School Committee gives thumbs up to Full Day Kindergarten

Just back from the School Committee meeting. Let me say, first of all, that the Belmont Madrigal Singers rocked the house. Great work to everyone…and where can one buy the funky medieval garb?

Belmont Madrigal Singers

On a more serious note — what’s to report is this: the Belmont School Committee heard a report from the Belmont Public Schools’ Kindergarten Task Force at a Committee meeting at Wellington Elementary on Tuesday evening, which called for a full day kindergarten program, fully funded by the School Department for the 2008/2009 academic year. The report, presented by Wynn Brook principal Janet Carey, found that full day kindergarten (FDK) will enhance learning, promote social and emotional growth and allow for a more relaxed pace at school — provide for more teaching in science, social studies and the arts and…hey…even let the kids play a bit, too!!

School Committee members, including Superintendent Peter Holland, signaled that they would push for funding for FDK in the coming town budget debate, which will begin after the New Year. Expected costs will be between $300,000 and $380,000 — around 1% of overall school funding for the academic year. Committee members also suggested (after questioning by *ahem* yours truly) that those costs would be lessened slightly by consolidated bus service and lower turnover among the kindergarten teaching staff.

Bottom line — this is a 1% boost in overall school funding to give Belmont what 66% of Massachusetts students already have. Worried about the increased taxes to pay for it? Cut your Starbucks intake by one Venti a week. That’ll more than pay for whatever your share will be. Trust me.

No surprise: the room was packed with anxious parents, the majority of whom supported the prospect of FDK for their kids. Members heard from working mothers worried about the expense of the current K-ED program (around $2,000 a year per child) and parents who desperately wanted for their kids what children in Watertown, Newton, Wellesley and other towns already enjoy. There’s a great FDK fact sheet available here (PDF format) with ca. 2005-2006 stats on FDK programs in the Bay State. The Committee also heard from a number of parents opposed to FDK — some citing conflicting research on the benefits. As Superintendent Holland said — the best evidence in support of FDK was the presence of so many of our kids teachers and principals at the meeting — all in support of getting FDK. Committee members also received a petition, signed by 250 community members, in support of FDK.

What next? Funny…I asked that question. The best thing you can do is to mail your Selectman and register your support for FDK. The town Web site gives selectmen@town.belmont.ma.us as an e-mail drop box for them. I’m betting its a dead letter address. (Update 12/26: Jeff Conti from the Office of the Selectmen writes to say that the e-mail address does work and is checked daily by staff there.) Not sure about Paul Solomon, who’s leaving office — but you can reach Angelo Firenze through at info@angelofirenze.com. Get those e-mails coming, people. Also check the town calendar for Warrant Committee meetings. BloggingBelmont will post notice of them as we learn.

School Committee meeting to discuss full day kindergarten

Just a note to the BloggingBelmont community that there’s an important School Committee meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 11) at 7:30 at the Wellington School that everyone should try to get out and attend. On the agenda: The Kindergarten Task Force report on introducing full day kindergarten in Belmont.

Those of us with elementary school children in town know that full day K is a top priority — most other towns (including Watertown and Lexington) offer it, and full day kindergarten classes were oversubscribed at Wynn Brook in the fall (haven’t heard about other schools). With studies showing that full day kindergarten improves the academic performance of children, full day K is becoming the standard across the country, and may eventually be mandated by the state.

Word on the street is that a petition is circulating among a minority of parents who are opposed to this (and I’m all ears for those of you who are opposed). We’ll see tomorrow night. But if you’re for or against — come down to Wellington School Cafeteria to voice your opinion.

Again — the School Committee meeting is at 7:30.  The BHS Madrigal singers will perform for the public prior to the meeting, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

See you there!

Superintendent Holland’s Letter on Maeve Goulding Tragedy

I’m posting Superintendent Holland’s letter to parents on Saturday’s heartbreaking tragedy at Winn Brook School. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Goulding family.
Dear Parents and Community Members:

I am saddened to inform you of the death of Maeve Goulding, first grade student at the Burbank School. Maeve was playing soccer at the Winn Brook field when she collapsed and never gained consciousness. Maeve has siblings and cousins in Belmont and in the school system. Her family is a member of St. Joseph’s Church. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time, but will be listed in the newspapers.

Dr. Rob Evans, a psychologist who works extensively with school districts in Boston and across the country, spoke with me last evening. He sent the following comments which can be used by adults to help students cope with the sudden and seemingly inexplicable death of a classmate and teammate. Parents, teachers, and school psychologists play an important role in speaking with students about an incident such as this, since these are adults who are well known and trusted by the children. Students may ask some questions but most will want to return to their regular school and family routines which they find reassuring. I encourage you to read Dr. Evans’ very thoughtful comments which are printed below.

Thank you for your support as we work through this tragic loss to the Goulding family and to our community.

Sincerely,

Peter Holland, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Belmont Public Schools

644 Pleasant Street

Belmont, MA 02478

Helping Students Cope with A Tragic Death

Robert Evans, Ed.D.

 

The death of a student reverberates throughout a community.  People feel shock and disbelief, as well as concern for the students family and friends.  Adults want to be helpful to students but often have trouble themselves understanding how such a thing could happen.  They may find themselves reminded of major losses in their own lives.  People worry about saying too much or too little, about not having enough information, about saying the wrong thing.  Though there is no perfect way to respond, there are five guidelines that can often make a positive difference in talking with young people.

1. Dont over-assume what the death means to them.  They react differently depending on their closeness to the situation, their own personalities, and so on.  Some may be deeply moved, others less so.  Some may have many questions, others fewer.  Not all will be intensely affected.  Showing little reaction does not automatically mean a student is hiding or denying his or her feelings.  At the same time, some students who have little immediate reaction may become upset later on, even in a way that doesnt make sense to them.  There is no universal timetable.

2. Children are remarkably resilient.  A few may become quite upset, but given a chance to express what they feel, most usually resume their normal livesand often do so more rapidly than older adults.  There is reason to worry about students who show sustainednot temporarychanges in their mood and behavior.  In such cases, it is good to consult a school counselor or other professional.  But most students do not benefit from extensive, probing questioning about their reactions.  They do profit from simple, direct information and from faculty and parents being available to respond to their questions and to listen when they themselves want to talk. 

3. If you receive difficult questions it can be useful to understand these before answering them.  Often a question is spurred by a feeling.  Rather than plunging into an immediate answer, it can be helpful to learn what motivates the question by asking, What made you think of that? or Can you tell me what you were thinking about?”  Once you know the source of the question, it is easier to answer effectively.

4. There may be questions you cannot answer, which can make you feel inadequate.  But all of us are typically more comforted by straight talk than by false assurances.  Rather than to invent a response, it can be much more helpful to say, I dont know, and to ask, Did you have an idea about that?”  And dont worry if, in responding, you become emotional a time or two.  It is alright for children to know that adults are moved by tragic losses.

5. Above all, coping with a death is not primarily a matter of technique, not something best handled by a particular set of tactics that deviate sharply from ones familiar patterns of communication.  The regular routines of school and of family life, for example, are, all by themselves, a source of comforting continuity and assurance.  Adults will rarely go wrong by relying on what is most basic between them and studentscaring and connection.  At these times, your presenceyour simply being with students, their knowing that you are availablecan be very reassuring.

Dr. Evans is a psychologist and the Director of The Human Relations Service, in Wellesley, Mass.

Hello Belmont!

Welcome to Blogging Belmont, a new weblog that’s all about Belmont, Massachusetts, a.k.a “the town of homes.” My hope is that Blogging Belmont (B2) will add a new voice to the conversation going on within town, and also shine a spotlight on some of the people, places and events going on in town from day to day. Publishing in an online blog gives us the flexibility to react to things quickly, to introduce a variety of voices into the town’s news flow, and to use pictures, video and first hand accounts to tell the story of the town.

About me: my name is Paul Roberts. I’m a Belmont Town Meeting member from Precinct 8, and town resident since 2005. I live with my wife and three girls in the Winn Brook school district, where my daughter, Eliana is going into first grade and my second daughter, Shira, will start kindergarten in the fall.

In my professional life, I’m a journalist who writes about technology, as well as topics like real estate and the music industry. My work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Salon.com, as well as The Improper Bostonian, and countless technology publications. I’ve also done some volunteering for newassignment.net, a citizen journalism project, which gave me the idea for Blogging Belmont.