By Andrea Smardon | Tuesday, April 26, 2011
BOSTON — A public elementary school is Dorchester is getting international attention this week. Policy makers and educators from 17 countries are coming to Boston as part of a conference focused on using the arts to improve the education of students with disabilities.
As part of the event, the conference is highlighting the work of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School for its pioneering work incorporating the arts into its classrooms.
Tim Archibald is a professional musician, but he looks more like a gym teacher in his warm up pants. And he seems poised to jump into action at any moment.
In his office, which doubles as a supply closet for student drama productions, he seems pretty confident about today’s big project for the second graders, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony arranged for xylophones.
“Last week we did Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, today we’re really upping it and we’re moving to Beethoven’s 9th,” Archibald said. “The idea of being able to move from a traditional simple lullaby to something you might learn in Symphony Hall is ah… we’ll see how we do, right?”
In class, a couple dozen students are eager to work on the piece. In one corner, a student drops his head onto the desk. A teacher’s aid works to get him on task. The aid himself has cystic fibrosis -- as well as perfect pitch.
Overall, about one third have special needs ranging from severe disabilities to minor learning impairments, but in some cases, it’s hard to tell which ones.
“Often times people from the outside come in and they say which are the students with the disabilities because they’re all learning together in the same classroom, that’s the whole idea,” Archibald said.
“In our world, people have all sorts of different success rates at being able to do different tasks and being able to learn different things. I think the Henderson Inclusion School kind of reflects the way of the world.”
Before approaching the xylophones, the students worked on keyboards with technology that allows each to work at their own pace. A second-grader demonstrates how the keyboard calls out numbers to get her back on track if she misses a note. The correct keys light up as she plays.
Archibald says the keyboard can provide as much or as little support as you need. This, he says, is the essence of how teachers at the Henderson design all of their curriculum. And it’s how students at different levels with different learning styles are able to learn in a classroom together. It’s a method called Universal Design for Learning.
“This type of universal design, here it is in an electronic instrument, but it can be built into the thought process of how you develop curriculum for students to learn,” Archibald explained.
William Henderson was the first principal at the school, and the man for whom the school is named. He himself is blind, and says working with disabled students requires creativity.
“When you have kids who do not read regular print, whether it be because of blindness, learning disabilities, or cognitive delays, or because they have difficulty holding a book because of physical disabilities, you find other ways of accessing information.”
The school was originally founded 22 years ago in partnership with VSA Massachusetts, a state chapter of a national organization on arts and disability. Henderson says the artists hired and trained by VSA have been helping the school find new approaches to learning.
“We found that the arts engage children, it embellished the curriculum, brought life to social studies. So that children talking about the Boston Tea Party, in addition to writing and reading about it, they’re doing role plays, they’re making murals, they’re doing poetry,” Henderson said.
Henderson said that makes the learning experience richer. “It’s something that the children remember a lot more, and both teaching and learning are more fun and a lot more meaningful.”
As it turns out, Henderson says, this approach to learning benefits all students, not just those with special needs. In the school auditorium, visual artist Mary Dechico is working on a backdrop for the school production of “Singing in the Rain.” She’s a parent with two students at the Henderson school.
“I’m going to cry the day my older son leaves here. He loves it. He’s usually above the curve in his learning, but he just adores this place,” Dechico said. “He loves all the different kids, he’s grown up with these children, in the same classroom, doing the same things. It’s part of life, I feel likes it’s just so nice to see him approach the world that way.”
Back in music class, the students are making progress on Beethoven’s 9th. Within a half hour, they’ve learned to play the first two lines as a group. Eight-year-old Grace Kiwaunaka says she takes piano lessons at home so it’s easy for her, but she thinks the class is doing a fine job.
“Everyone does it really well, and everyone has a different way of doing it, but they all do it really well even though it’s different,” Kiwaunaka said.
By Jess Bidgood | Tuesday, April 5, 2011
BOSTON — Ayanna Pressley pulls a postcard out of her purse. It’s one of many pieces of mail the Boston city councilor has received since she revealed last month that she was raped while she was an undergraduate studying at Boston University.
“There is no question in my mind you are a liar, phony, bitch just looking for headlines,” reads the postcard. “Smart citizens will know what you are doing, and they will know in the future that you are no damn good.”
Pressley is working to change university policies on sexual assault, which she says is a massively underreported crime. She says women who come forward with stories of sexual assault face distrustful, negative accusations, like the one on the postcard.
“It can make one feel incredibly vulnerable to disclose this sort of crime,” Pressley told WGBH’s Emily Rooney on Tuesday. “It is a crime of silence, the fear of judgment, accusations.”
That, Pressley said, is what keeps many victims of sexual assault from coming forward – and it’s why she went public with her own experience (although she has not said whether she came forward about her attack during college).
Pressley and co-sponsor Councilor Felix Arroyo will hold a hearing at the end of the month about what Boston’s colleges and universities can do to create campus environments that better encourage students to come forward if they are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
Pressley isn’t alone in her work to prevent sexual assault. On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden announced a new set of federal guidelines for educators about their responsibilities to prevent sexual violence.
“Look folks, rape is rape is rape,” said Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire on Monday. “No matter what a girl does, no matter how she’s dressed, no matter what she’s had to drink, it’s never okay to touch her without her consent.”
Biden said the Obama administration would now view sexual assault not just as a crime, but as a human rights violation.
Pressley says an important key to whether new regulations will help is whether they help change the way sexual assault perceived on campus. “In order for us to really have the change we’re looking for, you have to change culture,” Pressley said.
To that end, Pressley is calling on Boston-area colleges and universities to establish top-down change, establishing an environment of zero-tolerance for sexual assault that better encourages victims to come forward.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Sunday, September 23, 2012
By Phillip Martin | Tuesday, July 10, 2012
July 11, 2012
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — This summer, two Boston College professors are leading a group of students to volunteer at a clinic for HIV patients who are at the end of their lives in a society where the illness carries significant stigma.
A mile from my hotel, the taxi driver looks at the instructions again, does a U-turn and then speeds down the city's main avenue. A good 45 minutes later we are on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, which most people around here still refer to as Saigon. The driver does a zig and a zag past stores selling pots and portable stoves and through an intersection crowded with commuters on motorbikes. Then tucked away on a side street that meanders past several industrial sites we arrive at an HIV clinic run by the Catholic Church, where I’m met by a woman who calls herself Vee, who tells me the name of the facility, Tieng Vong, is pronounced "Tan Vaughn" and means “Hopeful Voice.”
I’m also met at the gate of the “Hopeful Voice” clinic by Boston College professors Thanh Tran and Rosanna DeMarco. They’re leading a group of BC undergraduates on an eye-opening medical mission to help dying HIV patients at the ends of their lives: learning, relating, struggling with it all and then returning to Boston to make a difference back home.
How the Boston team got involved
“I am an expert in the area. I have been working with black women who are living with HIV who are aging with the disease,” says DeMarco.
DeMarco, a professor of nursing, is far from the HIV clinics of Blue Hill Avenue and the African American and Hispanic women she counsels in Boston. But HIV cuts through boundaries and knows no borders. “I partnered with Dr. Tran and we got five other students interested. All of us came together to try to learn. And see how the health care system works for these patients and what it’s like for them.”
Six students, with plenty of choices for a carefree summer, choose Vietnam instead, a place where HIV carries with it a stigma and a personal and cultural challenge. Says DeMarco:
“Vietnam, although stable in a sense, the rising rates among women and men who have sex with men is very significant. Thus the stigma in the Vietnamese culture. When you are perceived as doing something wrong, like IV drugs or sex working or doing something related to the usual connotation of why people get HIV, then you become ostracized and how painful that is in this culture because there’s so much value on family and connection.”
The students' motivation and the scope of the problem
In the doorway of a one-story suntanned brick building, Pauline Tran of Worcester extends her hand. She is one of five Vietnamese-American students at BC who’ve returned — if you will — to a country they have never known.
“I’ve always had an attachment to my background, to my culture. I’ve always been interested in helping the vulnerable, especially for my family who came from something like this,” she says. Her family escaped to the U.S. after the war. She and the other Vietnamese American students were born in the U.S. They say they have also come to this HIV clinic as a way of giving back to the country of their heritage. And everyone on this trip has a role. For instance, Nguyet Chau, a native of Worcester, helped translate the documents the team uses for the HIV prevention program.
They can use all the help they can get. Vietnam has very limited human resources. In a country of nearly 89 million people, about 300,000 have been diagnosed with HIV. But there are only 1,300 health workers assigned to this population, and many of them are volunteers.
Still, stigma is probably the greatest obstacle to controlling the epidemic, says clinic director Co Vinh, speaking in Vietnamese. “About 13 years ago when we founded this clinic there was no treatment for HIV here in Vietnam and most people had no knowledge about the disease. So their own families discriminated against patients and many of them were thrown out in the streets. Some live in the park under the benches and in the bushes.”
The scene at the clinic
We take a tour of the clinic: There are eight beds, a needle cleaning machine, photos of Jesus and Saigon’s archbishop on the wall; clothing, food and medicine are piled in one corner, medical charts in another. Local volunteers bathe patients, hand out supplies, chart their progress or lack thereof and offer moral support. BC nursing student Mary Gerardo is the only non-Vietnamese student among the six from the U.S.
“I’m from Richmond, Virginia. I don’t travel very much," she says. "They contacted me and I said that would be a great opportunity. Professor DeMarco, after meeting her, I said, 'I can do this.'”
Most local volunteers here are congregants at the Catholic Church that sits on these grounds in Ho Chi Minh City. One is a former clinic patient with HIV who seems amazed by his own survival. “They gave me free medicine starting in 2004,” he says, and that has stabilized his medical condition.
IV drug use in Vietnam is on the rise, as is voluntary and forced prostitution, according to the United Nations. Vinh tells me about a patient who was sold by her own mother into sexual slavery across the border in Cambodia and ended up with HIV.
She says, “The young woman ended up in critical condition with tuberculosis and I met her in a local hospital. I got her address from the hospital and later I was looking for her but the address wasn’t clear. So one rainy afternoon I was looking for her and found her sitting on the streets; coughing on the streets by herself. And when I saw her like that I just could not stand it and I used my own money to rent her a small room.”
To listen and to learn
While most of the Boston College team are visitors to this faraway land, Professor Thanh Tran knows Vietnam well and struggles — perhaps more than we can ever know.
“I was born and raised up here until I finished high school and came to the U.S. at the end of the war," he says. "I’m always very hesitant to return to Vietnam because I belong to a different generation and a member of the Vietnamese community in the United States that’s extremely anti- this government. But I came here with Dr. DeMarco and a group of students to learn about the health care system; how these people find resources [to take care of patients] under very limited conditions.”
And the commitment to reducing HIV infections and the stigma of AIDS outweighs any ideological tug of war between Vietnamese Americans and Vietnam, between heritage and politics, says Professor Tran.
DeMarco agrees and says being here offers an invaluable lesson: “No matter what the care is, whatever level it is, whatever is here or isn’t here, when people come here — they come with their family members and they don’t feel any stigma, they feel respect. When they come here they don’t have people not listening to them. They have people listening to them.”
And that’s perhaps the most important lesson here. These professors and their students are not missionaries. They’re not here to tell Vietnamese clinicians, caregivers and patients what to do and how to do it, but instead they listen and learn, says DeMarco. “As professors we’re interested in helping students not understand research like they are reading it out of a book but understanding that it’s a relationship with people who have real experiences and in order to ask good questions and to figure out the answers to those questions you really have to get to know the problem, up close and personal.”
And “up close and personal,” says DeMarco, is a step nearer to addressing the stigma of AIDS that keeps many from admitting a problem that is worldwide in scope — from Ho Chi Minh City to Boston.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Wednesday, June 20, 2012
June 20, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts high school students will soon be required to take at least 3 years of lab-based science classes to get into the state's public universities. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education announced the new entry requirements on June 19.
Currently, students looking to get into a four-year university in Massachusetts have to take 3 years of high school science but only 2 of them need to be lab-based. And those classes have to be in biology, physics or chemistry.
Starting in 2017, high school seniors will need to have 3 years of lab-based science courses instead of 2. And classes in computers, engineering and technology will count.
Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville said the new entry requirements would better prepare Massachusetts college grads to compete in key industries.
“Engineering and technology should be a prominent part of our curriculum and part of our admissions requirements," he said. "Because that’s where the future is in terms of jobs that are coming to Massachusetts."
He added that the emphasis on experimentation and problem-solving would persuade more kids with scientific inclinations to stay in the sciences:
"We have what I call an 'inspiration gap' in Massachusetts. We do better than any other state on average in terms of student test scores in math and science. And yet when our students expressed what they’re interested in majoring in college, we are well below the national average in terms of interest expressed in STEM majors. Kids aren’t excited."
Reville said he worries traditional science education shuts out too many kids at a time when the state needs more scientists and lab technicians.