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Photo: AVID
AVID is a program that gives extra attention to students who might otherwise be marginalized. The acronym stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

My friends Ann and AJ had a fun time this past summer helping to chaperone their Colorado niece’s students on a trip to New York City. That’s how I learned about an enrichment program called AVID, which gives an extra boost to students who might need it and incorporates life skills with academic learning.

According to the AVID website, “75% of AVID students are from a low socioeconomic status background, and 80% are underrepresented students. Nevertheless, they outperform their peers in crucial metrics nationwide.”

Ann tells me, “It’s a curriculum that districts can purchase. Emalea has worked with these same AVID program students for four years and they are now making college plans.  Most will be first generation college students. Emalea has helped the kids with everything from social skills to completing their college applications to prepping for ACTs.” (ACTs are standardized tests similar to the SATs.)

Ann and AJ had a blast hanging out with the Colorado teens in New York and feel a lot of hope for these kids’ futures.

AVID’s approach is described on the website: “AVID students reflect and question while mastering content. … Our students work together to problem solve and to change the level of discourse in the classroom as they prepare for success. Students are taught to articulate what they don’t understand and learn how to seek out the resources they need. By teaching critical thinking, inquiry, and self-advocacy, AVID educators empower students to own their learning. …

“This student-centered approach ensures that the people doing the most talking learn the most. This engages students and creates content mastery through inquiry and collaboration. …

“All students need to learn how to learn. Note-taking, studying, and organizing assignments are all skills that must be taught and practiced to perfect, but are not explicitly taught in schools. … Educators can teach students how to master these and other academic behaviors that will help them succeed in school and life.

“Students would rather talk, move around, and ask questions than sit still and be quiet. Humans are wired to construct knowledge through action. AVID classrooms promote motion, communication, and team building through activities such as Socratic Seminars, Collaborative Study Groups, [and] peer tutoring.”

I’ve culled a few testimonials from the AVID website.

“The AVID program not only pushes students, but teachers to set these goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them.”
–Victor, High School student

“I completely changed the way I teach. It’s just amazing the difference it’s made in my teaching and students’ learning.”
–Cynthia Lee, Teacher

“AVID has really increased our graduation rates and also our success rates for students who choose to go to college.”
–Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent

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Photo: Stefan Sauer/AFP/Getty Images
Amateur archaeologist Rene Schoen (left) and 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnichenko looking for treasures in Schaprode, Germany. The boy made a startling discovery in January, then participated in a professional dig that uncovered a larger trove.

In this National Public Radio story, a young boy working with an amateur archaeologist gets to experience the thrill of a significant find, one that underscores the historical connection between Germany and Denmark.

It wasn’t aluminum trash he found. It was a silver coin.

Camila Domonoske reports at NPR, “An amateur archaeologist and a 13-year-old student have uncovered a stash of thousand-year-old coins, rings and pearls on an island in the Baltic Sea in northern Germany, including items that might be tied to Harald Bluetooth, the famous king who united Denmark.

“René Schön and student Luca Malaschnitschenko were searching northern Rügen island with metal detectors when they found something they thought was aluminum but turned out to be silver, Agence France-Presse reports. …

“The two alerted professional archaeologists, and then helped recover of the rest of the trove — more than 600 silver objects dating from the late 10th century. …

“About 100 of the coins are from the reign of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark: the largest find of such coins in the southern Baltic region, the [archaeology office of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania] office says.

“Harald I — his nickname is believed to come from a dead tooth that may have looked blueish — was a Viking king who united Denmark, conquered Norway and converted to Christianity.

“And based on the date of the stash, the state archaeology office says, it’s possible that the hoard wasn’t just from Bluetooth’s reign, but that it was directly tied to the king himself. …

“In case you were wondering: Yes, King Harald Bluetooth is the namesake for Bluetooth wireless technology. An Intel engineer who worked on the technology, Jim Kardach, was reading about Vikings as the project developed.

“In his words, King Bluetooth ‘was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.’ The Bluetooth symbol is a runic representation of his initials.”

More here.

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Some schools are taking the current push for STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) a step further and putting kids on project teams with students from around the world. While you are learning science, you are getting to know what life is like somewhere else.

Dugan Arnett writes at the Boston Globe, “In just a few weeks’ time, the students in Kathy Wright’s Richard J. Murphy K-8 School STEM class have developed a keen grasp of Costa Rican culture.

“ ‘They don’t get snow there,’ said Jayd’n Washington, a 12-year-old seventh grader at the Dorchester school. Added fellow 12-year-old Fabian Riascos, ‘They have their own currency.’

“Their burgeoning interest in the Central American country stems not from a recent geography lesson plan — it’s the result, instead, of a program called Design Squad Global, which pairs American middle-school classes with students from other countries in a kind of virtual pen-pal relationship.

“Created by WGBH Boston as a spinoff of the old PBS television series ‘Design Squad,’ the program serves, at its core, as a way to introduce young students across the globe to the importance of engineering-related projects.

“But another goal — and one that organizers seem to value as much as anything — is the program’s ability to connect children from various locations, backgrounds, and cultures. …

“The DSG program connects kids ages 10-13. Currently, it operates in 25 American cities — including Boston, Chicago, and New York — and eight countries, from Brazil to Jordan to South Africa.

“At the start of the program, which can run either six or 12 weeks, two classes from different countries are paired together. In online correspondence, they tick off their names, nicknames, and interests — and as they tackle a collection of weekly projects, a virtual relationship blossoms. …

“The focus is on real-world problem-solving. Participants are charged with designing and constructing scaled-down versions of a number of projects: a structure that can withstand an earthquake, an emergency shelter, an adaptive device for someone with disabilities.

“ ‘Middle school kids can come up with some amazing solutions,’ said Mary Haggerty, who oversees educational outreach at WGBH. ‘It makes you feel very hopeful for the future.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff
Jhondell Smith-Young tested his STEM project for a Dorchester class that assigns him to an international team.

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Photo: Andy Hogg/Unsung Heroes
Georgetown students raised more than $5,000 for Umberto “Suru” Ripai, a cashier at the dining hall, who is now able to visit his family in South Sudan for the first time in 45 years.

On Facebook, Cousin Claire reposted a wonderful story that Cousin Nancy had shared. It describes exactly the kind of outreach I think of when I say that small acts by one person can make the world a better place.

Petula Dvorak writes at the Washington Post, “Every night, they had the same routine. The Georgetown University business student would settle in for his cram session — soda, chips, books lined up. And the janitor would come in to start his night shift — polishing each of the windows in the study room, moving amid all those books and chips and sodas. Invisible.

“ ‘There was this space, like ice separating us,’ said Oneil Batchelor, an immigrant from Jamaica. The janitor worked around the students — many of them in their 20s like him, many with entrepreneurial ambitions like him — for nearly a decade before one of them finally broke that ice last year.

“A nod one night. A hello the next.

“And within weeks, Batchelor and the student, Febin Bellamy, were having long talks about being immigrants, about wanting to be entrepreneurs, about politics and history and music. Bellamy even went to Batchelor’s church and met his 6-year-old daughter.

“After he formed that bond with the once-invisible worker, Bellamy couldn’t stop noticing the others. …

“Each of those workers has a story. Many of them are immigrants, and their collective histories of war and flight and families left behind offer a master class in geo­politics. No tuition needed.

“Bellamy understands because these are his people. His family immigrated to the United States from India when he was 5. When they got to New York, his mother worked as a nursing assistant and his father as a customer service rep while they were going to college at night and raising a family in the few hours left over.

“Bellamy started at a community college and then transferred to Georgetown as a junior. He knows the scrap and fight the folks fixing pipes and cleaning bathrooms have inside them.

“So he had a brainstorm. What if he found a way to introduce the workers to the students? And that idea went from a class project in April to a fundraiser making real change today.

“He did it in the language his peers understand: a Facebook page. He calls it Unsung Heroes, and he began posting little profiles of workers around campus. …

“The students also learned about some of the hopes percolating, as windows are washed and floors are scrubbed. And they’re helping.

“Turns out that Batchelor really is a gifted cook. Students who read about him encouraged him to hold fundraisers serving his now-famous-on-campus chicken. They raised $2,500, got him catering gigs and helped him put up his own web page, Oneil’s Famous Jerk.

“ ‘It’s like the door has cracked open in front of me,’ he said. ‘And I can smell the air coming through. The inspiration.’ ” Lots more here.

Photo: Andy Hogg/Unsung Heroes
Georgetown University business major Febin Bellamy, left, talks with janitor Oneil Batchelor, who wants to open a chicken joint. Students raised $2,500 and got him catering gigs.

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I liked this local story about a new approach to helping students who have special needs master independent-living skills while still connected with high school. It’s not hard to imagine the satisfaction students will gain from this volunteer-powered opportunity.

Brittany Ballantyne writes at the Valley Breeze, “Thanks to $15,000 donated from Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and the help of volunteers, students in the transition program at North Providence High School [NPHS] will start the school year in a new state-of-the-art transitional apartment space.

“Christopher Jones, special education director, said six Lowe’s stores donated $2,500 each to help build a studio apartment in the building at 1828 Mineral Spring Ave., where students will learn how to prepare and cook food, do laundry, type up resumes, make a bed and become [nursing assistant] certified if they choose.

“By the start of the academic year, Jones said, students ages 18 to 21 in the program will be able to get to work in the space …

“Jones envisioned giving the students an experience where they moved up not just in academics, but also in the NPHS building after receiving their diplomas. What were two in-school suspension classrooms [have been] transformed into the apartment after space was reconfigured in the high school, Jones explained. …

“He said the apartment space will be used anytime students aren’t out in the community getting hands-on work experience.”

More at the Valley Breeze, here.

Photo: The Valley Breeze
Students in the transition program at North Providence High School get apartment-style space to practice how to prepare food and cook, do laundry, make beds and write resumes.

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Teny Gross tweeted this nice story from the Brown University alumni magazine.

Courtney Coelho wrote, “On a snowy December evening, lights were visible through the second-floor windows of List Art Center as the visual arts department’s Critique Intensive held its last session. Mixed with the students in the large studio space were four working artists—Elise Ansel ’84, Chitra Ganesh ’96, Keith Mayerson ’88, and Rob Reynolds ’90—who’d spent sixteen weeks with the class, teaching, critiquing, and discussing art.

“The class was the brainchild of Chair of Visual Art Wendy Edwards, who hopes it will serve as a model for future classes. ‘Alumni bring a generosity to their approach to the Brown students,’ Edwards said. ‘They love coming back here, they love giving, and they’re very professional and committed to helping our students.’ ” More here.

Speaking of art education in Providence, RISD just got a new president, an artisan herself. Meredith Goldstein at the Boston Globe writes, “The Rhode Island School of Design has chosen its 17th president. Rosanne Somerson takes the title effective immediately, the Board of Trustees announced [in February]. Somerson, a RISD grad and furniture designer, has been serving as the school’s interim president since January 2014. The board says it chose to keep Somerson in the job after a nine-month international search.”

The Globe article is here. Disegno magazine has an interview with Somerson, here.

Photo: Mike Cohea
Rose Congdon ’15, left, and her classmates critique work created for the visual art department’s Critique Intensive, a class taught by four alumni artists last semester. 

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An Associated Press blurb in the Globe caught my eye today.

Here it is in its entirety: “Unity Plantation, Maine. A two-year quest by Unity College students to fit a black bear with a video collar has succeeded. The Morning Sentinel said Professor George Matula and about a dozen students trekked deep into a 4,000-acre patch of woods off Route 139 Thursday to fit the collar on a trapped bear. While one student kept the angry bear’s attention, another sneaked in from behind to deliver a shot to knock it out.”

I had to find out more. The website of Unity College, “America’s Environmental College” located north of Augusta in Waldo County, explains it wasn’t a professor-assisted prank.

“With permission from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Unity College Bear Study team does hands-on research to provide information on a bear population in Central Maine. Students work with faculty mentor George Matula and alumna mentor Lisa Bates ’08 to tag, tattoo and radio collar bears to collect data and monitor activity.” More at Unity College, here.

But about actually collaring the bear. …

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling  writes at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, “Once Matula gave the all-clear, the students descended on the bear, intent and serious as each performed a well-defined role. They still spoke in whispers as they took blood samples, checked its vital signs and prepared to affix the all-important video collar to its neck. …

“One student, Leon Burman, cradled the bear’s head in his lap while he pulled back its lips, using a tattoo gun to leave an identification mark on the gums.

“[Student Jonah] Gula lifted the bear’s front right paw, inspecting a raw and red line defining the previous capture’s cable. Gula speculated later that it meant the bear was pulling at its snare more aggressively than most. The team treated it with a first-aid kit.” More here.

Photo: Mark Bennett

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