UMass Dartmouth faculty member awarded third Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship

UMass Dartmouth Professor Bridget A. Teboh (History) has been awarded a 2020-2021 fellowship by the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP). The fellowship will enable her to travel to Nigeria to work with Benue State University Makurdi (BSUM) and Professor Msugh Moses KEMBE (Vice-Chancellor) on Curriculum Co-development, Graduate Students Teaching/Mentoring, and Collaborative Research, thereby transforming Africa’s “Brain Drain” into “Brain Circulation,” one of the Core goals of Carnegie ADFP. This is the third time Teboh has been awarded the prestigious fellowship.

“I am humbled to be a part of this innovative collaboration, funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and managed by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) in Nairobi, Kenya, which coordinates the activities of the Advisory Council,” said Teboh.

As a Carnegie Fellow, Teboh will spend 82 days during the summer of 2021 to strengthen the existing curriculum and co-develop new courses for the BSUM History Department as well as facilitate the creation of a Diasporan and Heritage Studies Center which will mentor both students and faculty members, foster academic collaboration‚ and organization of capacity building workshops, thereby inserting the Diasporan and Heritage Studies discipline in the Benue State University- Makurdi curricular offerings.

“For both UMassD and BSUM, this collaborative project represents a new and exciting formal partnership—and our students stand to benefit from it, for, the initiative will pave the way for my continued collaboration with African Institutions,” said Teboh. “I hope that this initiative will concretize and increase meaningful Study Abroad/Student Exchange Programs with African universities.”

The Diasporan and Heritage Studies is an expanding academic field dealing with dispersed ethnic populations, regarded as diaspora peoples. It connotes the idea of a forced or (in)voluntary settlement due to coercion, expulsion, slavery, racism, war, or ethnic conflicts. This is linked up with heritage studies that will help to establish the cultural roots of the persons/groups so studied. Teboh’s expertise in African History, Black/Diasporan Studies, Gender Studies, oral history, Interdisciplinary Methodology, and Historical Research will be critical to the setting up of the Diasporan/Heritage Studies at BSUM and help students undertake field trips to heritage sites.

Teboh is one of 74 African Diaspora Scholars who have been awarded fellowships as part of a broader initiative that pairs them with 43 higher education institutions and collaborators in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda to work together on curriculum co-development, research, graduate teaching, training, and mentoring activities in the coming months. The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, now in its eighth year, is designed to reverse Africa’s brain drain, strengthen capacity at the host institutions, and develop long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between universities in Africa and the United States and Canada. A total of 527 African Diaspora Fellowships have now been awarded for scholars to travel to Africa since the program’s inception in 2013. Engagements in educational projects exemplify Carnegie Corporation New York’s commitment to higher education in Africa. See the full list of newly selected projects, hosts, and scholars.

Professor Bridget A. Teboh to use fellowship to travel to Nigeria to transform Africa’s “Brain Drain” into “Brain Circulation.”

Bristol Community College ranked best online community college in Massachusetts by Premium Schools

Bristol Community College is proud to announce that Premium Schools (premiumschools.org), a primary source of information for quality degree programs, has ranked Bristol the best online community college in Massachusetts on its 2021 list of The Best Online Community College in Every State in the U.S.

The ranking highlighted Bristol’s wide variety of online degree programs and certifications, flexible weekend and evening college options and student support services, including academic and career counseling.

Based on its ranking methodology to produce the list, Premium Schools looked at all community colleges offering online degrees across the country and made their comparison based on specific criteria, including affordability, the use of innovative technology and instruction by experienced professionals. For more information about Premium Schools ranking methodology, please visit https://www.premiumschools.org/methodology/.

Premium Schools aims to provide students with the most up-to-date information and opportunities to access their educational and career options. For more information about Premium Schools, please visit https://www.premiumschools.org/.

For the complete listing of The Best Online Community College in Every State for 2021, including Bristol Community College, please visit https://www.premiumschools.org/the-best-online-community-colleges-in-every-state/.

For more information about Bristol Community College, please visit www.bristolcc.edu.

UMass Dartmouth student named to Massachusetts Department of Higher Education “29 Who Shine”

Education champion, Maggie Sullivan ‘21, honored on May 13 in virtual State House ceremony.

Maggie Sullivan ’21, of West Roxbury, Massachusetts was celebrated by Governor Charlie Baker at a virtual ceremony as a “29 Who Shine Award” recipient. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education award honors 29 outstanding students, one from each public institution, in the Class of 2021. Sullivan, who is majoring in Political Science and minoring in Leadership and Civic Engagement with a 4.0 GPA, was chosen for this prestigious student award for her work increasing the educational aspirations of students in SouthCoast communities.

“It’s an honor to win the “29 Who Shine” award. I am so thankful to UMass Dartmouth and all of the wonderful opportunities I have had as a student here. Working with the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement on campus allowed me to work in the community and gain invaluable leadership skills. I look forward to continuing to serve the Commonwealth, which has presented me so many opportunities to thrive, after my graduation,” said Sullivan.

As a College Positive Tour Coordinator, Sullivan worked with local school districts to provide tours of the UMass Dartmouth campus to all 7th graders in Fall River and New Bedford. During the tour, university students share their own stories about their paths to college helping to build a peer-to-peer connection with the students. UMassD students instill the importance of higher education and show that if they can achieve their dreams, so can these young students.

When the pandemic struck, in-person tours were canceled, but Sullivan saw an opportunity to continue providing this crucial experience to students. She developed a module that included a virtual online tour with UMassD students that highlighted the possibilities that universities have to offer. The module can be delivered by 7th-grade teachers and includes a virtual Q & A with university students. The module has been shared with numerous schools on the SouthCoast, allowing more than 5,000 students to gain insight into life as a university student.

“It is so important to reach these students early and inform them that college is a possibility for everyone. There are great resources out there aimed at making college more accessible and affordable, but too often students and families don’t know about them. Not only that, but students often find themselves in a position by the time they finish high school where they have already decided that college is not for them. Bringing these students to campus at an early age allows them to visualize themselves as college students and plant the seeds in their minds that there are resources out there to help them get to college,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan is an Endeavor Scholar and 2020 Campus Compact Newman Fellow who has a passion for public service, education, and political science. Outside of her schoolwork and campus volunteering opportunities, she has served as a Stanley Miller Fellow with the Office of Congressman Stephen Lynch, an intern with Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, and a Deitch Leadership Institute Fellow at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston.

“Maggie Sullivan is an incredible representative for UMass Dartmouth and is especially deserving of the “29 Who Shine” award,” said Mark A. Fuller, Interim Chancellor of UMass Dartmouth. “Maggie embodies so many of the traits that we as a public institution of higher education strive to instill in our students: innovative leadership, academic excellence, and a dedication to helping her community. I look forward to hearing more about her accomplishments in the years to come.”

Sullivan plans to pursue a career in teaching and will continue her education at UMass Dartmouth to earn a master’s in teaching while working as a middle school teacher in either Fall River or New Bedford.

UMass Dartmouth faculty to participate in 2021 STEM for All Video Showcase: COVID, Equity & Social Justice

Faculty members Chandra Orrill, Shakhnoza Kayumova, and Ramprasad Balasubramanian to present “Computational Thinking Counts in Elementary Grades.”

UMass Dartmouth Professor Chandra Orrill (STEM Education & Teacher Development), Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova (STEM Education & Teacher Development), and Vice Provost for Research & Academic Affairs Ramprasad Balasubramanian will be featured in the 2021 STEM for All Video Showcase funded by the National Science Foundation. The event will be held online between May 11 and May 18 and will be live-streamed.

The faculty members will be present “Computational Thinking Counts in Elementary Grades” which explains how their current STEM education research project aims to develop a professional development model for bringing computation thinking into the formal mathematics and science curriculum in elementary classrooms. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

“This is a unique and critical endeavor that allows elementary teachers, who are considered generalists in the field, to work with content and pedagogy experts to develop their professional knowledge and skills,” said Dr. Orrill. “Students prepared with computational thinking skills will be better equipped to persist when faced with any challenging problem. They will learn to deal with ambiguity and use creativity to solve problems, and they will learn to communicate and collaborate with others in their problem-solving.”

Now in its seventh year, the annual showcase will feature more than 280 innovative projects aimed at improving Science, Math, Engineering, and Computer Science education, which have been funded by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies. During the 8-day event, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and members of the public are invited to view the short videos, discuss them with the presenters online, and vote for their favorites.

The theme for this year’s event is “COVID, Equity & Social Justice.” Video presentations address broadening participation, impacts of COVID on STEM teaching and learning, design implementation on STEM and CS programs, research informing STEM and Computer Science teaching and learning, and measuring the impact of innovative programs. Collectively the presentations cover a broad range of topics including science, mathematics, computer science, engineering, cyberlearning, citizen science, maker spaces, broadening participation, research experiences, mentoring, professional development, NGSS, and the Common Core.

Last year’s STEM for All Video Showcase is still being accessed, and to date has had over 86,000 unique visitors from 180 countries.

The STEM for All Video Showcase is hosted by TERC, in partnership with: STEMTLnet, CADRE, CAISE, CIRCLS, STELAR, CS for All Teachers, NARST, NCTM, NSTA, NSF INCLUDES, and QEM. The Showcase is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (#1922641).

Bristol Community College announces partnership with the Boston BullPen Project to further assist student needs

Bristol Community College has announced a new partnership with the Boston BullPen Project to further assist students’ financial needs. The innovative Boston BullPen Project provides emergency funding to a wide and diverse community from Boston to Worcester, including veterans, families, at-risk youth, homeless, patients and others. The unique partnership with Bristol will be the project’s first collaboration with a higher education institution or Southcoast organization and will provide a rolling funding source to further assist students’ basic needs.

Upon referral from Bristol’s Basic Needs Support program, the partnership will provide students facing an emergency with financial support for immediate needs, including home appliance or heating repair, winter clothing, or other cash-based one-time bills affecting students’ livelihood. The collaboration aims to support many students who may be disqualified from other utilized community resources either because of their age, lack of disability or lack of dependents.

“Bristol is very excited to have the opportunity to work towards the shared goals of the Boston BullPen Project on this exciting partnership, said Nikita Viera, Program Coordinator, Basic Needs Support, Bristol Community College. “Knowing that funding will directly support critical needs in our communities by supporting Bristol’s hard-working students, provides me with immense gratitude for this collaboration.”

Understanding that any basic needs insecurity can cause students to withdraw from social and academic settings impacting their success, the college’s Student & Family Engagement department has incorporated a holistic and intentional approach to address critical student needs. As a result, the college has recently launched a dedicated Basic Needs Support program, led by Program Coordinator Nikita Viera, designed to help students bridge the gap in access to a broad spectrum of community wellness and financial support resources. Through individualized support, Bristol’s Basic Needs Support program aims to empower students with personal and professional life skills designed to promote self-determination and financial stability.

Bristol’s commitment to basic needs support has been fostered by standing college initiatives, such as the Mobile Food Market, in collaboration with the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the “Grab & Go” Food Pantry, addressing food insecurity, as well as most recently, the college’s CARE Team, which helps make connections to services based on self-reported student issues that can be addressed through established channels at Bristol. Through these and similar efforts, Bristol has identified the continued need for advancing dedicated college-wide and student-centered support.

The Boston BullPen Project was established in early 2017 by four childhood friends with a shared love of baseball and a commitment to helping those in need. Since it began, the project has provided more than $400,000 in emergency funding assistance to a wide and diverse community of residents, from Boston to Worcester. Through its work, the project identifies gaps in social services and responds quickly and effectively to support critical needs that would otherwise go unfulfilled. By partnering with agencies and groups that are experienced with offering support to in-need residents, the project ensures that help is provided where it is most needed. The project also works to promote a spirit of “paying it forward.” In doing so, recipients of the Boston BullPen Project’s assistance also receive an additional gift card to share with a friend or family member in need.

For more information about the Boston BullPen Project, please visit https://www.bostonbullpenproject.org/.

For more information about Bristol Community College’s partnership with the Boston BullPen Project or how Bristol is supporting basic students’ needs, please visit http://www.bristolcc.edu/basicneeds or email nikita.viera@bristolcc.edu.

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife: “Why cutting trees isn’t always a bad thing!”

From a young age, we’re taught planting trees is good for the environment, so alternatively, cutting down trees is bad—right? Well, it’s not that simple.

Earth Day was last month, bringing attention to our planet’s most pressing environmental threats and inspiring calls for action like tree planting. From a young age, we’re taught planting trees is good for the environment, so alternatively, cutting down trees is bad—right? Well, it’s not that simple.

Forest carbon is a hot topic these days and with good reason. Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it as wood, which helps mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. While some people believe the best use for a tree is to leave it alone to keep taking more carbon out of the atmosphere, this blanket “do-nothing” approach is an oversimplification of a complex issue. Forest carbon and climate change need to be addressed within a framework of the numerous benefits trees and forests provide including clean water and air, wildlife habitat, renewable wood products, aesthetics, and recreational opportunity—as well as carbon sequestration and storage. And in our inhabited landscape we never really “do nothing.” As a modern society, we don’t let wildfires burn, we don’t let beavers flood housing developments, and we don’t leave behind the “mess” of blown-down trees in our streets after a tornado or hurricane. We value human lives and the safety of our homes more than we value letting nature take its own course.

According to a recent report, we are losing 13 acres of forestland to development in Massachusetts every day. Without question, the most important action to take relative to forests and climate change is to keep forests from being cleared for development. MassWildlife and its conservation partners are doing their part by permanently protecting thousands of acres of forest each year and ensuring they will continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere and keep it stored. But it’s important to remember: climate change mitigation isn’t the only environmental goal, and land protection alone isn’t enough to conserve wildlife and their habitats.

The chestnut-sided warbler is a habitat specialist and gathers insects in brushy areas. Photo by Bill Byrne/MassWildlife.

At some point in their life cycle, many types of wildlife rely on open habitats that just wouldn’t exist with a “do-nothing” approach. Examples include ruffed grouse, American woodcock, New England cottontail, buck moth, and wood turtle, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a variety of songbirds. Over time, changes in human land use have fundamentally altered natural disturbance processes like flooding and fire that historically created a diversity of wildlife and vibrant open habitats. Some of these open habitats, such as shrublands, grasslands, and young forests, are now rare in Massachusetts due to development, forest maturation, and fire and flood suppression. Without habitat restoration and management, we would lose a number of native wildlife, tree, and plant communities. In fact, over 40% of the 427 plants and animals currently listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act depend on habitats needing active management during at least part of their life cycle. If you’re wondering what we mean by “active habitat management”, this can include strategically cutting trees, mowing, invasive plant removal, and prescribed fire.

As the state agency responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife, it is MassWildlife’s core mission to address the effects of human activity on wildlife and their habitats, including over 226,000 acres of conserved lands under MassWildlife’s care and control. Using information from scientific literature, biological monitoring, and private conservation organizations, MassWildlife’s staff of professional biologists and foresters set habitat goals for these lands designed to conserve a wide variety of wildlife and plants. MassWildlife’s habitat management goals offer a balanced approach by seeking a diverse portfolio of habitat composition, from passively managed forest reserves with no tree cutting to the other end of the spectrum of open canopy grasslands, shrublands, and young forests which require active forestry activities like tree cutting and mulching.

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife photo.

In keeping with the agency’s science-based habitat goals, the majority of MassWildlife’s forestlands will continue to be managed as forests. Because of this commitment and continuing forest growth, carbon accounting for MassWildlife-managed lands shows a net annual increase in carbon storage even after factoring in carbon release associated with active habitat management required for open habitats. In fact, the amount of additional carbon that could be stored by eliminating tree cutting on MassWildlife lands is less than 2% of the amount of carbon that our forests are already removing from the atmosphere each year. In exchange for that small amount of carbon, MassWildlife maintains the benefits of clean air and water, restores habitat for wildlife, provides people with a variety of nature-based recreational opportunities, and also increases the diversity and resiliency of the landscape to climate change impacts, reducing the likelihood of catastrophic carbon releases in the future.

While it might make for an easy slogan to say “Never cut down trees,” that’s not the best call-to-action if you care about wildlife conservation. Environmental problems are often complex, and require complex solutions. It’s not always as easy as a simple “either-or”. The ultimatum doesn’t need to be climate change mitigation OR wildlife conservation. With MassWildlife’s balanced habitat goals, we can have both. In the last 5 years, MassWildlife’s Wildlife Management Areas are estimated to have stored over 2 million tons of carbon, and MassWildlife staff restored important wildlife habitat on nearly 12 thousand acres. MassWildlife remains committed to fulfilling our mandates of protecting all of the Commonwealth’s biodiversity AND reducing greenhouse gases.

New Bedford High School Graduation Rate Soars to 90% – Highest Since State Tracking Began and a 30-Point Jump in 10 Years

New Bedford High School’s 2020 four-year cohort graduation rate has increased to 90%, a historic increase that marks a nearly 30-percentage point increase since 2010, based on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) recent reporting on statewide graduation rates.

New Bedford High School’s four-year cohort graduation rate of 90% in 2020 – an increase of nearly 30 percentage points, from 61.4% in 2010. The total four-year graduation rate has increased over 32 percentage points, from 55.8% in 2010 to 88.1% in 2020. The 2020 four-year cohort graduation rate was 90%, a 7.5% increase from the previous year. The 2020 dropout rate was just 2.1%, down from a high of 9% in 2009. While MCAS was not included as a graduation requirement in 2020, it was only one metric of several and appears to have had little impact on graduation rates; most schools’ graduation rates did not experience significant increases or changes. New Bedford High School’s graduation rate has improved consistently for the past consecutive nine years.

A milestone for New Bedford High School and the district

News of the graduation rate marks an important point in New Bedford High’s history. In 2011, a report by DESE identified problem areas, among them struggles with attendance, graduation, and retention, given the high school’s low graduation rate. The school was designated as “underperforming,” resulting in monitoring by the state of the school and the district. In 2012, a major reform effort began, and thanks to years of hard work by the city’s teachers, school staff, school- and district-level administrators, students in New Bedford have made significant gains over the past nine years. Student test scores have increased, a strategic plan for continuous improvement is in place for the district, and the district’s success has been recognized.

In 2017, given the enormous progress made by New Bedford Public Schools, including the beginning of this increase in the high school graduation rate, state officials declared New Bedford “an extremely different district” than it had been at the start of monitoring in 2011. Citing “great strides to address the systemic concerns raised in the 2011 review,” and “effective processes in place in order to continue meaningful improvement,” the district was released from state monitoring in 2017. Since that time, New Bedford High School’s graduation rate has continued to increase, as have test scores, and participation and success in Advanced Placement (AP) courses and college admissions successes.

Focus on equity: ensuring success for all students – EL graduation rate up 56 points since 2014

A critical component of success for New Bedford High School and the district has been ensuring success for all students through a lens of equity, since the start of the district’s reform efforts nearly nine years ago. A focus on accurate and adequate identification of English Learners (EL) students, who had not been properly identified in the district before school improvement efforts began, led to a significant increase in English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. Among EL students, the graduation rate has also soared a staggering 56 percentage points in the past six years alone– from a four-year graduation rate of 29.2% in 2014 to 85.1% in 2020.

Focus on success for all students has been seen at the high school and across the district. In 2020, the James B. Congdon Elementary School was recognized as a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education – one of just six such schools in Massachusetts and the only one outside an affluent suburb – and has been designated a statewide School of Recognition by DESE for the past two years. Congdon’s student body includes 34% of students designated as ELs.

School leaders expressed pride at the overall increase in New Bedford High School’s Advanced Placement participation rate from 45.5% in 2019 to 51.3% in 2020. English Learner (EL) students saw strong growth for the third consecutive year increasing from 66.7% in 2019 to 81.3% in 2020.

Superintendent Thomas Anderson stated, “This is excellent progress and clearly shows that when we invest in our students the possibilities are endless. New Bedford High School continues to show significant growth with more students graduating to what is now an all-time high – 90%. On a daily basis our students have demonstrated their ability to grasp rigorous subject matter and meet high academic expectations. We believe in them, and most importantly, they believe in themselves. New Bedford High School is delivering on its pledge of excellence – to foster critical thinkers who are college and career ready in the digital age. The staff is to be commended for this milestone.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell said, “In 2011, the New Bedford Public Schools were placed under state monitoring and were threatened with full state receivership, due in no small part to the low graduation rate at New Bedford High School. In my campaign for mayor that year, I said that the graduation rate was unacceptable, and that although it would take time, we would not allow the doors of opportunity to be closed to our city’s schoolchildren. It has not been easy along the way, but today’s announcement shows that major reform in urban public education can be achieved with an unwavering, long term commitment to higher standards.”

Such achievement would not be possible without strong leadership, and Mayor Mitchell recognized Superintendent Thomas Anderson and his team for their tireless and sharp focus on improving student achievement for all of New Bedford’s children, including significant gains under the Superintendent’s leadership, and Headmaster Bernadette Coelho and her team for their commitment to working with students to ensure every New Bedford High School graduate is primed for success.

The Mayor recognized his colleagues on the School Committee for their continued dedication to prioritizing the advancement of New Bedford’s students, and their support, which has set the right conditions for significant advancement by the district. He also thanked those who have worked toward the end of maximizing opportunity for New Bedford’s schoolchildren, including former district leadership and staff over the last decade that began this successful reform effort.

Mayor Mitchell, who serves as ex-officio Chairman of the School Committee, also singled out the role that education advocates played in turning the city’s attention toward improving student outcomes in New Bedford Public Schools before he took office, including the New Bedford Education Roundtable, which was chaired by former NAACP of New Bedford President Bruce Rose. The Mayor cited the impact of consistent media scrutiny and thanked Bob Unger, former editor of The Standard-Times, for his dedication of resources and energy to draw attention to the issue of education reform.

Mr. Unger said, “These remarkable gains are the result of the steady commitment of the Mayor, Superintendent, School Committee, business and nonprofit leaders, teachers and principals, parents and children. This shows what happens when we work together to raise expectations for all our children, who will be prepared to contribute to their neighborhoods and their city and to lead happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives. It gives me such hope for the future of our city. I also am proud of the role The Standard-Times has played in reporting on public education and in advocating for improvement.”

Headmaster Bernadette Coelho, said, “Getting to 90% has required building an enhanced scaffold of supports and programming that not only assists students throughout their four years but also enhances their academic and social experience. It is designed to appeal to them to want to be here and to actively participate.

“The hallmark of supporting our students is that every effort is highly personalized. From the first day they walk in as freshmen to the day they cross Walsh Field as graduates, they have had a designated support team of educators and staff that follows each of them throughout their four years. This is deep work; it involves constant interaction with students, including teachers knocking on doors when necessary.

“Frankly, MCAS is only one marker; our students must meet all of our local and state requirements for a diploma, demonstrating competency in rigorous coursework. In our regular meetings with DESE, the data shows that NBHS’ progress and the numbers speak to the level of work we are doing here. We are gaining momentum, with new and enhanced programs such as the Academy of Honors, the NAF career academies, and full open access.

“Our commitment as a team is to work personally with every student to see them through to graduation and be ready for the next opportunity on their continued journey. It is the hard work and perseverance of our students with the ongoing support of teachers, staff and families, that makes this happen. I could not be prouder of our New Bedford High School students.”

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife alerts residents of turtles crossing roads to nesting sites

“Thousands of turtles across Massachusetts will be traveling to nesting sites over the next couple months. If you find a turtle on a road or in your backyard, do not move it far away. If you have the opportunity to safely move a turtle from the road, move it in the direction it was heading just off the edge of the road. ⚠️

PLEASE NOTE: Snapping turtles are fast and have very powerful jaws that can inflict a bad bite. If you must move a snapping turtle, the best way is to use a broom to coax it into a plastic tub/box. A snapping turtle can reach your hands if you lift it by the sides of its shell. Never lift a snapping turtle by its tail, as this can injure its spine.

More: mass.gov/news/why-did-the-turtle-cross-the-road

Massachusetts: Chronic Absenteeism Rate Rose in Disrupted School Year

By Katie Lannan
State House News Service

New statewide school attendance data show the percentage of students deemed chronically absent was up so far this pandemic-disrupted school year, as compared to the last three academic years, with rates soaring among English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.

Seventeen percent of Massachusetts students have been categorized as chronically absent — meaning they missed 10 percent or more of their enrolled school days — through March of the 2020-2021 school year, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education numbers updated Friday.

With a statewide enrollment total of 911,465 students, that figure works out to more than 154,000 students absent for 10 percent or more of their school days.

Through March 2 of last year, 13 percent of students were chronically absent students, and the percentage hovered near that point in the 2018-2019 (12.9 percent) and 2017-2018 (13.2 percent) school years.

The average number of absences per student so far this year sits at six, close to the 5.7 recorded last year and below the 9.6 from 2018-2019, the last school year not disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schooling in Massachusetts — as in other places across the country and the globe — has been transformed by COVID-19, creating new challenges for students, families and educators.

School buildings throughout the state shuttered in March 2020, forcing an abrupt and experimental transition to remote learning amid a public health crisis that threw much of daily life into disarray.

When the new school year began in the fall, some districts remained fully remote while others brought back in-person learning part-time or full-time. More students have returned to classrooms throughout the year, and as of April 27, 146 districts were fully in-person for grades K-12.

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley this spring set deadlines for districts that had not already done so to phase out remote learning. Except for cases where the state approved waivers, elementary and middle schoolers were due back in classrooms in April, and May 17 is the date for high schoolers.

“Absenteeism is one of the challenges that has prompted the Department to urge and require school districts to provide in-person learning,” Colleen Quinn, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Education, said in a statement to the News Service. “While school committees set policies related to attendance, and parents and school districts have the primary responsibility for attendance of individual students, the Department recognizes chronic absenteeism as an important element of all school districts’ accountability measurements, and uses the data in combination with other indicators to make determinations as to which school districts need more assistance and involvement from DESE.”

Remote instruction means students don’t have to worry about inclement weather, missing a bus or having a parent available to take them to school. It also lacks the engagement with peers and teachers that comes along with in-person classes and can present new obstacles to participation, like a lack of reliable internet or quiet workspace, or a need to oversee a younger sibling’s schoolwork.

Families are able to choose to have their students continue remote learning for the rest of the school year, and state guidance requires that students who are learning remotely have a daily opportunity to interact with a teacher. The latest updates to that guidance require a visual component as part of the daily live check-in, using videoconferencing or other methods of seeing students.

“Schools and districts need to assess how to use video conferencing in a way that is respectful of individual student’s needs,” the guidance says. “For example, if a student is reluctant to be seen in their home by classmates, a teacher might meet with the student in a breakout room with a virtual background for a short period of time to conduct the live check-in. In situations where the district or school has concerns about a student’s attendance or level of engagement, they should employ additional levels of support to re-engage the student.”

Along with new efforts around keeping students engaged in learning, this school year has presented districts — and state and local budget-writers — with new questions around enrollment numbers. Largely driven by declines in pre-K and kindergarten, the state’s 400 school districts experienced an enrollment decline of more than 30,000 students this year, and it’s unclear exactly how many will return to their public school systems in the fall.

Statewide, the 2020-2021 attendance rate stands at 94 percent, down from last year’s 94.7 percent and the 94.6 percent recorded in each of the previous two years. The number of students with more than nine days of unexcused absences this year is 3.9 percent, down from 6.8 percent in 2019-2020 and 16.7 percent in the 2018-2019 school year.

Attendance and absenteeism figures vary by district, and across student subgroups.

This year’s chronic absenteeism percentage is higher among students who are economically disadvantaged (29.6 percent, from 21.5 percent last year), English learners (29.6 percent, from 19.5 percent last year) and students with disabilities (26.3 percent, from 19.9 percent last year) than the statewide 17 percent.

That figure also varies by race and ethnicity — 6.8 percent of Asian students, 12.7 percent of white students, 23.9 percent of African American and Black students and 28 percent of Hispanic/Latino students fall into the chronically absent category.

Among the largest school districts, the department’s data show 26.7 percent of Boston’s 48,112 students are chronically absent, along with 23.2 percent of Springfield’s 24,239 students, 21.7 percent of Worcester’s 23,986 and 21.1 percent of Lynn’s 15,587.

The chronically absent percentage differs across the three districts under state receivership — 46.2 percent in Southbridge, 39.1 percent in Holyoke and 18.6 percent in Lawrence. Districts consisting of one school, like charter or regional schools, land all over the spectrum.

Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School in Lawrence — which aims to serve “resilient, disconnected students” and on its website classifies 33 percent of its students as “formerly truant/dropout” — has a chronically absent rate of 99.4 percent, according to the DESE data, and Learning First Charter Public School in Worcester has a rate of 2.4 percent.

At Nashoba Valley Regional Vocational Technical School in Westford, 1.2 percent of students are chronically absent, and at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, 64.9 percent of students meet that description.

State education officials in 2018 added chronic absenteeism as one of the indicators in their updated school and district accountability system.

On March 10, 2020, when Gov. Charlie Baker first declared a state of emergency around COVID-19, officials also announced measures to give districts more flexibility in their response to the public health crisis. For the 2019-2020 school year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education disregarded attendance data beyond March 2, 2020 for accountability purposes, calculating chronic absenteeism based on numbers up until that date.

Baker-Polito administration launches summer learning programs, $70 Million in funding across Massachusetts

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced the establishment of summer learning opportunities and the availability of more than $70 million in funding for school districts and community organizations to offer summer learning and recreational programs that will help students, who have been impacted by a year of remote and hybrid learning, grow academically and socially.

Students at every grade level will have opportunities to take part in a mix of academic and recreational programs offered at schools, after-school providers, community colleges and recreation sites. Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Education Secretary James Peyser and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley made the announcement while visiting Galvin Middle School in Canton, where school officials are planning to boost learning opportunities for students this summer.

All middle schools in the Commonwealth were required to return to full time in-person learning this week. Elementary schools returned on April 5, and high schools will be required to return by May 17.

“Our administration has long maintained that children are best served academically, socially and emotionally when learning in-person and in the classroom,” said Governor Baker. “After a challenging school year for students, teachers and staff, the focus must now shift to recouping any learning loss experienced remotely to ensure that our children are equipped for success in the classroom and beyond.”

“As students and teachers return to the routine of learning in classrooms, it is time to partner with schools and communities across the Commonwealth to provide opportunities to students in all grades to learn and have fun this summer,” said Lt. Governor Polito. “To support this effort, our administration has developed several options schools can choose from and will make funding available to cover the costs.”

“As important as this summer will be to jumpstarting educational recovery, we must all embrace the reality that this will not be a one-and-done project,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “It will be a challenge we will continue work to resolve for both individual children and our public education system as a whole.”

“We are providing students access to academics as well as enrichment opportunities to help them grow and keep connected to school this summer,”said Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “I hope all districts across the Commonwealth take advantage of these programs and this funding the Administration has made available.”

Acceleration Academies
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will help school districts launch Acceleration Academies, which allow students to learn and build skills working intensively on one subject in small, hands-on learning environments with excellent teachers.

Students benefit from small class sizes, longer uninterrupted instructional blocks, individualized attention, project-based lessons and teacher flexibility for learning time. The Baker-Polito Administration will commit up to $25 million in grants for districts to operate Acceleration Academies using federalElementary and Secondary School Emergency Response (ESSER) discretionary funds. This will be a multi-year program that the Department anticipates will impact more than 50,000 students statewide each year.

Acceleration Academies will include:

• Early Literacy Academies for incoming kindergarteners, rising 1st and 2ndgraders; and

• Math Acceleration Academies for rising 3rd and 4th graders, as well as 8thand 10th graders.

Summer School Matching Grants
DESE will also offer summer school matching grants, up to $15 million in federal ESSER funds, for school districts to offer 4-to-6-week, in-person programs with a mix of in-person academic and recreational activities. The Department is making these funds available to schools to enhance or expand their existing summer programs while also including mental health services and additional supports for students with individualized education plans and English learners.

Summer Acceleration to College
High school graduates from the Class of 2021 will be able to participate in Summer Acceleration to College, a new program that provides recent graduates access to credit-bearing math and English courses at no cost to them as they prepare for college.

Fourteen community colleges in the Commonwealth will participate in this program, expected to be funded at $1 million.

Summer Step Up
The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) will support school districts to offer Summer Step Up, a new program aimed at giving extra support to young learners entering school in the fall.

Young children, who have had limited in-school experiences due to the pandemic, will be able to take part in summer learning opportunities developed in conjunction with community partners to help prepare them for school. With pre-school and kindergarten enrollments down over the last year, Summer Step Up is an opportunity to engage young learners and accelerate learning while smoothing the transition to in-person learning for young children to provide them a stronger foundation for academic success. The Administration will commit up to $10 million to this program.

In addition to these programs, the Baker-Polito Administration will:

• Provide early literacy tutoring grants this summer and during the 2021-22 school year, funded at $10 million.

• Launch a new K-8 Math Acceleration program to help teachers increase student learning over the summer and throughout the school year.

• Expand the Biggest Winner Math Challenge – which was piloted last summer – to serve approximately 2,500 gifted math students, costing approximately $2.5 million.

• Offer college courses over the summer for rising high school juniors and seniors who are enrolled in approved Early College programs, costing approximately $1 million.

• Help camps and community organizations expand educational enrichment as part of their existing summer programs by making at least $3 million in funding available.

To learn more, please contact DESESummerProgramming@mass.gov.

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