As a first term member of the Worcester School Committee, I have participated in decision making that has greatly impacted the course of our school system in many critical ways. My first major decision came when I cast a vote to hire Maureen Binienda as our Superintendent of Schools. I support Mrs. Binienda’s vision of developing each of our students through high expectations for her staff and students within a unified community and with a compassionate mindset.

I also advocated with my colleagues on the school committee and school committee members throughout our State to successfully defeat Question #2 on the ballot which would have allowed the State to approve up to 12 additional charter schools and/or to expand existing charter schools beyond the current cap.

I have pushed to institutionalize the AVID Program throughout the system. The AVID Program prepares students in the areas of organization, thinking and writing skills, vocabulary acquisition and organizational preparedness as well as promoting high academic achievement, college aspiration, and confidence building.

As a School Committee Member, I will continue to work to expand our vocational offerings throughout the system and look at ways for these opportunities to be available to more members of our community. I will continue to fight for enhanced technology throughout the district and the means to support it.

Along with my colleagues I have petitioned for replacement of inadequate buildings and buildings which are not technology-ready.  I have listened to teachers, parents, and administrators to determine what they need to maximize the potential of our students.

Additionally, I have met with business owners and residents of Worcester in order to learn what their expectations are relative to how the schools can improve living in our city.

Most significantly, I have joined with my colleagues on both the School Committee and City Council in petitioning our State Legislators to revise the state’s school funding formula which is, at this time, inadequate to accomplish every goal we share for providing an adequate education for all of our students. I believe that the success of our city depends on the success of our school system.  I have always lived in Worcester and attended the Worcester Public Schools. I believe in the greatness of our city and our schools and just recently purchased my first home in Worcester so I am committed to our great city which is growing and evolving and offering opportunities in education, biotechnology, medicine, arts, music, entertainment, and top rated restaurants.

I feel as though my work has just begun and I ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 7th.

One of things that is key to the success of programs that we offer in the Worcester Public Schools are community partnerships. Sometimes those initiatives and partnerships are spearheaded by our very own educators and passions that they have beyond the classroom.

Jocelyn Coughlin, a Science teacher at Worcester Technical High School used her own personal experience to create a program that is quickly expanding throughout the district. Jocelyn was born and raised in Worcester and was educated in the Worcester Public Schools.

Coughlin said, “Growing up I struggled with anxiety, confidence and self esteem which led to unhealthy eating and coping strategies. While my mother put herself through school to be a teacher we struggled economically and therefore did not have an opportunity to play team sports or participate in activities that encouraged an active lifestyle. In my early teen years I was bullied and harassed which deepened my self esteem and confidence issues.

“As a teen, I struggled with weight gain and unhealthy eating habits, despite my activity through the Burncoat Dance department. After having two beautiful daughters and wanting to be a good example for them I knew it was time to become healthy. In 2010, I lost 75 pounds and competed in various fitness competitions. As a high school science teacher I use the biology curriculum to teach lessons on nutrition, health and fitness whenever possible. Students began to recognize the knowledge and desire I had to share and support healthy initiatives and they began coming to me for help and support. That is when the idea of FITCLUB began in 2014. I began by reaching out to the many trainers and gyms that were instrumental in my healthy body and mind transformation and asking them to volunteer their time in training our students after school.”

The trainers and gyms who support FITCLUB truly believe in educating, engaging and supporting healthy students at a young age in efforts to prevent unhealthy adults. Gyms such as GH2 in Holden, Worcester Fitness, Crossfit Worcester, NV Fitness, Fit Frienzie in Shrewsbury have been volunteering their time, donating resources and money, and even inviting students on field trips in efforts to ignite a passion for fitness and health.

The mission of the FITCLUB foundation is to provide  fitness, nutritional and health opportunities to the  youth of our community by linking industry professionals with schools in efforts to target students that may not have access, opportunity or ability to participate in traditional athletic programs. Meetings include a workout, a brief nutrition lesson or goal, and a motivational message and are open to all students and staff. Workouts are led by guest health professionals such as trainers, athletes, and nutritionists.

FITCLUB received full non-profit status in 2016 and is currently at WTHS, South High and currently piloting an elementary program at McGrath Elementary. The board’s goal is to have a FITCLUB in every school of Worcester and are actively seeking support in order to expand.

We are so fortunate to have educators that support our students beyond the walls of the classroom. Jocelyn Coughlin is a prime example of the phenomenal educators we have in the WPS; one who recognizes the importance of educating the whole child and gives of her own time to share her passion and experiences to help make students healthier and happier. If you are interested in learning more about FITCLUB, go to http://www.fitclubfoundation.org/

As an urban school district, we are always looking at programs and initiatives that provide an even playing field for all of our students, regardless of their backgrounds. One program that does just that is the AVID program. It is a program that requires student buy in, parental support and professional development for teachers.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and was founded by Mary Catherine Swenson. Swenson believed that “she could teach them(students)the skills needed to successfully complete the rigorous courses that would prepare them for four-year universities. She required students to take ownership of their own learning and futures”.

Worcester began offering AVID at the middle school level over 10 years ago and initial focuses were on students who were at risk of falling through the cracks, so to speak. It allowed them to have additional experience with focus on proper study skills, higher education and career information exposure etc. I had the opportunity to develop a partnership between Nichols College Football students and students at Forest Grove in 2006. This partnership involved a field trip for the students from Forest Grove out to the Nichols College campus where they got to tour the campus, interact with the college students and have a meal in the campus dining hall. The Nichols Students also made trips to Forest Grove to speak to the classes about their backgrounds and what attending a 4 year program meant to them. It was impressive to see the components of the program in action.

Fast forward to today and AVID has continued to grow throughout the district. According to Sharon Leary, AVID District Liason for WPS, we now offer AVID at 16 schools throughout the district and we have expanded to the elementary and high school levels. “The curriculum is all about WICOR”, Leary said. WICOR stands for:
1.   Writing to learn
2.   Inquiry and high level questioning
3.   Collaboration in teaching and learning
4.   Organization: binders, agenda usage, Cornell Note-Taking
5.   Reading: Critical Reading to learn

At Worcester Technical High School, students are participating in a service learning project throughout the school, “we are making goal/vision boards, we are using naviance as a source to create the college platform in the classroom”, said Liz Ward, AVID Coordinator at Worcester Tech. She went on to explain that Naviance is a college and career readiness solution that helps districts and schools align student strengths and interests to postsecondary goals, improving student outcomes and connecting learning to life that they are able to tie right in with the AVID program.

“AVID is a class that offers exposure and brings awareness to those who never thought college was an option. It gets you on track to be the best student you can be and gives you the tools to ensure a successful high school experience. I believe that all of students in all of the schools should have this program……potential is universal but opportunity is not and the students who don’t get this class (who fit the criteria) are much less likely to go on to a 4 year school” said Ward.

These skills certainly help to give students a leg up and and enhance their overall educational experience. It is a program that would certainly benefit all students and will hopefully expand to all of our schools as we are able to continue to offer it in the district.

As my colleague Brian O’Connell wrote in last week’s edition, funding is something that we continue to fight for for our schools. Funding for new buildings, for building upgrades, for staff, for educational resources and materials and much more. Even basic school supplies are in short supply and many teachers try their best to provide extras for those students in need out of their own pockets.

However with 52% of WPS categorized as economically disadvantaged, teachers can not provide all that our students need.

We are so fortunate in our community that we have so many individuals, organizations and businesses willing to step up and help our schools. One of the ways that this is done is through area back-to-school drives. These initiatives truly help to fill a gap and provide students in need with the supplies that they need to begin the school year prepared and ready to hit the ground running.

Woodrow Adams Jr. is a Court Officer and product of the Worcester Public Schools. He began a school supply drive this year that he intends on making an annual event which he is calling The Forever Young event. It is a community event put together by Mr. Adams with the help of the Massachusetts Trial Court System in Worcester. This event has been created to benefit the less fortunate families in the city of Worcester that are unable to afford basic school supplies.

 Mr. Adams grew up in Worcester and attended Worcester Public Schools. He is looking to teach children the importance of volunteer work in your community and how giving back makes a difference, “not just in the community but within one’s self”. He hopes that this annual event, “will ensure to solidify a stronger community”. He’s certainly off to a good start, enough supplies were collected to provide 500 backpacks filled with school supplies for those children in need.

 One of the long time drives in the area is Set for Success. This year was the 12th Annual Set For Success School Supply Drive. Run by City Councilor Kate Toomey, Dorothy Hargrove and Director of Friendly House Gordon Hargrove, in collaboration with the Worcester Public Schools, the Worcester Fire and Police Departments, the Junior League of Worcester, the initiative helps collect school supplies in the Worcester area for those students in need. Through the community’s generosity, they have been able to meet the needs of over 15,000 students over the years. 

This year was the 8th Annual Planting the Seed Foundation Stuff the Bus drive. Planting the Seed is a local, all volunteer non-profit that organizes a variety of initiatives for children in need throughout the year. There were over 30 drop off locations throughout the city at area businesses. PTS President and Worcester Firefighter Tommy Donoghue states “this was probably our best year, we were able to collect enough supplies through donations to fully outfit 160 backpacks”. The organization was also able to provide thousands of individual school supplies that were delivered to local agencies, after school programs and schools throughout the city. 

TWIW recently featured Simon Eber, a local high school student who founded the local chapter of Simon Says Give; a kid founded and kid operated nonprofit with the tagline of kids Celebrating Kids. With the funds and supplies he collected, Simon was able to provide backpacks filled with supplies to 6th graders at Columbus Park, Woodland Academy and Midland Street School upon their graduations this past June.

Simon Eber/Photo by Matt Wright

When I sat down and talked with Simon recently, he emphasized that he wants to be sure “that these students receive quality supplies and backpacks”. Having students provide color preferences ahead of time so they can distribute the backpacks accordingly is important to him. He wants the students to feel valued and also wants to include them

In the process. He was able to get some of last year’s recipients to participate in an assembly line of sorts to fill the backpacks with all of the supplies. He plans on expanding the number of sixth graders that he is able to provide backpacks to this year and has additionally ventured into throwing birthday parties for students who wouldn’t otherwise have one. 

Knowing how important it is to a student’s achievement to have the appropriate school supplies, it is clear to see that these organizations and individuals are providing our students with something evening more valuable than school supplies. They are providing them with the tools to begin the school year with confidence and on the path to success. It takes the support of our community for our schools to be as successful as possible and as you can see, just by these few individuals and organizations, we certainly have the support of the community behind us. 

It seems fitting that in my inaugural column for ThisWeekinWorcester, is a discussion on new and exciting beginnings.

The beginning of the school year has always been a time I look forward to with a sense of excitement during my more than twenty years in the Worcester Public Schools system as a student and elected official.

This year is no different.  

On Friday, Aug. 25, I had the pleasure of attending the Opening of School and Recognition Ceremony at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. This event is a welcoming-back program for WPS teachers and administrators and it was amazing.

The excitement and enthusiasm shown by all WPS staff in the hall was contagious. Individual school and district wide spirit was present throughout the arena. Colleagues were supporting staff members from other schools with raucous applause while cheering on others teachers who had received awards for distinction in their classroom practice. Many teachers dressed in school colors and carried banners that announced their school motto or school focus.

In particular, the city’s educators embraced guest speaker Manny Scott’s theme: “You can be a student’s best hope.”  Those powerful words echoed the sentiments and actions of all in attendance.

Hopefully, our teachers will be able to recall this spirit and maintain their commitment as they encounter the daily challenges of teaching in a large, urban school district throughout this year.

The  teachers and staff in WPS shape the lives of our children each and every day. They are charged with developing the entire child – academically, socially, physically, and emotionally.  

Those of you who are parents know this challenge well as you raise your own children.  And, as always, we look to working with all parents to help us achieve this goal.

Many of our staff members, over the years, have provided new backpacks, clothing, supplies and even food to our needy children. These teachers set an example for new educators who will witness the true meaning of the phrase “Child-centered Education”.

My hope is that every teacher understands the impact of a kind word or a word of praise to a student. Teachers are highly respected and are counted on to set an example of appropriate behavior, citizenship and high standards. Everyone in a community expects this level of manner from its teachers. The teachers in the WPS do not disappoint in this regard.  And we are fortunate to have a community which supports our goals with its resources and time.

I am honored to be a part of a school system where our Superintendent and staff value and prioritize the overall experience for all of our children — with an informed focus of developing lifelong learners who can give back to our community and beyond — based on the skills we develop and the knowledge we impart to them.

Here’s to a great school year!