Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife wants to educate residents about declining black racer snake population

In search of the black racer snake: Little is known about the abundance and distribution of northern black racers in Massachusetts. An upcoming Massachusetts Wildlife magazine article follows a group on Martha’s Vineyard as they research these snakes.

Seeing a five-foot long northern black racer (Coluber constrictor) hunting in a meadow or climbing a shrub can be a memorable wildlife encounter where responses range from wonder to heart-stopping fear. Sadly, encounters with black racers are declining in New England. As with many other species, black racers are at risk from habitat loss and fragmentation, and anecdotal information indicates the species is declining in our region. The Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan ranks the black racer as common across the state, but it is of concern because little is known about their current abundance and distribution.

With these threats in mind, and lack of baseline data on the species, BiodiversityWorks (BW), a non-profit headquartered on Martha’s Vineyard focused on wildlife conservation through research and monitoring, embarked on a five-year study to document racer distribution on the island, their movements, and habitat use across different landscapes.

Four racers were captured using funnel traps—and named Audrey, Katama, Scooter, and Liatris—and each was implanted with a radio transmitter by a volunteer veterinarian. BW tracked the movements of each racer for almost a year as they moved around the island. The group documented home range, nesting and hibernation sites, and the vegetation communities the racers occupied. At the conclusion of the study, the snakes were recaptured, had their transmitters removed and were released, and in one case, with tragic results.

The complete story of the study, along with more black racer facts, can be found in the No. 2, 2021 issue of Massachusetts Wildlife magazine. Other topics include hooded mergansers, an endangered species art exhibit, and advice on becoming a hunter on a budget. To subscribe, visit mass.gov/dfw/magazine.

If you see a northern black racer, MassWildlife encourages you to report your sighting using Heritage Hub, mass.gov/heritagehub. Obtaining population data from citizen scientists like you is a critical component of conservation.

MassWildlife Magazine photo.

New Bedford High School Lifeguard Certification Program helps fill regional shortage

Innovative Aquatics program trains NBHS students to save lives as future lifeguards.

The hygienic scent of chlorinated pool water wafts out into the hall leading to New Bedford High School’s pool complex. It includes newly renovated locker rooms and individual shower stalls that sparkle throughout with new tilework and chrome fixtures. Here students learn to swim and a select few train to save lives as future lifeguards.

The New Bedford High School Lifeguard Certification Program is in its third year and in that time, it has graduated approximately 30 lifeguards, according to Michael J. Gryss, who teaches history, coaches Boys Tennis, the Whalers Swim Team and oversees the lifesaving certification course.

A Whaler athlete and NBHS alum, Gryss notes, “I became a lifeguard when I was in high school in 2009. I worked at the Y and at other places. Every two years lifeguards must renew their certification but not many people do it. My friends and I were all lifeguards and we needed someone to recertify with, so I said I could do it and trained to become a lifeguard instructor. Then the high school hired me and it all came together with Coach Tim Curry, who was a great mentor, and still is. We have an excellent pool with adjacent classroom space. I had been coaching the swim team, in which we have been working to increase participation, and it has fostered a growing number of students taking part in Aquatics.”

“Mr. Curry and I have the lifeguarding experience; he has much more experience than I do. It has just worked out all very well. Headmaster Coelho was been very supportive; so has Mr. Tarpey, our Athletics director,” he said.

Tim Curry has been New Bedford High School’s longstanding swim and dive coach since the early 1990s. A Whaler alum, Coach Curry’s expertise in water safety training extends back to the 1980s as a lifeguard at Horseneck, one of the state’s most popular (and sometimes precarious) high-surf beaches. “I know from a lot of personal experience just how critical a speedy response time to a water emergency can be in determining a positive outcome,” he said, noting, “That’s why NBHS’ certification program is so important. Mike Gryss, Koby Verran and myself are committed to seeing that our students have the skills and respect for the water that will serve them well throughout life and enable them to assist in saving lives, should they be called to do so.” A PE teacher stationed at the pool, Coach Curry often regales students with stories and real-life lessons in water safety.

Gryss taught his first lifeguard certification course at NBHS in spring 2018. He has certified about 30 new lifeguards since the program began. “I try to do about ten new guards per year. One instructor to ten lifeguard trainees is what the Red Cross likes to see in certification classes; any more than that number is not optimal,” he added.

The certification course takes approximately 40 hours of training, including traditional lifesaving course materials, in-person learning, lectures, discussions, tutorial videos, swimming skills practice and exercises. Additional online instruction has been blended into courses lately, Gryss notes, “But we always end up doing more than the minimal number of hours required thanks to all the extra help we get. For example, Gerry Fortes retired as a PE teacher but she is an active diving coach and has been super helpful to the program, volunteering a lot of her time and often serving as the on-duty lifeguard during in-water training sessions.”

There is a course fee; however, it is nominal compared with other certification programs, according to Gryss. “Our advantage is that NBHS has its own pool, so renting and scheduling time at a public pool is not a factor.” The Whalers’ six-lane pool is 25 yards long with a maximum depth of 12-feet. Renovations to the pool area have been in three major phases, starting in 2014 with completion in 2020. “As a result, we have one of the finest high school pool facilities in the region,” Gryss commented.

Headmaster Bernadette Coelho noted the school often plays an important role in community building in many different areas. “As with so many of our programs, New Bedford High’s excellent Aquatics program offer our student athletes expert training that builds strength, skill and self-confidence; and in this case, the certification program is also a path to an important job. I am incredibly proud of our lifesaving Whalers and their teachers in this vital work.”

Mary Rapoza, director of New Bedford’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Beaches notes that New Bedford High School’s certification program is a double benefit to the community. “It provides an important public safety training resource locally ensuring that our beaches are safe for the public. The certified lifeguards are New Bedford young adults who are then employed at our City beaches.”

Gryss added, “Coach Curry’s aquatic experience is so broad – in a swim team way, in ocean beach way and in a general pool way; it is significant. He recruits the kids with me because he has amazing relationships with the students, and as a coach, and he is active in the Athletic department; so we do all work closely together.”

Bristol Community College’s new Taunton Center opening Fall 2021

Bristol Community College’s new Taunton Center will be open in Fall 2021 and ready for students. The new Taunton Center offers a variety of fully face-to-face and hybrid course offerings, student services, ample parking, convenient bus route access and is located within walking distance to Taunton’s downtown. The center will feature on-site enrollment services beginning in August and registration is open now at www.bristolcc.edu/Fall.

Located at the former Coyle and Cassidy High School, 2 Hamilton Street, the re-imagined center will feature seven general purpose classrooms, two computer labs, a full-sized gymnasium, an auditorium, as well as a high-tech biology and chemistry lab.

“Bristol Community College has had a long-standing presence in the Taunton community and looks forward to further enhancing access to critical educational opportunities and business partnerships,” said Dr. Laura L. Douglas, President, Bristol Community College. “The college’s Taunton Center provides vital access to higher education for many residents throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, especially those who may be challenged by cost, distance and travel constraints. In order to create a college-going culture, we must be engrained in the community providing a strong foundation for all students centered on equity, inclusion and innovative strategies.”

Student support services available at the new Taunton Center will include academic advising, transfer counseling, as well as career and mental health counseling. A Library Learning Commons that houses the college’s Writing and Tutoring and Academic Support Centers will serve as Bristol’s central hub for tutoring and learning support.

Another important and in-demand offering is the college’s Adult Education classes that lead to the High School Equivalency (HSE) credential, which is a requirement to enter college, the military and to obtain employment opportunities. English language classes will also be available for students to develop the language proficiencies necessary for college, careers and community living.

The college’s convenient Taunton location will also become the newest home of the Bristol Bayhawks’ Athletics programs and features a full-sized gymnasium with a basketball court and multiple outdoor athletics fields.

The college is currently leasing and refurbishing a large portion of the former Coyle and Cassidy High School property from the Diocese of Fall River. The three-story building will offer ample space for the college’s needs and is a win-win for the community.

“I am pleased that this arrangement with Bristol Community College will put a large part of the former Coyle and Cassidy High School and Middle School building to good, productive use as the college’s new Taunton Center,” said Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., The Fall River Diocese. “Over many years, that building served generations of students well as a place to learn, to grow and to begin to build a future. Now as part of Bristol Community College, the facility can continue to support the pursuit of education and remain an asset to the Greater Taunton Area.”

For more information about the new Bristol Community College Taunton Center, please visit www.bristolcc.edu/taunton.

Massachusetts State Police and K9 “Dash” are highlight of “Coffee with a Cop” event

“Yesterday members of Troop C of the Massachusetts State Police, plus friendly K9 Dash from our Bomb Squad, joined members of the Bolton Police Department at another successful Coffee With a Cop event at Bolton Bean. Fun was had by all!”

Massachusetts State Police photo.

New Bedford Public Schools awarded $240,000 Massachusetts Life Sciences Stem Grant, largest stem grant statewide

NBPS Capstone Life Sciences College & Career Program will create makerspaces for young scientists.

New Bedford Public Schools is receiving a $240,000 grant to support its STEM programs, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) announced recently. It is the largest grant awarded among more than 90 schools receiving MLSC science grant funding across the Commonwealth.

For New Bedford, the funding enables the establishment of a Capstone Life Sciences College & Career Program – an innovative academic platform designed to provide seamless transition in life science curricula from middle school to high school.

As part of the program, a “makerspace” will be constructed at each of the district’s three middle schools (Keith, Normandin and Roosevelt) and at New Bedford High School. Unlike traditional school laboratories, these makerspaces will be specialized areas equipped with materials and tools for project-based, hands-on learning experiences for students.

The grant will serve students in high school, middle schools, and alternative schools in New Bedford Public Schools.

Dr. Ron Ho, NBHS Science Instructional Leader, authored the grant. He explained, “We will build vertically aligned makerspaces in the three middle schools and in the high school. Capstone projects are not common in middle school, but we see them as important to fully prepare our students for high school and beyond and to increase vertical alignment. As we upgrade the technological infrastructure, students will learn design thinking and use makerspace materials and state-of-the-art tools such as 3D printers and laser-cutting equipment to practice STEM concepts.”

Students will “build projects that they will present during the Capstone Life Sciences Fair at the end of each school year. A panel of judges including teachers, parents, school administrators, business, and community partners will evaluate the projects focusing on the strengths of each,” according to the grant narrative.

Funding will also enable expanded professional development for teachers in STEM instruction (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Superintendent Thomas Anderson stated “Our sincere thanks to Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito and to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for this deep commitment to our children’s future. New Bedford is centered in a growing blue economy, surrounded by marine science institutions and maritime industry from one end of Buzzards Bay to the other. Just as New Bedford High School’s MLSC-funded Bio-Tech Lab has become a remarkable advantage for students, this latest grant award will be utilized to reinforce vertical alignment and provide a more unified transition from middle to high school sciences in new and exciting ways for our more than 3,100 middle school students. Think of the new makerspace as a high-tech LEGOLAND®; students will learn science by doing, and love doing it.”

Dr. Ho commented on the grant’s long-term significance. “This MLSC grant allows our school district to build makerspaces and purchase new supplies and equipment for students to learn STEM concepts through hands-on, inquiry-based activities and interdisciplinary projects. These learning experiences will help students develop the 21st-century employability and technical skills that are needed in the life sciences industry. We are very pleased to work with MLSC to build a pipeline for a talented and diverse life sciences workforce in the State of Massachusetts.”

In thanking Dr. Ho and Christopher Cummings for their work on the grant, Headmaster Bernadette Coelho remarked, “New Bedford High School’s staff and our comprehensive offering in all subjects continues to expand to get our students ready for college and career. This latest addition will deepen and further enrich their learning experience in the life sciences.”

Christopher Cummings, NBHS Manager of Career Vocational Technical Education noted, “This MLSC grant award will support the existing vibrant curriculum integration initiatives between Career Vocational Technical Education, the Science department and our industry and post-secondary partners. Our new makerspace will be the flagship laboratory for Life Science and Advanced Manufacturing career training.”

Since 2012, the MLSC has awarded $21.5 million to more than 240 high schools and middle schools throughout Massachusetts. This includes more than $20 million in funding for equipment and supplies and nearly $1.2 million for teacher professional development. These awards have leveraged nearly $3 million in cash and in-kind matching funds from industry and non-profit partners.

Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech students participate in SkillsUSA National Championships

Two competitors, four national voting delegates and a state officer represented Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School at the SkillsUSA national championships virtually and in person from June 14 – 23, 2021. The SkillsUSA National Conference had students competing in over 100 trade and leadership events.

All contestants had previously won their state competition to advance to the national competition where they demonstrated expertise in their chosen fields. The state of Massachusetts had 67 “Top 9” finalists in the competitions.

Our Gold Medalist in Cabinetmaking is Max SoaresAdvisor: Joseph Arruda

Other national competitors & participants included:

Michaela Barreira – Top 9 – Early Childhood, the following students were National Voting Delegates: Keely Clapp, Cassy DePina, Abigail Simmons& Kelsey Urel. These students demonstrated skill and leadership in their competitions and events, performing admirably.

Accompanying them was Kara Koska, the Massachusetts State Officer – President who was also recognized for earning the Presidential Volunteer Service Award – Gold Standard after completing over 300 hours of community service.

Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech photo.

New Bedford Public Schools summer programming canceled for Friday due to tropical storm “Elsa”

“Due to the forecasted track of Tropical Storm Elsa over the region tomorrow, all New Bedford Public Schools Summer Programming will be canceled on Friday, July 9, 2021.

Superintendent Thomas Anderson stated, “We are using our traditional snow day model and there will be NO summer programming and NO remote sessions occurring. This cancellation is out of concern for the safety of both our students and our staff who must walk or drive in these conditions.”

New Bedford Public Schools awarded $100,000 state grant for summer programs and activities

NBPS collaborates with three local agencies to enhance students’ summer learning and recreational activities.

New Bedford Public Schools has been awarded a Summer School Expansion & Engagement grant totaling $100,000, the Baker-Polito Administration announced recently. Funding will make possible eight weeks of expanded access and enhanced summer programming provided by Youth Opportunities Unlimited, the Community Boating Center and the City of New Bedford Parks, Recreation and Beaches.

In a letter conveying the award, Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito thanked NBPS “for your commitment to supporting additional learning and enriching summer opportunities for students. Through this funding and your continued support, we are able to continue to provide high quality opportunities to children and youth across the Commonwealth.”

The competitive FC120 state grant required proactive application according to NBPS officials. “When the opportunity came up, we decided to write the grant to support our community partners. We thank Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for this funding award. We are utilizing it with three of our great community organizations to expand their summer programming to support more NBPS students,” stated Jennifer Ferland, NBPS Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships.

The district grant request noted, “Funding will enable NBPS the opportunity to expand summer learning programming and open up an additional 450 exciting opportunities for students. These partnerships align with NBPS summer programs to provide full day activities for families who may not otherwise have them. While New Bedford is surrounded by water, has an abundance of city parks and beaches, and is very bicycle friendly, we have found that students do not generally seek out these opportunities. This funding will give them that chance.”

Youth Opportunities Unlimited is providing a total of 185 hours of summer programming and serving approximately 170 New Bedford youth between the ages of 9 and 14.

New Bedford Parks, Recreation and Beaches is providing “a variety of nature-based science programming supporting, literacy, social studies and math. Activities will help children develop strong social connections, increase creativity, foster self-esteem and a greater sense of environmental stewardship.” For New Bedford children entering grades K-5 and their families, the program extends daily activities for students attending NBPS programs throughout the summer. This partnership grew as a way to provide full day programming for families who needed another option after the NBPS summer programming ended at noon. Students are able to leave their summer program and attend a local park for the remainder of the day.”

The Community Boating Center will greatly expand offerings over last year, adding 158 spots to 512 total spots for student sailors. The funding will increase instruction in the Science and Sailing STEM education program as well as expand class capacity and Marine Trades skills building.

Jacobs Family scholarships awarded to five New Bedford girls totaling $175,000

The SouthCoast Community Foundation Fund supports next-generation STEM leaders.

Addylene Darosa Semedo can now realize her dream of going to college and then medical school without worrying about how to afford both. Jocelyn Kingman always wanted to help people. Now she can pursue nursing school. Moriah Merkman will now be the first in her family to go to college and pursue a career as a dermatologist. These high school graduates and graduates Annie Lin and Linh Dan Nguyen are each the 2021 recipients of a $35,000 grant from the Jacobs Family New Bedford High Schools Scholarship, a fund of the SouthCoast Community Foundation.

“Addylene, Annie, Linh, Jocelyn, and Moriah are now joining the other 83 New Bedford students that have been fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Jacobs since its inception twenty years ago,” commented SouthCoast Community President John Vasconcellos. “Irwin and Joan are not only incredibly successful in their careers but are thoughtful, compassionate, generous, and hopeful people. We believe this scholarship will not only provide these five graduates with an education and a career but also a value system and a life that celebrates the legacy of Irwin and Joan Jacobs.”

SouthCoast Community Foundation Fund photo.

Jacobs (New Bedford High graduate, Class of 1950) and his wife, Joan, to honor two New Bedford High School educators who made a huge impact on Dr. Jacobs and his future career, Philip Bronspiegel and Melver C. Felton, Jr.

“Joan and I congratulate the winners of the 2021 Jacobs scholarships,” remarked Dr. Irwin Jacobs. “We were very excited to read of their outstanding scholarship, extracurricular activities, and future plans. Although this year we had to meet virtually, we do look forward to meeting next year in person. We would also like to congratulate all of the New Bedford high schools for increasing the percentage of students graduating and continuing to higher education.”

The Fund annually provides five four-year, up to $35,000 scholarships to one New Bedford Global Learning Charter School, three New Bedford High School, and one Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School graduating seniors. Recipients must attend an accredited college or university and major in science.

Superintendent Thomas Anderson stated, “On behalf of the entire New Bedford Public Schools community – our educators, staff, students, and families – our heartfelt thanks go to Joan and Irwin Jacobs for all they have done over the years, and continue to do, to help New Bedford students achieve their full potential. It is a remarkable and truly unique legacy of generosity and caring, one that reflects on New Bedford itself; that this community fostered a young student so many years ago to form a lifelong connection marked by kindness, concern, and action as its hallmarks.”

Annie Lin (left), Jocelyn Kingman (middle), and Addylene Semedo (right). SouthCoast Community Foundation Fund photo.

The Jacobs have been cited by Business Week and the Chronicle of Philanthropy as among the 50 Most-Generous Philanthropists in the United States. In August of 2010, Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs signed the “giving pledge” along with 40 other individuals and families. This effort, spearhead by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, is a commitment from our country’s wealthiest people to donate more than half of their wealth to charity.

The SouthCoast Community Foundation is a nonprofit serving the communities of Southeastern Massachusetts through philanthropy. The Community Foundation mission is to mobilize philanthropy by matching donors and resources with community needs for the benefit of our region. Since 1995, the organization has distributed over $50 million from more than 200 funds to humanitarian, educational, and cultural organizations in the region. For more information, visit www.southcoastcf.org.

Bristol Community College celebrated High School Equivalency graduates with a virtual ceremony

Bristol Community College celebrated its 2021 High School Equivalency (HSE) graduates with a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at 6 p.m., on Bristol’s Adult Education Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bristolccadulteducation and webpage, www.bristolcc.edu/adulteducation. Recipients were recognized for their dedication to successfully completing Bristol’s HSE classes and state-wide examination credential.

“We know that Adult Education – High School Equivalency students are some of the most resilient and hardworking, as they have managed work, family and a myriad of other life responsibilities while working toward this credential,” said Laura L. Douglas, Ph.D., President, Bristol Community College.

Bristol Community College’s complete 2021 High School Equivalency Graduation Ceremony can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/xY6acQ62sek.

The virtual celebration was facilitated by Bristol Community College Director of Adult Education Nancy Labonte and included a congratulatory note from Bristol Community College President Laura L. Douglas. The 2020-21 Diane McMullen Scholarship recipient was awarded by the McMullen family to HSE student Jessica Glover, who has shown extraordinary dedication and perseverance in achieving her HSE credential and will continue her education at Bristol Community College with aspirations to become a nurse.

“We are proud to celebrate the achievements of our dedicated and hard-working HSE students,” said Nancy Labonte, Director, Adult Education. “The HSE Class of 2021 is a special group of individuals, who, through their steadfast commitment, achieved this milestone during a time of unprecedented challenges in their personal and work lives.”

Bristol HSE Instructor Carol Ginsberg presented the names of this year’s 40 HSE graduates, whose achievements were celebrated alongside graduates’ families, friends and the Bristol community.

In Massachusetts, the High School Equivalency (HSE) tests (which include both the GED and HiSet) provide a state-issued, alternative credential to a high school diploma. The HSE high school equivalency diploma is essential for a student’s pathway to obtain a college degree, training programs, military careers and employment opportunities.

The college has annually honored the achievements of its high school equivalency graduates for the past 36 years with an in-person ceremony, celebrating the hard-earned credential with the recipients. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bristol safely continued the event for the second year in the form of a live virtual ceremony that was recorded for viewing on-demand.

Bristol’s High School Equivalency (HSE) classes are competency-based, allowing students to register for and finish classes and take tests when they are ready.

For more information about Bristol Community College’s Adult Education programming, please visit www.bristolcc.edu/adulteducation or contact Nicola Machado by email at nicola.machado@bristolcc.edu or call 774.357.2270.

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