Thursday, April 22, 2010

Park View comes together for their own

April 22, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

With at least 10 families severely impacted by the March floods, and several still displaced from their homes, Park View Middle School rose to action last Thursday with a Field Day for Flood Victims.

They hoped to raise $3,000 that day, but far surpassed that amount and collected almost $5,500.

Staff and students at Park View organized the event within a few days.

“It’s all about the school community here,” said Assistant Principal Chris D’Ambrosio.

The weather was favorable for the field day, and activity stations dotted the lawn. Inside, guests were treated to an ice cream social.

At the same time, 92 Pro-FM took music requests and promoted the event on the air.

According to D’Ambrosio, students were each asked to bring in $3. Some families donated more, however, as well as outside agencies and neighboring businesses who made donations.

Billie-Jo Rossi, parent of three students; one at Park View, one at Chester Barrows and one at Cranston High School East, said it’s been the “regular people” and agencies like CCAP (Cranston Community Action Program,) who have helped out the most.

Rossi and her family lived at 60 Perkins Avenue, one of the worst areas affected by the floods. They have been displaced from their home and lost everything in it.

“We had 71 inches of water in our house,” said Rossi, showing page after page; one more devastating than the next, in the photo album that she is using to document flood damage. She has had to take a leave of absence from work to concentrate on the situation at hand.

Rossi said that her daughter at Park View is having the most difficult time coping, but the faculty and staff there has been wonderful in making accommodations and helping her to get through the days.

“I’ve been here seven years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Annette Harris, Park View’s social worker. “They’ve lost everything; they can’t function, they can’t do their work, they just sit and cry. The teachers tell me these were the happiest kids. [Now,] the kids feel like life isn’t fair, and they feel selfish. They miss their things but they know their families need things like a hot water heater.”

In response to the devastation, Harris contacted CCAP and together formed a trauma therapy group over April vacation week.

Principal Joseph Rotz was both proud and pleased with the results of the field day fundraiser.

“As a community, as a family, we wanted to do something for our children that had been displaced. The best way to do that was to raise quick funds for them,” he said.

Rotz explained that the money raised was given to the families on Friday, the last day of school before vacation.

“We’re hoping to call these families tomorrow and tell them that we’re praying for them, we’re thinking of them, and we care about them,” he said at the field day.

Rotz was also quick to credit his staff and faculty at Park View as being “completely responsible” for pulling the event together.

“It just goes to show how much our families will pull together when someone is in need,” he said.

He also made mention of the Parents and Teachers at Park View organization.

“They made a very generous donation at last night’s meeting of $500. That was top-notch, very thoughtful,” Rotz said.

Guests from the community visited the field day throughout the day. Mayor Allan Fung and a team of students took part in an intense Tug-A-War game against Rotz and another team of students, and then spoke to all of the students on the field, over the microphone.

“This is why I love this city and why I love all of you,” Fung said. “I’m proud to be here to see you helping each other through this crisis.”

Fung said he’s heard the stories of the students whose homes have been impacted by the floods.

“Each of the kids in the school and their families are helping their classmates, and others, through a very difficult time. Everyone is coming together to help the families in one of the hardest hit areas of Cranston,” he said.

Despite the fun and laughter being had at the field day, the Park View students understood the impact and true importance of what they were doing for each other on that day.

“I know one person who lost a lot in the floods,” said eighth-grader Emma Orton. “I am glad to be helping out.”

Fellow eighth-grader Kaileen Field agreed.

“I feel good about how we’re helping and supporting everybody whether we know them or not,” she said.

West teaches tolerance

Cranston Herald
April 22, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

Just weeks after nine high school students in Boston were charged with criminal harassment that allegedly prompted the suicide of a classmate, the students at Cranston High School West tackled the difficult and often uncomfortable subject of bullying.

From April 6-9, the school hosted Diversity Awareness Week 2010, with a theme of “Names Can Hurt Us” that addressed bullying and encouraged tolerance for diversity.

The event was no small undertaking.

Last year, students Mirvene Azor and Esther Borgelin approached Principal Steve Knowlton about starting a diversity program at the school. Knowlton agreed, and Assistant Principal Dr. Jackie Striano took the task and ran with it. A new Diversity Team was created, with Azor and Borgelin as the chairpersons.

With the help of Striano, the pair didn’t waste any time coming up with activities, speakers and events that would take place during Diversity Awareness Week.

“We want the students to know that the names you call each other can hurt people. The students and staff from all parts of the curriculum and academic courses will contribute and participate,” Striano said.

Azor added that each ethnic group at West was represented and recognized during the week in a variety of ways. For example, different ethnic foods were sampled throughout the week.

Borgelin noted that this was the first year for such an event, and she had high hopes for being able to repeat the program in future years and at other schools in the Cranston community as well.

“It’s something new and at first people may not buy into it; our goal is to tie in tolerance and respect even if you don’t agree with it,” Borgelin said. “We are lucky to live in a community that is striving for tolerance and respect.”

Despite a monkeywrench being thrown into their plans with the flooding that closed school three days during the week prior to the big event, West’s Diversity Week kicked off on time with a VIP viewing of a multimedia assembly that was presented to every grade on Tuesday.

Guests from within the Cranston community were invited to view the show, which took place in an auditorium decorated with flags from different nations. Guests included the Cranston Public Schools Central Office staff and members of the executive team, members of the Cranston School Committee, faculty and staff from Cranston High School West and other Cranston Schools, Mayor Allan Fung, and the more than 30 Diversity Team student leaders. Both Stephanie Culhane and Andrea Ianozzi from the Cranston School Committee were involved as team leaders and panel speakers for the week.

The assembly featured opening remarks from both Principal Knowlton and Dr. Striano, as well as from Borgelin and Azor. Additionally, there was a film presentation, entitled “I Am Cranston West,” featuring the many faces of the students who attend the school. Bullying scenarios were played out on stage in the drama club’s performance of “The High School Experience.”

Actors asked the audience three questions at the end: “Who are you? Who have you been? Who will you leave this auditorium as?”

As the performance came to a close, the audience rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Following the presentation, five West students spoke to the audience, telling their stories and experiences about being bullied, witnessing bullying or how they are helping to end the epidemic.

“I’m a kid who used to make fun of people,” said Shane Patrick, the first speaker. “I wish you could look a few years ahead to when these things [differences] don’t matter.”

Patrick then offered out some advice to the rest of the students in the audience.

“Don’t go through your four years here being remembered as the bully,” he said, hoping others could learn from his mistakes. Patrick then apologized to all those he’d bullied in the past, before returning to his seat.

Student speakers were followed up with musical performances from the student band Third Cut, which sang “Be Yourself,” and the CHSW choir singing Douglas Wayne’s “With One Song,” whose signature line was “Together we’ll build a better world.”

The emotional assembly ended with an open forum. At first, audience members were hesitant to speak, but one-by-one people began to come forward.

Mayor Allan Fung was among the first to rise and give the students his praise. “Two words: Fantastic job,” said Fung.

“I’ve gone through [bullying], every adult here has gone through it. We’ve all gone through it, but one student put it best: in a couple of years, it’s not going to matter,” the mayor said, referring to Shane Patrick’s earlier remarks.

Fung was later with panel speakers during one of more than 20 Diversity Week seminars. Fung shared his experiences as a Chinese American and offered the students tips on positive leadership. School Committee member Stephanie Culhane, who was a Diversity Team Leader, stepped forward as well.

“I am so proud to represent all of you on the School Committee,” she said. “I was bullied when I was a kid. People said, ‘Oh it just happens,’ but it doesn’t have to happen.”

Other speakers that evening included Channel 12 reporter Nneka Nwosu and Nancy Kattan, both of who participated in later seminars.

Nwosu is of Nigerian heritage and discussed her personal triumphs in breaking social barriers, while Kattan, who holds a master’s in social work and is also a parent at West, addressed the misconceptions of Islam and her Muslim religion.

“Until I put this on, I look just like all of you,” Kattan said, referencing her Muslim head covering.

She fought back tears as she told the students that she still endures targeting, exclusionary behavior and bullying because of her religious beliefs, even as an adult.

At the conclusion of the assembly, the audience was given the opportunity to view the displays on diversity and bullying that lined the hallways while they listened to an orchestra concert directed by Christine Harrington.

CACTC provided refreshments for the evening’s events.

Dr. Striano said she was pleased with the success of the first annual Diversity Week at Cranston West.

“As a whole, Diversity Week was the result of an incredible initiative that students and teachers at West brought to fruition,” said Striano.

When asked to identify a highlight, Striano struggled. For her, the positive effects of the event will be felt for a long time to come.

“It could be the senior boy who addressed his entire class and apologized to a young woman he routinely harassed, or the teenager who pledged to never call someone ‘retarded’ again. But, moreover, I think that the success of the week was the sense of empowerment that permeated the school,” she said. “In troubled times when such negativity surrounds education, these students and their teachers really set a standard for excellence and made a tremendous impact upon their peers.”