Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cranston gets a makeover

IT SAYS IT ALL: Mayor Allan Fung poses with Victor Roman and Kerri Salerno after announcing that they’d created the winning slogan for the city of Cranston.

Cranston Herald
June 10, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

On Thursday, June 3, Mayor Allan Fung arrived at the NEL/CPS Construction Career Academy to choose a new slogan and logo to market the City of Cranston. The exciting part: both were created by students.

The first place winner for the new Cranston City logo was Alexx Gonsalves, a student from the class of 2012.

Declaring the slogan, “Proud Past, Promising Future,” Victor Roman and Kerri Salerno were first place winners in that category.

Classmate Taylor Casale, also from the class of 2012, created both the second place logo and slogan, “Cranston skies have no limit.”

The announcement of the winners was the culminating event in a process that spanned the entire school year at NEL/CPS.

“It started last spring when we had our annual project presentation day,” said science teacher Dr. Joel Gluck.

The students had researched a community in Ohio, visited the area as part of their research, and created a scale model of the city.

“The mayor came and saw all of the students’ projects on display and he said asked me if he thought our students could do a similar project locally, and come up with a slogan and a logo for the City of Cranston as part of next year’s project,” said Gluck.

Dr. Gluck assured Mayor Fung that the students at NEL/CPS could step up to such a task, and he began outlining a project plan for the 2009-2010 school year that combined research with hands-on work.

Ultimately, the project, which was called “Crancot: Crossing Cultures,” was a problem based learning project in which the students researched the city of Cranston, its history, its population and its diverse cultural makeup. From there, they created a scaled model representation of the city along with a central multicultural gathering place.

The name, “Crancot” was taken from the Orlando Disney attraction, Epcot, which also showcases a wide variety of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Once Dr. Gluck had created the project, Dr. Mike Silvia, executive director of the NEL/CPS, decided that a faculty member was needed to serve as project manager.

Jennifer DeGregorio took the reigns from Gluck and led the rest of the staff and students on the path to completing the project.

“The students were asked a question: ‘If you were to design a community in the City of Cranston to accommodate the needs of diverse cultures, what would it look like?’” DeGregorio said.

Teachers took on tasks that related to their area of curriculum. In English classes, for example, students interviewed members of the Cranston Senior Center and wrote biographies about them. They also used what they learned to add to their ongoing collection of statistics about the history of the city, such as finding the oldest person in Cranston.

The focus areas were western Cranston, Knightsville, Pawtuxet, Thornton, Oak Lawn, Edgewood and Woodridge.

As the students progressed in their research, they realized the depth of the project they’d been asked to undertake.

They created attractions and built scale models of them, later building bridges to connect them to the community center. Staffing these locations was another task, as the students created job postings, salary guides, tourist activities and more.

To make the project more authentic, students were required to create “Crancot” using only the materials and resources provided by the Resources Recycling for RI Education.

“The hardest part was the inside,” said Kara Herbert, who helped her group work on the daycare building in Crancot.

It was clear from examining the final product that Herbert and her group paid attention to the details.

The daycare center included a basketball court, swimming pool, and even an outbuilding for the children to use the bathroom when they were wet from the pool.

Project coordinators touted the benefits of the project and the soft skills needed to accomplish it.

“We were at each other’s throats a little bit but we learned to work with it. That’s something we’d need in the real world,” said student Max Dinerman, who helped work on the community center. “Our school is preparing us to go out and get jobs by teaching us the soft skills that we need.”

Art teacher Christine Underbaggage explained that the students could choose to work on their logos and slogans either independently or in groups of two or three.

They began developing their Crancot concepts at the start of the second semester.

“By the start of the fourth quarter they were enlarging and perfecting their designs and adding color,” Underbaggage said.

Mayor Allan Fung arrived at the school on June 2 for an advanced look at the logos and slogans, using the time before the official Project Day to mull over the entries in his mind.

“In the time I’ve been Mayor, I’ve been so impressed with all of the talent that each and every one of you display,” Fung said as he addressed the students on Project Day. “You’ve come up with a new way to combine all of your talents and you came up with a new logo and slogan for our city.”

Mayor Fung went on to tell the students how difficult it was to choose the ultimate winner for both the logo and the slogan. He announced Casale, Gonslves, Roman and Salerno as the winners, stating that they’d be receiving monetary awards as well as having their winning designs on display in City Hall over the summer.

Garden City Town: The First Place winning entry for the logo contest

Dr. Silvia summed up the students’ experiences with this year’s project.

“Today is all about creativity,” he said. “When you put our students in their comfort zones, you see what they can truly produce.”

Carriage House and Providence Library team up for literacy

PUTTING OUT FIRES: Sam Collier acts out his part of a firefighter at Carriage House Day Care, thanks to a free Learning and Reading Kit from Providence Public Library.

Cranston Herald
June 10, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

When the students at Carriage House Day Care read “Bugtown Fire Truck” by Daniel Kirk, they got to do more than just hear their teachers read the story aloud, thanks to the Providence Public Library and their Learning and Reading Kits (LARK).

The LARK program is free and available to any childcare agency in the state. It allows them to borrow kits that contain books, activity guides, music, worksheets, games, toys or puppets; all bundled up in either a canvas bag or a plastic tub.

By providing these additional resources, the Providence Public Library is helping childcare agencies to provide students with an interactive learning experience.

“It is one thing to read a story about bats, but the experience becomes interactive when puppets, music, games and even a bat costume are all part of the experience,” the Providence Public Library noted in their press release.

At Carriage House, the teachers had received information about the new kits and decided to try one out. With over 100 different themes to choose from, they chose a firefighter kit to help the students connect to their story.

“The kids often struggle with what’s real and what is make-believe,” said Assistant Director Tammy Donohue. Thanks to the LARK program, Donohue said they were able to help their students better understand that concept.

“We were able to extend the conversation that they were real people, playing a character,” she said.

Donohue said that the students benefited from the agency’s ability to connect literacy to drama and music. Each child in the class was able to play a character from “Bugtown Fire Truck.” They put on a live performance of the poem, acting out their parts and using the contents of the LARK kit to enhance their performance.

Donohue was thrilled with the response that the students and teachers had to the kit.

“We were also able to connect this to our spring theme as well,” she said. “And, it was all at no cost to us.”

For more information on the Learning and Reading Kits, contact the Providence Public Library at 455-8000.

Rhodes students serve up solutions for Project Citizen

Cranston Herald

June 10, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

A BIG THUMBS UP: Fifth grade teacher Jim Gemma and his class enjoy the “liberated lunch” meal that they planned together after months of research on better school nutrition for Project Citizen 2010.

The fifth graders in James Gemma’s class at Rhodes Elementary School had important business with Capitol Hill recently. As participants in the Civic Center for Education’s Project Citizen program, they were taking government into their own hands.

When the time came to tackle an issue that was important to them – lunch was on the menu.

“We’ve been trying to change the lunches to make them healthier, because if they give us low-grade food, we won’t be able to work to our fullest potential,” said student Sean Miller.

The students spent the past several months researching the standards for school lunches, as well as the recent legislation that’s been proposed to raise those standards.

“We don’t believe our school lunches meet the standards,” said Sabra Solitro. “We’d also like to try to make them more appetizing because if kids don’t eat them, we’re losing money.”

Classmate Sam Hanley agreed, and described how the class has been trying contact people who might be able to help them out, including CPS food services director Mike Morrocco, School Committee Member Steve Stycos, the organization Kids First, and even Senator Jack Reed.

They also contacted several other food service groups such as Sodexo and Fresh Point. Stycos and Kids First have been working with the district to bring in more fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown.

The students invited Senator Reed to visit their classroom and speak to them about their concerns.

Joining them that day was Theresa Manera’s fifth grade class, which was also participating in Project Citizen. Their chosen issue was the lack of appropriate physical education time during the school day, which tied in nicely with the nutrition topic from Gemma’s class.

Reed spent a half hour with the students, shaking every child’s hand and congratulating them on their interest in the upcoming lunch reform legislation. He praised Gemma and Principal Kenneth Blackman as well.

“School nutrition is a very important issue,” said Reed. “In the 1950’s and 60’s, they came up with the idea of a ‘hot lunch.’ Cooks prepared a meal, and you went in and ate it.”

Reed went on to say how over the course of time, school lunches have evolved into what Cranston Public Schools currently serve.

“We’ve already done things like cutting out most of the blatant sugar items like soda, but we’re trying to increase the nutrition guidelines,” said Reed, citing other changes such as taking sugary snacks out of school vending machines.

He briefly discussed why the guidelines are being changed. Reasons like childhood obesity and lack of good diet and exercise were top on the list.

“Over the next several weeks we will be having hearings and pass legislation,” he said.

Reed saved ample time for the students in both classes to ask their questions, taking out a pen and index cards to write down those he didn’t have answers to, or issues he specifically wanted to raise when he went back to Washington DC.

“Why is our fruit served in a light syrup?” asked Solitro.

Reed answered her honestly.

“That’s an improvement over the previous years,” he said. “It used to be served in heavy syrup.”

Solitro asked if cost was a factor, whether or not light syrup on fruit was cheaper to buy than fresh fruits. Reed answered that cost was part of the issue, but that by putting fruits in light syrup, it allowed the Department of Agriculture to use the excess foods, such as fruits, that they’re paying the farmers to grow for the school lunches.

Tying in nutrition with exercise, Amani Correia asked Reed whether or not cutting down physical education time in the schools was against the law, citing research that her class had done.

We put in higher standards for academics and there’s only so much time in a day,” said Reed. “Some things were cut but this might be an unintended consequence of this. Nutrition and exercise are important and we’re making the laws better in order to include them.”

Hanley brought up the idea that if the school lunches were more appetizing, more students would buy them, and asked Senator Reed what he thought about that.

That’s a good point Sam,” Reed answered. “We found that more and more children weren’t taking the meals. There’s a question now, if we made the meals more attractive, would more people buy it?”

The students in Gemma’s class decided to find out for themselves. As a culminating activity to their project, they worked in conjunction with Morrocco and Kids First to “liberate lunch,” and plan a healthier, more appetizing meal for the entire school to enjoy.

On Thursday, June 3, the student body and staff at Rhodes got to sample the fruits of their labor. On the menu was chicken stir-fry tossed with vegetables, locally grown corn on the cob, whole grain brown rice, fresh fruit salad and fresh red grapes.

“This is a great start towards healthier school lunches,” said Kids First representative Heidi Carla. “The kids are showing an interest and advocating for the whole school.”

Gemma stood in the kitchen with Carla as the line grew, and commented on the number of teachers in the lunch line.

“The teachers are actually eating the lunch,” he said as he grabbed a tray for himself and got into line.

When asked how the lunch rated compared to the regular school lunches, the results were overwhelmingly positive.

“This has never happened to me before,” said James Wesley Isom, a fourth grader at Rhodes.

“It’s great. On a scale of one to 20, it’s 1,000,” he added, holding up his fork.

One of Gemma’s students, Annabelle Neville, said she spoke to the lunch servers as she went through the line.

"I asked them if it was more work, one of them said no, and one of them said yes, but that it was worth it,” Neville said.

Gemma brought his tray over to the lunch table and sat down with his students, surveying the room. As staff and students lined up to purchase their lunches, they called out their thank you’s to Gemma and his students for planning such a fabulous lunch.

“Don’t thank me, thank the whole fifth grade class,” Gemma said.