Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011: A French Odyssey

I have to admit that I'm very excited to be going to France in three short weeks with Madame Gildersleeve, Monsieur Benoit, and 16 very smart MHS juniors and seniors that have been studying French for the past 4 or 5 years. As part of the annual exchange with our sister school, Les Eleves du Lycee St. Louis, we will be traveling first to Paris and then to the remote Brittany village of Chateulin, where the school is located. Once there, I will stay with my friend Olivier Queneuder, who serves as the principal of the school. In a sense, Olivier is returning the favor, as I housed him during his travels to Mansfield last school year.

So right now I'm anxious. Real anxious about my knowledge of the French language. For the last 2 months I have been hitting the Rosetta Stone software package, trying to get some of the basics down. It's just so hard to commit the hour or two per day that it really requires. So when I can, I sit on my family room sofa with my laptop, headset in place, looking at screens like this:

With the program there isn't a single word of English, as it is supposed to be "immersion" as you're learning the language intuitively, much like a young child would learn his/her first language. And that's pretty much how I feel with French.... like a toddler! I've been trying to tell Madame Gildersleeve of my latest French understandings, but they're still real, real rudimentary. Last week I was making small talk with Madame and Chris Kalinowski, MHS' math department chair, and Chris said to me, "Hey, how is the French going?" I made a grimace and Chris replied, "What's wrong? You're just not a French kind of guy?" With her typical dry humor, Madame replied, "Well he certainly knows how to say "The cat is under the table" real well!" (BTW, that would be Le chat est sous la table.)

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit impatient. I do, however, feel like a 7th or 8th grade student at QMS learning French for the first time. The Rosetta Stone takes some getting used to, as it does not teach the language in a classic way. From my three years of studying Spanish in high school, I am still expecting to conjugate verbs in the classic way. With this program.... not so much. At this point, I just have to give it my all and put my best foot forward. I am told that the French love the Americans that give a good faith effort at the language. Still... I'm kept up at night with nightmares that go like this:

Me, with a group of teachers from Lycee St. Louis:

Them: Que pensez-vous à l'administration d'Obama ? (What do you think of the Obama administration?.... Those French, they love talking politics...)

Me: La pomme est verte.

They start laughing hysterically. I break out in a cold sweat...

I need to hang with some French speaking people.... and fast! Excusez-moi, j'ai besoin d'étudier mon français!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Heart of It All... Innovation

This week a colleague shared an editorial piece entitled, "Riding the Innovation Wave" that was in Monday's Boston Globe. Written by the presidents of Harvard and MIT, the piece made the passionate plea that the U.S. must continue to invest in education and research if we are to truly emerge from this severe recession and lead the global economy. Citing other challenging times from our history (e.g., after the Civil War and World War II) the authors claim that "America restored its economic momentum with great bursts of technological innovation, paired with ambitious national commitments to education."

The editorial states that there must be a greater commitment to basic and applied scientific research, as in recent years the U.S. has fallen behind the research and development expansion efforts of such nations as China, India, Korea, Russia, and Brazil. Concomitantly, there must be an intense focus on K-16 education. After all, where is the next generation of researchers and developers going to get its inspiration?

The piece warns against having "a national deficit of inspiration," in that we must not give up the push to improve our schools despite the current budget shortfalls. Indeed, this is true now more than ever. We must press on with curriculum and practices that cultivate 21st century skills- problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, technological literacy, and perseverance to name just a few- as they are the building blocks of innovation.

As the price of gasoline quickly creeps back to $4.00 a gallon or you are watching the latest news report on the Japanese nuclear power plant crisis, consider the following simple facts about renewable energy in America:
I chose to underscore some issues with green, renewable energy, but I could have also posed problems from the fields of medicine, engineering, or information technology. I brought up these facts to illustrate the larger point: innovation is the key. We need to give our students the STEM content and skills so they can think outside of the box and have the opportunities to innovate.

Students in our classrooms will solve these problems in the not too distant future. Our very existence and livelihood is depending on them!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Garden Party Part Deux

Who would have thought a year ago we would be back at Boston's TD Garden for our own version of March Madness, i.e., the quest for the MIAA Division I South Championship?

What a magical, miraculous run it's been for both the boys' and girls' basketball teams this season. The boys' squad had an amazing 23-2 record (a perfect 12-0 in the Hockomock League) and went into the MIAA Tournament as the #1 seed. The girls' team had a historic season, going 24-1 (also perfect for its Hockomock League schedule, 13-0) and was the #2 seed.

As almost as a twist of fate.... or perhaps symmetry, this year's results were the opposite of last year's: the girls lost to the top-seeded New Bedford, 47-68 and the boys beat #7 Newton North, 48-46. Both championship games were very tight as both featured great play and several lead changes. Everyone saw very exciting games!

The boys will go on to face St. John's Prep, the Division I North champs, this Tuesday night at 7:45 pm in the Garden. To be sure, it will be a tough game. The winner will play the Western MA/Central MA game winner on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester for the sole state championship.

I am very happy for both of these programs. Coaches Mike Redding and Mike Vaughan and their staffs have done a remarkable job being first and foremost teachers, and setting the right tone for these great teams. Most importantly, this group of young women and men are great examples for students of all age in our community: they are fine students with great attitudes, have consistently demonstrated good sportsmanship, and have represented MHS with class both on and off the court. Congratulations!

If you are part of the half of Mansfield that wasn't at the Garden Friday night (This town travels remarkably well!), here are highlights of both games courtesy of the MHS alum/Sun-Chronicle sports writer Mark Farinella. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MHS Student Making a Green Difference

MHS senior Lexie Raczka's passion was sparked in the 7th grade as a student at Qualters Middle School. Her science teacher, Mrs. Meredith Azevedo, had been teaching a unit on alternative fuels. She involved Lexie and the other students with a unique project her husband, Keith Azevedo, a MHS environmental studies teacher, had been developing: a "bio bus" that ran on biodiesel and vegetable oil. This meaningful, project-based learning caused Lexie to reflect on her own lifestyle and consumption. "I converted my whole life to become more green. I became more mindful about waste. I became completely vegetarian, eating organic foods. I got my family to start using green, non-toxic cleaning products," she recalls.

During Lexie's sophomore year her mother Mary had a chance meeting with Robin Organ, the executive director and founder of Green Schools. Green Schools is a non-profit organization with a membership of over 100 schools throughout Massachusetts and New England. Green School's mission is to create healthier and greener learning environments through education and awareness. Robin, a Mansfield resident, invited Lexie to be part of the Green Schools Student Ambassador Program, a network of 35 middle and high school students who have the opportunity to work on innovative projects to make their schools healthier through environmental community service. This year Lexie has served as co-president of the ambassador group. In this capacity, much of her time is being spent planning for the Annual Green Schools Summit on April 29. This year's summit, which will be here at Mansfield High School, will feature Governor Deval Patrick as a keynote speaker.

As the MHS Senior Project must involve a "learning stretch" and encompass rigorous research in a field of interest, Lexie's senior project is a fascinating one. Her essential questions are the following: What is the annual carbon footprint of MHS? And what can all of us do to reduce it? (As a side note, Lexie has to date calculated MHS' annual footprint to be 492 tons of emitted carbon- not including student transportation. This translates to the mass of 107 average size elephants!) As part of the project, Lexie has been and will be showing all members of our school community cost-free and cost-effective ways how they can reduce the carbon footprint. As she notes, "I want people to accept that it doesn't cost a lot of money to go green. Even something simple like using a reusable water bottle can save the landfill space. Every little bit counts."

With that can-do attitude and commitment, Lexie will be presenting the Green Schools latest project to the Mansfield School Committee this Tuesday night. The group is proposing that a greenhouse be constructed on the MHS grounds. Procured through fundraising and Rep. Jay Barrows' Together We Can organization, the greenhouse will be integrated with both the wellness/nutrition and environmental studies curriculum.

One person can make a difference.... and Lexie is the epitome of that special student with intelligence, drive, and passion that can make a difference in a school. That's why it is so fitting that she was honored at the State House yesterday for her fine work with the Green Schools Student Ambassador Program. I know she will continue to make the difference this fall when she enrolls as a freshman at Dickinson College as an environmental studies major.

Congratulations, Lexie.... and keep up the fine work!