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The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts

September 25, 2017 - Telegram & Gazette - Worcester HEARS
Worcester advances best policies for learning

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City advances best policies for learning

by Clive McFarlane, Columnist
September 25, 2017


Approaching the election season two years ago, there were fearful pronouncements by a few that the African-American superintendent, Melinda Boone, was putting the Worcester public schools in great danger with her “touchy feely” approach to troubled students and her “culturally sensitive” curriculum aspirations.

The fear - and most people knew it then - was wholly manufactured, but I believe it nevertheless was a factor in the losses of two of Boone’s strongest defenders on the School Committee, as well as in her decision to leave the system to take a position elsewhere.

The over-the-top voices of two years ago are awfully quiet as we approach new elections this year, which would suggest that some people are inclined to accept or reject social policies not on their merits, but on the individual pushing them.

I was at Worcester Technical High School Tuesday to hear a presentation on the impact of early childhood adversity, given by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, who is raising national awareness of its effect on health – and the need to have a clinical response.

School Superintendent Maureen Binienda, one of the introductory speakers, told the audience how she had prioritized social and emotional learning, including creating an administrative position to direct this instructional response.

I doubt there would be any backlash to Ms. Binienda emphasizing the social and emotional needs of students in a learning setting. At least, I have yet to hear any from those who were so vocal about such leanings two years ago.

And there shouldn’t be any.

Indeed, when we look beyond the personal agendas of those critics of Ms. Boone, we realize that Worcester, as has been its wont, has been out front in using emerging knowledge to improve the education of young people.

It is true that a number of innovative initiatives Worcester educators have addressed over the years have waxed and waned in the changing political climates at the local, state and federal level. Nevertheless, the city has generally been receptive to ideas and developments that sought to improve young people’s lives and their learning potential.

This has been the case with early childhood trauma, and the chilling impact such experiences tend to have on a child’s education, and as Dr. Harris pointed out Tuesday, on their long-term health as adults.

Despite the shenanigans of two years ago, the city has put a full-court press on attending to the social and emotional well being of its young people.

This can be seen in the city manager’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, whose stakeholders include the public schools, the Police Department, the district attorney’s office, Clark University, churches and more than two dozen social service agencies.

It can be seen in the Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s early childhood initiative, which provides services to parents and their children up through Grade 3. Services include providing grants for programs focused on reducing trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

It can be seen in Worcester HEARS (Healthy Environments and Resilience in Schools), an initiative funded by the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, and which is geared to create school environments that support students’ health, and their academic, social and emotional growth.

Rice Square, Grafton Street, Roosevelt, City View Elementary and Worcester East Middle schools are currently modeling the program.

Two years ago, when people were talking about kicking more youngsters out of school and putting in more police, Clark University brought Shawn Ginwright, the author of “Hope and Healing in Urban Education,” here to speak about the emotionally toxic environment in which many young people were living.

“Educational leaders who have been able to pierce through and make a difference in young people’s lives were able to answer existential questions,” Mr. Ginwright said at the time.

“They say things like, ‘The reason that I am here is because their (young people) lives depend on it. I am here to create a space for healing.’ ”

That awareness was there two years ago, and it is growing more by the day, and what this tells me is that too often we allow the loud voices of the few to drown out what the majority holds to be true.

What this tells me is that Worcester is a far better city than what the few can see.