school age as well as other issues. Massachusetts is one of 23 states that allows students to drop out at age 16 (19 states mandate attendance until 18 years; and 8 states mandate until 17). According to the policy brief presented today, there is no evidence that raising the age will reduce the dropout rate or that keeping it at 16 helps. What did become clear to me, however, is that allowing kids to quit at 16 sets a low expectation and sends the wrong message. (It’s not an option for my children. Who would want it for their teen?) Then again, if the youngster is failing and miserable, what good is another two years of forced schooling? Those who favor raising the age limit, see it as a tool that will only be effective if coupled with strong supports and services to engage youth in their education—including early identification and intervention, and alternative programs. But that is the crux of the issue: In this fiscal climate, how can we force disengaged students to stay in school longer when schools don’t have the resources to meet their needs now? Despite data identifying at-risk students based on attendance, grades and behaviorinformation districts knowmost schools struggle with how to provide additional supports to those students given the time, staffing, and revenue limits they face. And that doesn’t even touch on the issue of disinterest and disconnect many of these students feel. The Commission’s recommendations will be interesting, but equally important is who will pay for them.

posted in Education, Lowell High, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Tom asks: Should we move our family to Lowell?

I received the following email from Tom: “I will soon be relocating my family to MA to take a new job in Cambridge (I am a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry). My wife and I are parents of children ages 12 and 8. They are both outstanding students with high marks and no discipline problems. We are interested in the Lowell area as the homes are affordable and the town looks like a great place. Our concern is about your schools. Independent ranking systems seem to rate Lowell schools, as a function of MCAS scores, among the lowest in the state. Can you please address a few of our concerns? Our number one concern is safety. Are violence, drugs, bullying, or vandalism problems worse in Lowell than the average school system around Boston? Why are the MCAS scores below average? Is there an ongoing effort to improve? Do you have a problem retaining good teachers? If you are a parent, are you happy sending your children to Lowell public schools?”

 

My (edited) response: “I am proud that my children will be graduates of Lowell High School. We love this city and have truly made it our home. We have the best large urban school system in the state, but it’s not perfect, which is why I got involved. One reason our MCAS scores are low is because we are an urban, immigrant school district with the highest population of ESL students in the state and a good percentage of low-income families (65%). Lowell schools are truly diverse, which is a strength that isn’t measured on a test. As with any district, there are issues and kids who make bad choices, but our staff does a good job with safety and providing respectful school climates. In terms of bullying, we do a better job of preventing it than most suburbs because of our diversity–our students learn early on to accept people’s differences. Since my son started in the schools 12 years ago, I have seen steady progress around the quality of instruction. Teachers want to work here because we pay well, provide a generous benefits package, and offer professional support and advancement opportunities, and because they love our children. Our Teacher Academy, which we recently expanded so outside educators could attend, is a national model. (Lowell also has a renowned police training academy.) As a city, Lowell offers a thriving artist community, many fine restaurants, our own repertory theater, a beautifully restored historic library, a ball field, arena, and more. If you decide to come up for a visit, let me know.”

 

What would you have told Tom?

posted in Education | 8 Comments

Perfect time for improving laws

Since there’s obviously not much state revenue for next year’s budget, it’s a perfect time for our legislators to focus on reforms around a number of laws that impact our quality of life here in the Commonwealth. Lately, a lot of media coverage has been given to pension reform, which makes sense given the litany of abuses we’ve heard about. Another reform, perhaps not as visible in the media, but certainly of interest to the Lowell Police and members of the City Manager’s Anti-Gang Task Force (to which I belong) is the issue of laws that limit people from carrying dangerous weapons. State Senator Steve Panagiotakos has proposed legislation to expand an existing statute, a change many in law enforcement have been asking for since 1985. The current statute, MGL Chapter 269 section 10(b), reads like a laundry list of weapons; but without definition or inclusion of many of the newer, different kinds of disguised knives and machetes being found on the streets these days, it offers limited recourse for police. Coincidentally, the Lowell City Council is reviewing plans to add an ordinance to the city’s laws around this issue in response to handmade weapons such as golf clubs with blades, knives disguised as pens, and a variety of other weapons that have been confiscated by police. The ordinance would allow Lowell Police to arrest and fine someone caught carrying these weapons within city limits. With the added teeth of an expanded state law on this issue, perpetrators would also be subject to more punitive measures including incarceration. Given the likelihood of cuts to public safety budgets, the trend towards increased crime during difficult economic times, and the advent of warmer weather—public safety officials need all the help they can get, and soon!

posted in City Life, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Technical note

If you’ve had trouble commenting on the blog, whether being asked to register and login or getting a message that comments are closed, I think the problem is fixed now. Please let us know if you have any further technical difficulties when accessing the site. Thanks!

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

April poem

April 5, 1974
by Richard Wilbur

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream,
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving round
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blesed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.

posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

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