Children’s Health

Newton Teacher 'An Isolated Case,' Official Says

By Toni Waterman & Wires   |   Thursday, January 26, 2012
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Jan. 26, 2012

BOSTON — This week, a second Newton public employee was arrested for possessing child porn. Peter Buchanan, who has worked for the city's public library, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Newton District Court to possession of child pornography and distribution of materials depicting a child in a sexual act. A library official said that Buchanan rarely had contact with children.
However, adding to parents' concerns is the news that David Ettlinger, 34 — the Newton second-grade teacher arrested on Jan. 27 on charges of possessing child pornography — advertised his babysitting services on national website Sittercity.
Newton superintendent of schools David Fleishman said there’s no policy against a teacher babysitting and said Ettlinger did in fact babysit for some Newton Public School children. He defended the policy:
"I employ babysitters myself and I actually look for people who have worked with children. To ban our teachers from babysitting, we would be taking a pool of people away," Fleishman said. "And, remember this is such an isolated case — that’s what I’ve been telling parents … most people can be trusted and are really good with children." 
Fleishman said Ettlinger underwent a CORI check last year and nothing alarming was found. Ettlinger's babysitting profile has been removed from the site and anyone who may have had contact with him has been notified. Fleishman also stated that the charges against Ettlinger are unrelated to other recent allegations that have surfaced in Newton.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Creating Peace At $53 A Gun

By WGBH News   |   Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Nov. 30, 2011

BOSTON — The Goods for Guns firearm buyback program in Worcester, Mass. has taken more than 2,000 firearms off the streets over the past 10 years. Dr. Michael Hirsh, the surgeon in chief of the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center, founded the Worcester buyback in 2002.
He told WGBH News host Callie Crossley on Nov. 29 that moral issues aside, the program makes good financial sense.
“We’ve collected these 2,056 weapons at a cost of about $110,000. So, that’s about $53 a gun. And the $110,000 is less than the hospital costs of three gunshot wound victims,” he said. “So, if even three of these 2,000 weapons had caused an injury, we ended up saving the medical system money.”
Hirsh said anyone can turn in a firearm, with no questions asked, at the Worcester Police Headquarters on Dec. 3 and Dec. 9. in exchange for a Wegmans gift card. No gun gets exactly $53: The gift card value is $25 for a long rifle, $50 for a pistol or revolver and $75 for an automatic weapon.

There Are Good Books, And Then There Are Great Books

Monday, May 23, 2011
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Dr. Ilan Stavans is founding academic host
professor at Amherst College, and co-founder
of the Great Books Summer Program.


Download the 2011
Great Books brochure.

A conversation with Great Books Summer Program co-founder, Dr. Ilan Stavans

Dr. Ilan Stavans is Founding Academic Host Professor at Amherst College, and co-founder of the Great Books Summer Program. Dr. Stavans holds an endowed chair as Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latino Studies at Amherst College. Dr. Stavans is a prolific author and editor and is well known for his books, such as Spanglish, as well as his definitive collection of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. In 2010, he created the Great Films movie based on a session at Great Books.

Dr. Stavans, please give us some background on the Great Books Summer Program.

The GBSP is a terrific way to spend the summer immersed in ideas and with people who love them. Designed for middle- and high-school students, Great Books Summer Program invites young people to engage with the literary classics (Plato, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Whitman, Tolstoy, Kafka, et al): to open them up, to debate them, to re-imagine them, to apply their message to our time. During the session, campers may enact plays, write stories, recite poetry, and perhaps even make movies, with the guidance of thought-provoking adults who themselves are teachers, writers, and actors.

How did you become involved with the Great Books Summer Program?

I co-founded the program a decade ago. My dream was to open a space where teenagers would thrive in, through, and around ideas, to inspire them to have the passion I feel toward books. I combined that vision with Peter Temes who was then the President of the Great Books Foundation and we created the program to employ the love of ideas with the “Shared Inquiry” method, always looking to foster the camper’s critical thinking skills. That’s what we need in this complex universe: critical thinking.

What type of young person would enjoy and benefit from the Great Books program the most?
An engaged, intellectually curious young person interested in the various aspects of culture.

What’s a typical day like at Great Books? What are some of the books that are read and discussed? Who are some of the guest authors?
A typical day starts with breakfast, followed by a morning meeting which features a poetry slam. Then comes a lecture with a distinguished thinker about Homer’s The Odysseyand after a short break there is yet another lecture about Pablo Neruda’s Spain in the Heart. Afterward is a discussion section, in which small groups of campers reflect and share ideas on the content of the lecture. Then comes lunch. A free hour allows campers to take hikes, swim, or stage a play. The afternoon might features electives which include creative writing, visual art, music, theater, and various literature related topics. Each evening features an event—there may be a movie showing (Duck Soup, O Brother Where Art Thou, Citizen Kane) or a guest speaker (Debbie Applegate, Joseph Ellis, John Sayles). In the late evening, campers might read the poetry of Emily Dickinson under the starry sky.

Why do you feel it’s so important for young people to continue learning during the summer?

First, learning shouldn’t be a task. It should be fun and Great Books helps to remind campers that the pursuit of knowledge can be a lively and engaging affair. Second, we all know the importance of maintaining academic progress over the summer, to avoid summer slide. Bright young people should engage in academic pursuits to help enhance what they have learned in the previous school year and to prepare themselves for greater academic challenges in the year to come.

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Budget Cuts Could Endanger Services For High-Risk Youth

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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Feb. 9, 2011

BOSTON — With state budget cuts looming, advocates are trying to prevent proposed cuts to the state's child welfare system.

More than 200 people rallied at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday to oppose the $8 million cut to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Gov. Patrick's spending bill. The DCF provides foster care and protective services for Bay State children.  

At a podium in front of the State House’s Grand Staircase, a series of advocates spoke about how the cuts would harm Massachusetts children and families. 19-year-old Rodney Davis of Bridgewater says the cuts would mean less help for former foster kids like her.  Davis says when she aged out of the system last year, she had no idea how to support herself.  That’s when the state stepped in.
"Because I grew up in foster homes, when I was 18 I felt like I wasn’t prepared, like I didn’t  know the real world, which I didn’t," Davis said. "So they helped me with working experience, getting an education and stuff like that."
Advocates say these services could be on the chopping block if the governor’s proposed cuts are approved.

Angelo McClain, the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families  — and a Patrick appointee  — was watching the rally. He confirmed that the department has been hamstrung by recent budget cuts.
"Children's services have been cut and cut and cut.  We've revamped, we've created some efficiencies, but its to the point now that we can't really absorb any more cuts," McClain said.
McClain says the governor's budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would force the department to turn away families seeking help caring for children with emotional or physical disabilities, even though some of the children might be at risk of neglect or abuse. And he says the state wouldn't be able to place a number of children at risk of hurting themselves or their siblings in the proper treatment centers. 
Beacon Hill budget writers have declined comment on specific cuts, but they have noted that the Commonwealth is facing a $1.5 billion budget gap, and everyone is feeling the pain. The House is currently reviewing the governor’s budget proposal. Public hearings are scheduled for next week. 

Suicide Aftermath Still Divides South Hadley

By Adam Reilly   |   Thursday, January 13, 2011
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Jan. 13, 2011

BOSTON — In some ways, things are quiet again in South Hadley.
That’s the town where 15-year-old Phoebe Prince took her own life on January 14, 2010. For the Irish émigré’s family and friends, her death was a private tragedy. But it also made South Hadley an international scapegoat for the problem of bullying.
Now, the media spotlight has moved on. But this quaint town is still struggling to come to terms with Prince’s death.
South Hadley, One Year Later
The mood in South Hadley is markedly different in the town’s common and 650-student high school than it was a year ago. High school senior Robert Archambault welcomes the change.
“There were news trucks constantly outside of our school. When you left, news truck would, like, attack you,” said Roger Archambault.
But it wasn’t just the media’s presence that shook Archambault. It was the way the press and others outsideSouth Hadley seemed to blame the entire town for Phoebe Prince’s death.

“The whole community around you, the school community, was just heartbroken, and we didn’t really know what to do,” said Archambault. “It was really funny how we were being portrayed as bullies when all the other towns and the news was bullying usaround.
Now Archambault is working to change that. He’s vice chair of the South Hadley Youth Commission, a volunteer group that formed after Prince’s suicide to do good works and boost the town’s battered public image.
“Over time – because it’s going to take time – people will take a different look at South Hadley,” predicted Archambault. “And say, ‘Maybe we were wrong and they’re not who the news said they were.' "

South Hadley High School students held a candlelight vigil for Phoebe Prince last January. (AP)

A lot of people feel like South Hadley got a raw deal over the past year. Selectman Bob Judge says the town was misrepresented in media reports. But he also believes that South Hadley is stronger as a result. 
“Out of tragedy comes opportunity,” Judge said. “I think people in South Hadley are seizing this opportunity to strengthen our community, form new ties, communicate better, and get groups talking to each other and people talking to each other that before maybe never talked to each other ’cause they didn’t need to.”
As evidence, Judge cites a surge in volunteerism, like a new suicide-prevention coalition, and the creation of a new South Hadley code of conduct that stresses the need for more civil interactions.

Moving on too quickly?

 But according to some vocal skeptics, it’s far too early to be talking about beginning the healing process. In the year since Prince’s death, South Hadley parent Luke Gelinas has been sharply critical of the town’s response. In April, Gelinas was ejected from a school-committee meeting while arguing that school administrators should lose their jobs over Prince’s death. Nine months later, he’s still making his case.
“There is an environment in that school that led to the problems with Phoebe Prince,” Gelinas said. “That environment has been there a long time.”
“Kids are smart,” he adds. “They don’t believe what they hear, but they do believe what they see. And until they get a change of leadership, nothing is going to change here.”
Gelinas and Darby O’Brien, another parent and pointed critic of the South Hadley status quo, claim that school officials failed in the run-up to Prince’s suicide. And they claim those same officials haven’t been honest with the public.
“Nobody is holding them accountable,” O’Brien said. “And the crazy thing is that you’ve got these six kids who’ve been hit really hard with charges and nobody holds the people who were responsible for running the joint responsible at all.”
O’Brien and Gelinas have gone to court to undo the recent re-hiring of South Hadley School Superintendent Gus Sayer. But Sayer says the school system did everything it could to protect Prince, and that it’s wrong to blame educators for her death.
“No teacher, okay, was responsible for what happened,” Sayer said. “No teacher failed to report what they should have reported. No administrator failed to take action when they should have taken action. But despite that we had an outcome that everybody feels terribly about.”

South Hadley High School.

In the wake of Prince’s suicide, added Sayer, the schools moved quickly to craft an aggressive newanti-bullying curriculum.
“We’ve strengthened the curriculum in the lower elementary grades, we’ve added a new curriculum at the middle school, and we’ve also adopted a new curriculum at the high school,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get to things more quickly. Hopefully where we canbe successful we can intervene earlier and prevent some things things from escalating.
A Town Divided
This back-and-forth between Sayer and his critics has forced South Hadley residents to choose sides.  Carol Constant is one of the adults behind the South Hadley Youth Commission. She says that errors probably weremade prior to Prince’s death, but adds that they may have been unavoidable.
“I think mistakes have been made,” Constant said. “Could anybody anticipate it? Can every teacher and every administrator or every principal be in a room to witness something that happens, or out on the street? Absolutely not.”
The push to oust Sayer, Constant claims, is counterproductive.
“One of the things that’s a real concern is this idea that this can be done through lawsuits,” she says. “That is, in a sense, perpetrating the bullying. It’s not being part of the solution.”
Still, O’Brien and Gelinas are determined to press on. They’ve even floated the possibility of running for the South Hadley School Committee later in 2011.
“We’re not going to quit now,” O’Brien said. “We both have kids who are younger, who are coming through, and they’re not going to go through that. And neither are the other kids in this town.”
Meanwhile, Sayer warns that when it comes to bullying, schools can only do so much.
“To believe that as a result of the plan that we have, or any other school district in the state has, that we’re going to stop bullying would be so unrealistic,” he cautions. “That just is not going to happen.
By way of example, he cites Phoebe Prince’s tragic case.
“The situation with Phoebe Prince – some of the bullying that took place was because of jealously over relationships,” Sayer says. “Believe me, you can’t just sit down with kids who are angry because they like somebody and somebody else likes that person and you try to explain, ‘Well, it’s okay.’ No! It really means a lot to these kids. And so the anger they feel when their relationships are interfered with can run very, very deep.”
Those kids and that anger may be back in the headlines soon. The six students charged in Prince’s death have yet to stand trial. When they do -- or if the charges are dropped by David Sullivan, the new Northwestern District Attorney -- the press will certainly pay attention. High school senior Robert Archambault is dreading it.
“We all fear the media is going to come back again and say different things about our student body and our school that aren’t true,” Archambault says. “Because when you go up against something like the media it’s really hard to defend yourself. Because once they say something… how are you going to say anything against that? You can’t.”
South Hadley will mark the first anniversary of Phoebe Prince’s death with a candlelight vigil on the town common Friday night. 

Keeping Dangerous Toys Out Of The Stocking

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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The Lokmock/Baby's first train was flagged by PIRG as a potential choking hazard.

A consumer watchdog group has put together a list of toys to avoid just in time for holiday shopping.  

The Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, released its latest report on unsafe toys of the 2010 season. 

Thanks to tougher federal safeguards and new limits on lead content, deaths from dangerous toys are declining. But Micaela Preskill of watchdog group Mass PIRG says that parents still need to watch out.

Preskill said that many toys still contain toxic chemicals and pose choking hazards.   To illustrate her point, she picked up a harmless looking toy called “Baby’s first train set” sold on

“We have a wooden train set with small pieces that are little wood pegs.  And these wood pegs don’t violate our choking small parts standards, but a Washington, D.C. parent notified us of this toy after she had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her son to stop him from choking on this piece,” Preskill said.

That wooden train is on U.S. PIRG's list of dangerous toys, which was released today.  Also on the list is a plastic tiara sold in K-mart, which barely meets safe lead standards; and a Dora the Explorer backpack from Claire’s, which contains high levels of pthalene – a toxic chemical found in vinyls that has been linked to developmental problems in children.

Lois Lee, an ER doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital, recommends a couple of steps for keeping the family safe.  First, she says, when choosing a gift for an older child, keep in mind any potential risks to younger siblings.

“I recently took care of a 9-month-old son that the father was concerned may have choked on a Lego, because he saw the 9-month-old crawling towards a pile of Legos that he saw his 4-year-old son playing with earlier that day," Lee saud. "So it’s more than just worrying about the child for whom the toy is but also about the other children in the home.”

Also, Dr. Lee says, read warning labels on toy packaging, ask the toy store owner for any additional information, and use common sense.   For more tips and for the full report on hazardous toys, go to

About the Authors
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.


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