Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who Wants To Be Jeetayu Biswas?

One of the best and brightest of the MHS Class of 2009 recently did his hometown proud on the ABC gameshow, "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" Last Wednesday, Jeetayu Biswas, who is now a freshman at Brandeis University, appeared on the show as a contestant.

While he did not capture the ultimate prize of $1,000,000, the cool, calm, and collected Jeetayu did great, earning $10,000 toward his future educational expenses. After correctly answering the first four questions, Jeetayu was unsure on the $12,500 question which was: Which poet made the now-famous declaration of "Good fences make good neighbors"? Unsure of the answer, Jeetayu used his last lifeline, the "Phone An Expert" (in this case, ABC's Good Morning America weekend host Kate Snow). Snow said that she believed it was Robert Frost (which it was), but she was not certain. Rather than risking everything, Jeetayu walked away with the ten grand. Good for him!! That was one tough question for $12,500!!

During his four-year tenure at MHS, Jeetayu was an honors student, a member of the Student Council and state STUCO Leadership Group, a member of the National Honor Society, a National Merit Scholar, and a standout on the swim and track teams. He is presently studying neuroscience at Brandeis with the ultimate goal of being a doctor someday.

Way to go, Jeet!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An Everyday Hero

It takes many people to make a school run successfully. At Mansfield High School there are many teachers, paraprofessionals, food service workers, maintenance people, and custodians that professionally do their jobs everyday with a positive attitude and little fanfare. They strive to give their best due to pride and a consistent desire to do what's best for kids. I call these people everyday heroes because they are the heart and soul of a school community and make a difference in so many lives. Debbie McLaughlin was an everyday hero.

There has been a great deal of shock and sadness in the MHS cafeteria in the past week. Last Tuesday Debbie McLaughlin, a Mansfield Food Service worker for the past nine years, unexpectedly collapsed and passed away, presumably from a massive heart attack. She was only 55 years old.

Debbie was an absolute sweetheart and a pleasure to work with. I will never forget her easy-going and affable manner. She was always there to welcome our students with a smile and a greeting of "How are you today, honey?" (everyone was "honey"). When she worked the register at one of the a la carte stations, she was always kind and patient, as it was never a big deal if a student was a dime or quarter short. She always "got it" and always had a heart of gold.

She was one of the first people I met during my first lunch on the first day of school last year. After introducing herself, she proceeded to give me a lay of the land, explaining the flow of how efficient the operation in the MHS cafeteria was, especially in light of how much the student population has grown in recent years. Most of all, she shared with me how much she really loved the kids at MHS, how kind and respectful they were and how they made her job very easy.

I would talk to Debbie on most days. Simple chit-chat about what was on our minds. Over the course of the last year and a half she shared with me all sorts of thoughts about our school and town. We would talk about our families. She shared with me her joy about becoming a grandmother for the first time last year, a beautiful baby girl for her daughter, Shannon. She spoke of the pride she had for her son, Justin, a 17-year-old junior at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School. Our conversations were about everyday, slice-of-life types of things.

It is during these sad, quiet, and reflective times that I am reminded of a lesson I have learned in my life. We tend to focus on the big things- our goals, our dreams, our accomplishments. It's easy to gear our existence toward those things. But in reality, our true worth may be found in the everyday, simple events: how we treat and interact with each other, how we view the world, and the attitude and spirit we project to others. Those are things that really count, the things that we remember. By that measure, Debbie's life was an unqualified success.

Debbie leaves behind two daughters, Shannon and Melissa, and her son, Justin. During this difficult time I ask you to keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Devastation in Haiti

I am sure that all of you have seen the horrific images of the devastation created by last Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake centered in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This is one of the largest humanitarian disasters of our lifetime. Latest estimates from the UN have over 200,000 dead and up to 4 million injured, most of these requiring medical attention and not receiving it. The international forces that are presently mobilizing in this poverty-stricken country have major challenges in getting food, water, shelter, and medical care to literally millions of people.

How You Can Help:

Here is a brief list of reputable organizations that are actively involved in providing relief efforts to the earthquake victims:

  • The American Red Cross: Perhaps the easiest way to donate is to text the word "Haiti" to 90999 and $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill. As of today, the Red Cross has received over $9 million in donations via this method.
  • The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund: Formed by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the fund is committed to providing the necessary resources that Haitians need. Donations may also be provided by texting the word "quake" to 20222 (also a $10 donation).
  • Doctors Without Borders: is striving to provide as much surgery and general care of patients as possible.
  • Save the Children: is on the scene providing life-saving assistance such as food, water, shelter, and child-friendly spaces for youth, particularly those who may be orphaned.
  • United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund: The UN's humanitarian fund that responds to emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti.
  • CARE: This international organization has 5,000 volunteers in the country, as they are focusing on the health of children, distributing water sanitation tablets, food, hygiene kits, and emergency health care.
  • Catholic Relief Services: has made an immediate commitment of $5 million for emergency supplies. They are distributing food and relief supplies, and importing plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and water purification tablets from the Dominican Republic.
The MHS faculty donated a sum of $400 to Doctors Without Borders last Friday with money raised from a staff dress-down day. The Visual Arts Department will soon be organizing a fundraiser so students may get involved. More to follow...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Communities that Care Youth Survey Results- What Do They Tell Us?

Recently both the Sun Chronicle and the Mansfield News ran pieces about Mansfield's results from the Communities that Care Youth Survey, a survey that was administered last June to all students in grades 6-12 in Mansfield, Foxboro, and Norton. The survey asks teens questions about their attitudes and practices with regard to tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana usage. It was done as a first strategic step as the work of the Tri-Town Drug and Alcohol Awareness Task Force commenced. The mindset of the group, comprised of educators, police, local and state lawmakers, and representatives from various social agencies, was to obtain good data on the extent of substance abuse by teens in the three communities. To see a summary of the results, follow this link to the Mansfield Public Schools website.

In the past three weeks I have presented the results to different groups of teachers, students, and parents. There's probably nothing shocking in the results, as it is a snapshot of the attitudes and practices around alcohol and marijuana use in our state and throughout the country. And that in itself is part of the problem.... we have all grown so accustomed to the idea that kids drink and it's a "rite of passage."

For example, the survey asked all students if they have used alcohol in the past 30 days. Here are the results for Mansfield:

As the results show, approximately half of MHS seniors have been drinking at least once in the past month. These results are similar to those found statewide (where 46% in grades 9-12 report use of alcohol in the past 30 days). The survey also shows that a smaller number, 27% of MHS students, have smoked pot in the past 30 days. This is slightly higher than the state results, where 25% of students in grades 9-12 have used marijuana in the past month.

The survey asks questions that identify risk factors (things that may lead to abusing substances) and protective factors (things that may protect from abusing substances). An obvious risk factor is how easily teens may obtain alcohol or marijuana. Here's how Mansfield students perceive how easy it is to procure alcohol:

By comparison, here is how easy it is to obtain pot, according to students:

These results indicate that our students find it relatively easy to obtain alcohol, and to a slightly greater degree, pot. This apparent availability of these substances presents a definite risk factor for Mansfield's youth. This fact underscores the point that this is a community problem, not just a school problem. As a community we must come together and present a consistent, unified message about the decisions our young people make with regard to the use of drugs and alcohol. As high school principal, I have no bigger fear than getting the call that there has been yet another needless tragedy, and the life of one my students has been lost due to a poor decision.

If you are interested in seeing and discussing the Communities that Care Youth Survey results, I will be holding the first meeting of the MHS Parent Advisory Council on Monday, January 25 at 7:00 pm in the MHS library. This topic will be our first agenda item. All are welcome to attend.
This is a problem that we as a society have been grappling with for generations, and it definitely is not going to be solved overnight. However, we can definitely do more than we presently are. We must strive to get the message out to youth more consistently. We must continue to support positive options for kids such as extracurricular programs and sports. We must find tangible ways to bolster the kids that buck peer pressure and consistently make good choices. We must support policies that close the loopholes and appropriately penalize minors and their parents/guardians that violate state law by permitting abuse.

If any new ideas, programs, or policies make a difference to save the life of even a single child, isn't it worth it?