Category Archives: InCity Voices

🏘️Why People are Homeless🏘️

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani Meuse

People are homeless because they can’t afford the ever-rising, sky-high rents. That is it. It isn’t because they “choose” to be homeless. It isn’t because they’re criminals. It isn’t because they’re addicted to a substance. It isn’t because they’re “lazy” or won’t work. People are homeless because they can not afford rent. Period.

I’ve lived in Worcester for well over a decade. I’ve personally been homeless and slept in my vehicle in Worcester. I’ve been homeless despite being college-educated, working two full-time jobs, making a six-figure income. After that experience, I shifted my professional plans and chose to work in this city to assist those like me. People who have no place to call “home” despite their best efforts. People who are looked down upon by the bulk of our society and overlooked by the rest. People who truly just need a helping hand to reclaim their lives. I couldn’t do nothing. I’m not the kind of person who can complain about a problem and not work to solve it.

Watching Worcester, the city that I call home, standing eyes wide shut in the middle of this housing crisis is sickening to me. We admittedly have less than 25% of the shelter beds in this city that we need based on our unsheltered population; yet Worcester City Manager Eric Batista says the city can’t put resources into shelters!

No one believes a shelter is a substitute to housing, but a well-modeled, service-rich, client-centered shelter that provides safety from the elements while connecting individuals to the various resources needed to
exit homelessness is sorely needed in Worcester on a year-round basis.

Affordable housing and inclusionary zoning laws are great, but don’t go far enough and literally do nothing for those folks who don’t or can’t make 60% AMI. We need no- to low-income, no-barrier housing options. We have one option coming on board this calendar year that will provide a few of those units, but that housing development was planned in 2018 … that is five full years between planning and executing.

So even if the City of Worcester plans and commits to a couple hundred units of supportive housing today, we won’t have access to those units for another half-decade.

Where are folks supposed to sleep in the interim?

The City of Worcester won’t enact a campsite sweep moratorium, so if we don’t have housing and we don’t have shelter beds and people aren’t allowed to sleep in a tent … then where should these hundreds of
individuals go?

We have no public restrooms in the city. We have no daily warming or cooling centers.

Though in the last several years we have had shower and hygiene options for the unsheltered in Worcester, we now no longer have those available either. We’ve lost treatment beds for those struggling with addiction; our substance use treatment beds in the state are already only half of what is needed for the population.

Our city manager says he will work with healthcare facilities to address the mental health of our unhoused population; but explain to me how that will work when our healthcare facilities are already overwhelmed and boarding mental health patients for 5+ days in the ER while conducting statewide bed searches.

News articles coming out each week about backlash and neighborhood complaints when a shelter or housing option is proposed. The NIMBY-ism is truly sickening. Seeing our city accepting that hatred and caving to that vitriol is absolutely disgusting.

Our people are our biggest asset and we are failing one another.

Anyone could end up homeless; an
accident, injury, loss of a job/income, loss of a spouse, mental health crisis, fire, etc is all it takes. Our housed neighbors are burdened paying 50% – 70% of their income on housing alone! Prices continue to rise. Subsidies and public housing have a 6 to 10 year wait list. Property management agencies demand 3 times the rent in income, credit scores above 680, perfect rental history, etc.

We provided shelter and services to more than 250 people this past winter. Men, women, veterans, elderly, high school students all stayed with us to seek assistance. An educator working each day to
teach our city’s youth only to return to a shelter each night. A first responder, hairstylists, construction workers, social workers, auto mechanics, estheticians, vet techs, admin assistants, landscapers, welders, wait staff, retail managers, recovery coaches – ALL homeless! All desperate to find a home of their own, all working and paying taxes yet unable to have a safe place to sleep each night. All struggling to hide the fact that they are homeless from their employers, friends, coworkers because they hear the rhetoric and they see how others feel about and act toward the unsheltered individuals in our city.

We are better than this! It isn’t going to be easy to remedy the mess we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into, but it is possible. This is a very complex issue that requires a strategic, comprehensive and
multifaceted approach to solve; but I assure you it is possible. Experts, data and research do not lie.

We know how to address this crisis, and we can do so if the city manager will listen to the experts in this field and follow the evidence-based practices we continue to insist upon.

🏘️Homeless in Worcester – and our Success at Blessed Sacrament Church this past winter!💒

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani. photo submitted.

My heart hurts. We, as a community, as a city, as a people, must do better. If I were to find a homeless puppy on the side of the road, I could make one phone call and that living soul wouldbe safe. In under an hour, I could secure shelter, food, medical care and advocacy for that dog. However, if that puppy were not a puppy, and was instead a human being, I couldn’t guarantee assistance. It would be a hit or miss,uphill battle to secure safety for that person.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful that homeless animals have safe options. I am a huge animal advocate, and actually run a dog rescue in my “free time.” My heartbreak is from knowing that even in the 2 nd largest city in
all of New England, I can not always provide a safe option for a homeless human being. I’ve worked in this city in homeless services for well over a decade, I’ve operated shelters, I’ve developed outreach programs to reach those on the street. We have countless service providers, beating the pavement each day to offer advocacy to the people who’ve long ago given up on receiving any true help, and resigned themselves to a life on the street, on the fringes. Marginalized, stigmatized and victimized again and again.

A homeless person suffering in the dead of winter in Downtown Worcester. CECELIA file photos.

Worcester is the second largest city in the entire region, not just the state, but in all of New England. Homelessness is at epidemic levels and has been for years, with no hint of declining. Although people become homeless in any number of cities and towns, many flock to city centers due to the resources available (public transportation, detoxfacilities, shelters, etc). In Worcester, we have one year round shelter built for less that 60 people and a handful of population specific shelters that hold far less, for veterans, or women fleeing exploitation andabuse. Routinely every one of these shelters is at capacity; despite the literally hundreds of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets.
Often times people would rather take their chances sleeping on
the streets than to enter the one year round shelter option in the city.

More must be done to help Worcester’s homeless!

The horrific reports of abuse, theft, violence, exploitation, etc have been public knowledge for years, yet no other option is put forth. Every social worker in the city has heard stomach turning details of people’s experiences in that shelter; many have witnessed it first hand and most have reported these incidents, yet no change occurs. The lack of transparency and accountability in shelter services in Worcester has only fueled the abuses that have existed since the PIP.

This past winter Worcester’s Blessed Sacrament Church on Pleasant Street provided a safe, clean space for homeless folks to eat, sleep and receive services. photo submitted.

Staff at these facilities were given the green light to tell any guest to leave for nearly any reason, and I’ve seen them do it hundreds of times. If an individual overdosed and wouldn’t go to detox,
they were thrown on the street. If an elderly individual had incontinence issues, rather than get them medical hygiene products, they were told to pack their things and leave the shelter and it was justified because “they need a higher level of care.” If an individual suffering from mental illness talks to themselves,
they were told to leave shelter for “bothering others.”

If a staff member didn’t like the individual, or was having a bad
day they would tell people to leave the shelter. If two individuals
hugged or exchanged a handshake, they were immediately accused of “selling drugs” and kicked out of shelter. At one point, the banned list for the city shelter was over 100 individuals! In 2016, with another brutal New England winter fast approaching, our city worked hand in hand with non-profit organizations and the faith-based community to create an emergency winter overflow shelter. The idea was that when the year-round shelter was full, there would be a safe place for people to seek refuge from the storms, the cold, the streets. Yet every spring the people who had accessed the winter shelter were again put on the streetsuntil the following winter. The all-volunteer shelter became
known as “Hotel Grace” and year after year would open the doors to provide safety for 60 people from the frigid winter. It operated on Temple Street each winter for several years prior to relocating to Vernon Street during COVID.

Hotel Grace operated out of the old Ascension Church on Vernon Hill winter before last. Folks could shower in the mobile shower unit.

Unfortunately, what had began as a beautiful, humane option for winter
shelter turned into yet another organization that was exploiting
and abusing the very vulnerable population it was supposed to
serve.The folks surviving and sleeping unsheltered have a host of concerns as well. The unkind elements are certainly not
the only fear these people face. There is risk of assault, overdose, being robbed of what little they have, being raped, infections, exacerbated wounds due to lack of hygiene, no place to toilet or bathe, etc. Some say homelessness has been criminalized and I understand that argument. People are routinely encountered by police who tell them they must move from where they are sitting or sleeping, or risk arrest because they are “loitering” or “trespassing.” We’ve seen the state come through encampments with bulldozers destroying everything in their path. Others have had their tents literally sliced with knives by the police.

Downtown Worcester: sleeping on a vent to stay warm. So many homeless people die in the winter!

A handful of us working in the field have become discouraged that every year at winter shelter we would see the exact same faces again and again, year after year. While they had a safe place to escape the cold, they received no real resources to exit homelessness.

We began to dream of a better
option. We spoke of operating a shelter without barriers. We
envisioned a shelter that didn’t simply provide a bed for the
night and food. We wanted to bring social workers, case managers, recovery coaches, religious supports, housing navigators, crisis interventionists, clinicians, physicians and treatment providers in to the shelter. We wanted to remove the barriers of appointments, transportation, stigma, etc and bring the help to the people who needed it in the moment. We wanted to dismantle the status quo, punitive system that exists in shelters … We all continued to work within the parameters that the current system had set for us, while dreaming of something so much better and doing everything we could in ourspare time to see that dream come to fruition.

Since 2016, the City of Worcester has taken a reactive approach to emergency shelter. Each year come mid-autumn, we panic and worry about where winter shelter will be this year, when it can open, where people should seek safety once the overflow is full, etc. In these same 7 years, Worcester has seen tremendous growth and improvement. There are numerous brand new housing developments but very few of them are affordable. Thereis a huge ball park down in Kelley Square. There are new shops, restaurants, businesses of all sorts. Yet in our thriving city, our most vulnerable still have no home. The closing of winter shelter is an entirely different nightmare. Stress, anxiety, emotion, hopelessness, defeat etched into the faces of the men and women as they pack their few belongings into their bags with nowhere to go, and uncertainty of what the future holds. It is truly inhumane to offer people the safety of shelter and then to throw them back to the streets when spring arrives. Homelessness is not a winter only issue.

Each spring, following the closure of the winter shelter, we see an uptick in untimely deaths of those who’d stayed the previous winter at
shelter. It is incredibly heartbreaking to think that people are literally dying on the street – alone – because they have no safe, humane, year-round option for shelter, services and care.

This winter, we were able to do something different. We were again constrained by the winter only timeline, however, we were allowed to bring all of the resources to the guests at the shelter to make true, lasting progressfor and with them. We obtained ID’s, birth certificates and social security cards. We helped numerous folks file employment applications and obtain jobs. We applied for Mass Health, SNAP and GA benefits. We connected veterans to the VA and to Veteran’s Inc. We helped young adults enroll in college courses.
We assisted refugees in navigating the tumultuous immigration process. We had physicians and nurse practitioners providing healthcare weekly. We has substance use providers providing medicated assisted treatment at the shelter every day. We had staff dedicated to conducting housing search and identifying units available for guests who couldn’t find a rental unit.

Because the City of Worcester has “dropped the ball,” Worcester’s first responders must often be nurse, doctor, social worker, even priest, to the city’s homeless.

Staff were dedicated to providing our guests the services they needed to successfully exit homelessness and itpaid off!Slowly but surely, as the winter progressed, we were seeing phenomenal results. Each week we would be saying“So long and good luck” to a handful of guests as they packed their belongings to move into their own homes. Each week we would escort a guest to pick out furnishings for a home they never dreamed would be a reality. And each week as we sent one guest to a home of their own, there was another individual waiting at the door for a chance to enter our shelter and work with the resources available to find their way to exit homelessness.

The work was exhausting, the
hours were long and the stories were truly heart shattering. Yet day after day, ourdedicated team of staff showed up to offer assistance to our neighbors who needed us the most. It wasn’t easy, but nothing worth attaining ever is. Even
on our worst days, I can confidently say that regardless of the guest, theirbarriers or their disposition, our guests were treated with the dignity, compassion, respect and decency they deserved. Confrontation occurred, untreated or
under treated mental health issues
flared, personalities clashed, and yet we remained the calm in the middle of that storm. We showed our guests, many of whom were anxious due to past abuses by other service providers, that they were safe here. We offered any resource our guests were willing to accept. Most did take advantage of several resources we made available, but some did not and chose to only sleep here and that is ok too. Hopefully, by making the offer of assistance but allowing the
individual to choose and respecting that choice, we built trust.Perhaps a guest wasn’t ready for housing this winter, but they know when
they are that they have advocates here that will work to assist them.

Many guests struggling with substance use disorder weren’t ready for treatment, but they knew we offered resources free of judgement, so they were able to be brutally honest without fear of reprisal. Feedback from our guests was taken very seriously and mattered to us, because we wanted to build and improve in any way that positively impacted our guests.

I am so incredibly proud of what we
accomplished this winter at Sowing Seeds of Hope at Bethlehem Hall.

I am amazed at the dedication I saw day in and day out from our staff, our volunteers and this amazing organization we partnered with. I am honored to have led this team and I look forward to working together with each one of you in the future, as we all continue to work to serve the homeless population.

If we all continue to be the change
we want to see in this world, progress will be made. Continue to advocate for a safe, humane, resource-rich, year-round shelter option in Worcester. Continue to advocate for affordable housing, housing subsidies that don’t take 10 years to acquire, permanent supportive housing projects, support services for formerly chronically homeless individuals and families.

Call your Worcester city councilor, call Worcester’s city manager, call your congressman. Continue to be anbadvocate and an ally for those who still don’t have a place to call “home.”

The City was poised to convert the old St. Vincent’s Hospital nursing school on Vernon Hill into affordable housing for seniors. Our senior citizens are still waiting! There are so many projects for the homeless that the City of Worcester delays, staves off … until people forget. Please, STAY ON YOUR CITY COUNCILORS! MAKE SURE THEY DELIVER FOR OUR MOST VULNERABLE NEIGHBORS!

Together, we can move mountains.
Together, we made a huge difference this winter! Together, we will be the solution moving forward!


🏘️This article, written by Nahani Meuse, represents her opinions – not the agency she works for, Open Sky.🏘️

✍️From our newest writer:🏘️On Worcester’s New Inclusionary Zoning Law🏠

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani🌺. photo submitted.

We are making progress, but it’s simply not enough and there is far more work to do! Following the Worcester City Council vote a few months ago, Worcester will now enact Inclusionary Zoning. That is just a fancy way to say that new housing developments will have to set aside a certain percentage of units as “affordable.”

But what is “affordable”? Per the new inclusionary zoning ordinance, new developments of 12 or more units will have to set aside 10% – 15% of units as affordable — 10 if the units are priced at 60% AMI and 15 if they’re priced at 80% AMI.
So if the data from the US Census Bureau in 2020 is accurate, and the median income in Worcester for
an individual is $28,000 a year, a 60% AMI apartment would cost $1400 a month, and a 80% AMI apartment would cost $1866 a month. The average rent price in Worcester is $1724 a month.

While these numbers and this new ordinance would help some folks and is a positive step in the right
direction; it is just not enough.

I’m a social worker in Worcester. I’ve worked in homeless services in this city for more than 14 years. I’ve operated several homeless shelters, I have developed outreach teams to serve the people who sleep unsheltered in our city, I’ve continued to advocate for a housing first model and affordable housing. I see a distinct difference between “affordable housing” and “attainable low-income housing.” These are not interchangeable.

Hundreds of the homeless individuals I serve receive only disability as income, ranging from $700 – $900 a month. That’s it. Where will they find housing? Please don’t suggest a ‘subsidy’ or ‘public housing’ because we’ve already exhausted those options and hundreds sit on wait lists for an apartment or voucher for more than 10 years! Where should they live in that decade, as they wait for an apartment?

What about the senior citizens who sleep at my homeless shelter after losing their lifelong home? They survive on a social security check of $800 – $1600 each month. Where will they find housing? If they’re
lucky enough to be on the upper end of that range and bring home $1600 each month, in theory they could possibly pay a $1400 a month rent … but only if they don’t have medication co-pays, any utility
expenses, or want to eat.

How about the single mothers working for minimum wage, 40 hours each week and overtime as they support their two children? They’re lucky to bring home $1800 – $2100 a month. So if they obtain an apartment with a rent of $1400 a month, they will have $400 – $700 left to pay for transportation, utilities, insurances, clothing, groceries, household essentials. Do you see the issue here?

Let’s talk about the individuals who are surviving with absolutely zero income. Truly receiving nothing other than maybe SNAP benefits. Many are working to find employment, or in the waiting process to obtain disability benefits, or waiting for their disability rating from the VA but currently have $0 of income; where can they find a safe place to call home?

College educated, young professionals working full time in human services are working for about $20 an hour; bi-weekly bringing home anywhere from $900 – $1400 after taxes, insurance, etc so a grand total of $1800 – $2800 a month. Again, if they find one of these “affordable” apartments for a rent of $1400 a month, they’re still paying between 50% – 78% of their income on housing!

These numbers are not hyperbole. These are the situations I see every single day in the hundreds of
people that I work to help exit homelessness. Many people assume that the homeless in our city somehow ‘chose’ to be homeless; when in all reality, we as a community have stacked the deck against anyone who is economically disadvantaged.

We as a city are cutting off life-long residents at the knees with ever-rising rents, predatory landlords who lease people into uninhabitable properties, decades long waitlists for public housing, and no safe year-round shelter option in the city. Let’s not even get in to the rental requirements popping up every day demanding people make 3X the rent in income, have a credit score of 680+, a solid rental history, no prior evictions, etc.

Inclusionary zoning is a win for affordable housing as a whole; but it simply does not go far enough. We need no-income-low-income housing that doesn’t take years to acquire. We need a safe, service-rich, year-round shelter option in this city that treats those served with dignity, decency and respect. We need to put our people, our most valuable asset, first! Everyone deserves a safe place to call “home.”

Housing should be a human right, not a privilege.

🌺🌼A “fresh” column by Pam, one of our newer columnists!💐🌷

Lilacs and Fields

By Pamela Jordan

Quinsig Village today. CECELIA file photos.

I love this time of year – it’s Lilac Time! Growing up in Worcester’s Quinsigamond Village, it was almost like you could smell the scent everywhere you went. And the colors – dark and light and white. Where I lived at the bottom of Holy Cross Field, there is a street called Oswald. It was about a quarter mile long and was a dead end. In the back of every yard was a continuous hedgerow of lilacs eight or nine feet tall. I would sit under the bushes and read, surrounded by the heavenly scent. I often wondered who planted all of those lilacs.

I found out later in life why there was such a proliferation. An old Swede from the once Swedish neighborhood told me when a new outhouse was needed, a spot next to the old one was dug, and a lilac bush was put in the old hole! They are long-living bushes, as long as the dead branches are trimmed off. A lilac will not grow on a branch where a previous one bloomed.

So when I was a little girl in Quinsig Village it was tulips and forsythia and lilacs for Mother’s Day. And my Mom always welcomed my bouquets. She had a special vase for special occasions, and I always felt so proud that she used it for my gifts.

On the other side of the hedgerows were the fields, Holy Cross and Currans, and many which were unnamed – it was just “The Field.” If any of you remember the names of others, please let me know!

One of the many side streets branching off Greenwood Street or Blackstone River Road – going up the hill, deep into the residential section of Worcester’s Quinsigamond Village.

The fields were glorious for kids – forts and fencing with Catalpa bean pods. Berry picking and quiet chats. It was possible to traverse the entire Village from Butler Street to the Auburn line at Packachog without ever walking on pavement. We would leave in the morning with sandwiches and snacks, pen knives and books, and be gone for the day. Nobody worried about bugs or ticks. It was a simpler time. As one went along, other kids would join in. The days flew by and, as dusk drew down, we would take the streets back home – nobody wanted to be in the fields in the dark.

Many of these fields are gone now – accommodating new duplexes and houses taking up the green spaces. I was down at my old stamping grounds last week and while many things have changed … the lilacs are still there.

💈💈Piedmont Barber💈💈

By Rosalie Tirella

A gentle soul. file photos by Rose T.

Found these old InCity Times file photos. I took these pictures of my favorite barber, the manager at G’s Cuttin’ Up, in Piedmont, years ago. I wrote a story about the barber, older, soft-spoken, thoughtful, gentle with the boys who came off some of the meanest streets in Worcester. The boys came in for a haircut, the newest being called the “fade,” but they left G’s feeling respected, listened to, nurtured.

Where can Black boys feel this way in America today besides church and home? And sometimes not even at home. Look how quickly the 16-year-old honor student in Kansas City was shot – in the head – for just knocking on the wrong door, hoping to pick up his sister. He was deemed “criminal” because he was Black.

Black boys respected, even nurtured, at G’s.

And now the tears roll down the boy’s cheeks because he is in such pain, physical and emotional. His head throbs with the terrifying question: Why would anyone want to kill me?

Braggadocio was left at G’s Cuttin’ Up’s front door, and an almost religious experience followed in this funky barbershop designed to look like the inside of a space ship with its silver walls and metallic arches. Quiet, meditative, the boys relaxed and listened as the old barber asked them about school or family. They responded in hushed tones and smiled a lot. The old barber was never rough or fast; he asked them what they wanted and his electric razor smoothly trimmed away…the zzzzzzzzz sound soothing, the cute, always clean, barber’s cape catching the soft fuzz.

The master barber at work!

Boys left G’s Cuttin’ Up with a terrific fade, but they walked back into Piedmont with much more than that: they re-entered a tough, unloving America with a sense of self. I used to think – because I visited G’s pretty often to deliver InCity Times – a boy could come in to that spaceship barbershop on Pleasant Street month after month for his trims and learn to be a real man just by talking to and watching this barber. He was one of the best in Worcester, drawing customers from all over the city. More important, he was a wonderful person. I forgot his name, it was so long ago. But I’ll never forget him, my Piedmont barber.


🇺🇸YES, Worcester!🇺🇸 It’s an election year!🇺🇸

By John Monfredo, retired WPS teacher and principal and former Worcester School Committee member

Small groups are best when it comes to teaching. photos submitted.

Yes, folks there is a local election taking place this year. Candidates have until May 30 to file Municipal Election Nomination papers at Worcester City Hall. Also, the last day to register to vote for the preliminary election is August 26.

Unfortunately, in past Worcester elections there has been a low voter turnout during our local elections. It’s frightening to think that a community can pass laws and implement programs without the approval of the majority of its citizens. In the last local election Worcester had a 16% voter turnout among registered voters! Across the nation it has been reported that unqualified candidates have set back a community because they won by a few votes.

I urge our readers to find out who is running for office and be sure to vote this year. In addition, the media has not stepped up enough in the past to encourage voters to make voting a priority. A study from Johns Hopkins University cited insufficient media coverage as a potential cause for its citizens not being informed about local politics. Local elections have real consequences. Whether it is the guarantee of having healthy drinking water, having police in the high schools for safety purposes, concerns over an outdated infrastructure, increases in the tax rate, education reform, busing issues and paving streets. We need these issues addressed by
our elected officials. Apathy and low voter turnout should not continue to define local elections.

Thus, CECELIA/InCity Times is taking the lead to encourage voters to turn out to vote. It’s that important. It is critical to exercise your right to vote, for it’s one of the key freedoms of America’s way of life.

The next problem for our voters is to figure out for whom to vote and what the issues are. I’d like to encourage more participation and urge community members to consider running if they believe that they can make a difference in our city. For this edition of CECELIA/InCity Times, I have sent an email out to several individuals in the community and asked them to
consider the top issues that both groups (City Council and School Committee) need to address:

🇺🇸Worcester City Council … Many parents want to know, in light of the violence taking place in the community, whether the city council will consider funding police presence in the high schools as they did in the past. They want to hear the reasons for or against
from the candidates. A group of voters wrote about their concern about the increase in the tax rate and want answers on how the City can acquire additional revenue from our non-profits such as all the colleges and universities in our city.

Voters wrote to me about the homeless in our city and felt more needed to be done. Many people in
homeless shelters are afflicted by addiction. The voters wanted to know if assistance is being given to those in need of social services.

A few wrote to me about State Senator Moore’s bill on “smart meters.” They would like candidates to address this bill on its safety merit for its citizens. The bill calls for opting out of the smart meter. Another voter is concerned about the makeup of candidates and wants to hear from moderate
candidates, for the voter feels candidates need to step up on local issues rather than focus on grandiose social justice warriors interested more in national than local problems.Others voiced their concerns about a reliable internet service and are not happy about Spectrum. Since the city’s 10-year contract runs out in October with Spectrum, many of them feel a change should be considered. One voter wrote, “It’s poor and expensive.”

Another voter stated that the city council needs to look into
the fiber optics service now being touted by Verizon. All want to hear Council candidates address this issue.

Others want the Worcester City Council to address the street repairs in our city and do a better job paving streets and fixing potholes.

🇺🇸The Worcester School Committee… One voter wrote: “The main issue seems to be “visibility” “involvement” and “knowing the constituents” (the Worcester Community).

I have also had the opportunity to talk with most of them. I am thinking that the new School Committee and City Council would benefit from speaking to the different directors of the School Department and catch up on what each department is doing to support our students and parents. A walk-thru of the schools would also be beneficial, as it would help them get a good idea of the school day and how a school is run.

“Are School Committee and City Council members visible and at the schools? Are they meeting with
parents or community agencies?”

Also, there is confusion (noted during School Committee meetings) between ESL, Transitional Bilingual Program structure and the Dual Language Program. We have many ELS. We also have FEL (former English Learners). What does this mean to our system for assistance?”
This voter wrote: “I attended a session by the Worcester Education Collaborative on the MCAS and was surprised how there were statements made about WPS, ESL, etc. How can we help educate ALL stakeholders? It seems that they too lack a lot of knowledge on WPS. I noted that there were NO School Committee or City Council members there. At this point, I am listening and taking careful note of where I see them and what they say …”

Parents voiced concerns about the need of having more full-day preschool programs, summer sessions and after school help for the students. They would like those issues to be addressed.

Others spoke about the curriculum and would like the Worcester School Committee to address programs that deal with college readiness issues.

reading 002
Go, Worcester Public Schools!!

Many want to know the educational background that candidates bring to the table and want to know if the candidates know the city’s neighborhoods. Many parents want to know how the candidates feel about the use of cell phones in the schools and what the School Committee’s ideas are about how to curb violence, absenteeism and truancy in the schools.

Other ideas expressed by the voters included bullying prevention, air quality in the schools, service learning, sex education, and whether CPR training has continued in our schools.

This is just a snapshot of issues that Worcesterites want addressed. Now, as we move into the campaign season, let’s hope that these issues, as well as others, will be addressed by our political candidates. We will continue to stay on top of the issues during this all-important local election!

🏘️🏘️Common Myths About Homelessness🏘️

By Lorie Martiska

Lorie. photo submitted.

Many people believe common myths about homelessness. These myths can foster a climate of fear and intolerance for people experiencing homelessness. The reality is that homelessness is not an individual problem – yet these myths tend to lay the blame on individuals. Homelessness is a societal problem and one that communities, providers, cities and states must work together to address.

What are some of these myths?

🏘️1. Homeless people should just
get a job.

According to the Council for the
Homeless, a common myth is that
“these people just need to get a job”.
In fact, many of the homeless living in shelters DO have a job or even more than one. A recent report concluded to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Worcester, a family would need to earn close to $60,000 a year. For those who are unemployed, living in a car, a tent, or on the street, fnding and keeping a job is a daunting task when they are struggling with day- to- day

🏘️2. People are homeless by choice.

Being homeless can be stressful,
humiliating, exhausting and
dangerous. People would rarely, if
ever choose to be homeless. Some
homeless people do choose to live
outside rather than in a shelter because they have pets or possessions they want to retain and protect. Some people are living with physical, mental health symptoms or addictions that make their lives and decisions more diffcult. Some people became homeless because of a series of unfortunate events – loss of job, loss of family, or other circumstances. Regardless of the reason, it is almost never because they chose to be homeless.

🏘️3. People who are homeless are all dangerous, violent criminals.

Like the general population, the
vast majority of homeless individuals are focused on their own struggles and challenges and not engaged in violence or crime of any type. In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators.

🏘️4. Housing or shelter should come
with conditions, like being clean
and sober.

The conventional wisdom used to
be that housing should be dangled
like a carrot to entice someone to be treated for substance use disorders frst. Evidence has proven that an approach called Housing First is far more effective. Homeless people can fnd stability and healing when provided with empowering supports focused on stable housing frst. It
is very diffcult to address medical, mental health challenges and/or addictions when living on the streets or in an unsafe and unstable situation.

🏘️5. Most people will cycle back onto the streets and will not stay housed.

Rapid Rehousing and Permanent
Supportive Housing, highly effective strategies that combine affordable housing with intensive coordinated services, can provide needed assistance to help people remain housed. A recent study found that Rapid Rehousing ( quickly housing someone who has become homeless along with supportive services when needed), resulted in 70% – 90% of people remaining housed after a year.

🏘️6. There is nothing I can do to
affect homelessness.

There are things we can do. Be kind. For those who are unhoused, being treated with kindness is a rare commodity. Your act of kindness could be the only sign of humanity they experience throughout
the day. Volunteer to help. Shelters and other programs for the homeless welcome volunteers who donate meals, activities, clothing and their time.

Speak Up. Advocate for person
centered trauma-informed supports
that meet people where they are at.

Advocate for community solutions
and vote for people who support community-wide and evidence-based approaches to addressing homelessness.

❤️🎶Miss Avedikian 🎶❤️

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s mom work vest she wore to work at the drycleaners on Millbury Street. All thru “Prov” junior high Rose remembers “Ma” wearing this polyester vest – with big side pockets for pencils, a scratch pad or two, and rubber bands – to work. Ma also had a navy blue vest and a beige one, same style. Rose mailed the navy blue one to her sister two years ago. photos: R.T.

“Spring Concert.” The two words that captivated the collective imagination of the entire student body of Vernon Hill’s Providence Street Junior High School, circa 1975. Last week I wrote about the drippy music teacher we kids had at my elementary school, Lamartine Street School. This week I’m here to tell you how my class’s musical fortunes did a 180-degree turnaround at the old “Prov” – now the Vernon Hill Elementary School – in 1973. All because of a 4’10”-inch-tall musical miracle and lover of all kids, no matter how good or rotten, no matter how gifted or just middling, no matter how sweet-smelling or smelly – Miss Avedikian, Providence Street Junior High School’s music teacher. I and around 600 other Prov seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders adored Miss Avedikian. No. “Adore” is too weak a word to describe the feelings we had for Miss Avedikian. We were passionate about her, captivated by her, entranced by her. So much so we never missed her music class – and actually sang for her. Loudly! In two-part harmony! Even the boys who liked to hide out in the boys room smoking cigs never cut Miss Avedikian’s music class. Even the girl who at Lamartine was the school bully and a thorn in this Rose’s side, “Frieda,” was stellar for Miss Avedikian. There she was, Frieda, the school yard slugger of Lamartine, standing outside Miss A’s classroom to get her morning hug from the pint-sized Miss Avedikian who had to stand on tippy toes to embrace the big girl who was a foot taller than she. Frieda had been “kept back” twice but was all A’s in Miss Avedikian’s music class, one of the shining stars. Sometimes things would get serious between the two; I imagine Frieda confided to her favorite teacher, who with arms still wrapped around her student’s beefy neck, spoke quietly, seriously to the girl. Often you’d see them literally tete a tete, big forehead to little forehead, the big droopy eyes of Miss Avedikian looking into Frieda’s beady little ones. Miss A quietly counseled her student in the middle of Prov’s bustling third floor corridor, the rest of us kids swimming around them like salmon ’round a boulder in a stream, rushing to get to our homerooms before the first bell rang. Looking back, I think Miss Avedikian took on the role of mom for lots of Prov students – maybe the kids with abusive parents or no parents all, the kids many teachers were usually neutral about – or angry with.

Not Miss Avedikian. She was a huge machine. She didn’t care that Peggy came to school unwashed or that I came to school very poor or so and so’s dad was in jail. All her students in all her classes were BRILLIANT!!! – and she expected us all to behave brilliantly – to sing and learn all the songs for the annual Providence Street Junior High School Spring Concert, to be in the sopranos or altos groups, to memorize all the lyrics to all our songs, to watch her for musical cues as she walked energetically up and down the aisles between our rows of desks making big swooping gestures with her little arms, smiling at us as she sang along, loudly, with gusto. She had a deep, resonant singing voice that, while not conventionally pretty sounding, was note-perfect. None of us students had spectacular voices, many of us were often off key and you’d scrunch up your face as you or your neighbor hit a clunker. But Miss Avedikian was undeterred. She’d correct us and we’d start all over again.


I remember the songs. Very 1970s, very Carpenters stuff. Songs about Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me …or Up up and away in my beautiful balloon…Songs that maybe we kids may not have been enthralled with but songs that our teacher loved, so we loved them, too.

I remember the Miss Avedikian dress code – she always wore these perfect little demure skirt suits. And she looked impeccable in her elegant (I think expensive) suits! Pencil skirt to the knees, colors ranging from a demure sage blue to a vibrant violet … a pretty white, pink or baby blue silk or rayon blouse often tied daintily at the top with a ribbon. Then the smart little matching jacket cropped at the waist to make it a bit formal. Nylons. Always beige. Then the little – size 5? – black, navy blue or beige pumps. Never high heels (and Miss Avedikian could have used their boost!), always the pumps. Some pearl earrings in her rather large wobbly earlobes and a smart wrist watch on her tiny wrist were the final touches. These days, when all of America – including many public school teachers – are living their best lives in yoga pants or outfits that may as well be their pajamas, Miss Avedikian looked like she CARED. Teaching, teaching music, being in front of a classroom of 30 students was serious business to her – and an honor. And you, the student, got the message – you got serious and focused when you entered Miss A’s classroom and saw this paragon of good grooming sitting at her big metal teachers desk smiling her big toothy smile at you, expecting your best, your best effort ever. Her hair was Armenian thick and dark black, but she kept it short, in a cute curly style that kinda bobbed up and down if she really got into a song she was singing with us or played the school piano very passionately.

Miss Avedikian was small but mighty. While she loved all her students, she could turn on a dime and flash that hot temper of hers if someone was smoking in the boys room or fighting in the hallway or sassing her back. An angry Miss A got beet red in the face, her eyes bulged out of their sockets and she yelled. Very loudly. She had the lung capacity for it. … It was traumatic seeing your usually wonderful teacher go berserk on you. So most wayward kids quickly wanted to set things right again and apologized to Miss Avedikian and hung their heads down in remorse. And then it was all over. The storm had gone to sea. Miss Avedikian was quick to “let bygones be bygones” and within seconds she was giving the student a big hug and words of encouragement.

Spring flowers: daffodils.

So, every spring we had our school Spring Concert where all our parents and family friends were invited to our grand, stately school auditorium with its ornate proscenium and heavy velvet stage curtains and framed prints of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln nailed to the walls on either side of the stage, to listen to us sing a bunch of hopeful spring songs led by Miss Avedikian. She accompanied us on the mini-grand piano at the foot of the stage. Prov had stage lights and, I think, a pretty good sound system. The seats the audience sat in were wooden but it was a gorgeous space, the school built around the Great Depression when America knew how to build schools that inspired our first and second generation Americans (like me) to excel. President Franklin Roosevelt had given federal jobs to artists and muralists. Here, make some money: paint two huge murals in the front entrance way at Providence Street Junior High School in Worcester, Massachusetts. The government will pay you. Where the marble stairs end and the hardwood floors begin, that’s your canvas. The murals – of the Native Americans of the Vernon Hill area – still grace the front entrance of my old junior high.

Rose’s mom’s George Washington calendar print, from 1949, hangs on Rose’s bedroom wall in Spencer these days. Fifty years ago, prints of this portrait hung in every junior and senior high school in America, often next to a print of a famous painting of Abraham Lincoln. This was true at the old “Prov” on Vernon Hill.

Besides a beautiful old school, our parents were treated to concert program booklets specially printed for the occasion, with parts 1 and 2 of the program and an intermission for any mom or dad who needed to use the bathroom or make a phone call in the phone booth outside the principal’s office. Mr. Bohman, our school principal, was a tall bald man who, like Miss Avedikian, also dressed impeccably – he always wore a dark suit and white dress shirt and necktie – he was always serious and polite to us students. He was the one who kicked off our spring concert, standing before a packed auditorium, welcoming the parents with a little speech delivered at the podium. Then Miss Avedikian came out and took the spotlight and led us students up into the stage, then into song, all the familiar we need world peace and harmony now songs we practiced for months. One side of our big stage was home to the altos, the other side covered by the sopranos. Sometimes the boys sang one verse and the girls sang the next. We kids were scrubbed and clean and wearing our best. At the end of the concert one student always gallantly presented Miss Avedikian with a big bouquet of roses – a thank you present for making it all happen. We kids had each pitched in a dollar or two for the bouquet and the designated flower guy or gal’s parents bought the bouquet of roses.

And you should have seen Miss Avedikian’s face at the end of one of our concerts, with her roses, all the parents standing up clapping, giving us a standing ovation and Miss Avedikian, wearing a corsage just like our little prom queen, in tears and taking a bow. Miss Avedikian may not have been conventionally pretty: she had a hang dog face, a few folds of skin under her big brown eyes, a big toothy grin, but to us kids she was beautiful. She never talked about a husband the way some teachers did. She seemed to me to be in her 40s at least, older than some of my teachers. And while her dress impressed us students, it was the hippie ’70s, and some teachers wore mini-skirts or platform shoes or even clogs with colored tites to class. Miss Avedikian wouldn’t be caught dead in a mini-, midi- or maxi skirt! She could have fit into a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER TV episode …

Rose’s father, pictured here holding Rose’s kid sisters, was emotionally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive, to Rose’s mom.

But our neighborhood, our home lives, we’re not Leave It To Beaver. Few of us lived in pretty, single family homes with big front yards and white picket fences. Most of us lived in Green Island or Union Hill or Vernon Hill three deckers, many of which were in great shape at that time, many of which were in shitty shape at that time. Like our three decker flat on Lafayette Street. Ma tried to make it cozy, but the windows were so old… we were always cold during winter time … the floors needed to be ripped out and replaced (never were), and our refrigerator hummed super loud 24 hours a day. We had maggots crawling out of our metal garbage cans in our backyard, and our back yard – at one time grassy with a cute bird bath – now was simply a big patch of dirt. The landlord had pulled out all the landscaping stops for a previous tenant because he was having an affair with her. When she left so did the birdbath and lawn.

So it came as a real surprise to me when I asked Miss Avedikian: Where would you really like to teach? Which school? Prov or Forest Grove, miss Avedikian? I had had the pleasure of accompanying my music teacher to a meeting at the recently built, beautiful, new, modern Forest Grove Junior High School in Worcester’s wealthy West Side. I think Miss Avedikian asked me to accompany her because the schools wanted student feedback on a new music curriculum. Something like that. Miss Avedikian chose me not because of any superior musical ability but because I was a smart, good kid who would be quiet and respectful at Forest Grove – and give my honest assessment of the proposed music curriculum. For me, I was thrilled to be riding in a car!! I mean, what a treat! A new car! With one of my favorite teachers – who was driving it!!! How cool!! My family was too poor to own an automobile, so I seldom got the chance to hop into a nice car and just sit back and let lovely scenery fly by. We – my mom and two kid sisters – walked all over Green Island and Downtown Worcester to shop, eat, go to movies, attend church or school. Worcester was more cohesive back then and mom and pop shops ruled and our downtown was a real downtown. It was fun walking down Millbury Street with Ma to buy shoes at Lisbon’s Shoe Store or a window shade at White’s Five and Ten or to cross Kelley Square to buy a big babka bread and a bag of warm bulkies at Widoffs Bakery on Water Street. It was, however, not at all fun to walk down a half-snow-plowed Lafayette Street in the dark with my mother and sisters after a snowstorm, after Ma finished her day at the dry cleaners. After a nor’easter our Green Island sidewalks were seldom shoveled so we walked in the street, on Lafayette, behind Ma, single file, against traffic. With headlights shining on us, with slush being splattered over us. So, you can see why it was such a big deal for me to ride in an automobile.

Worcester’s East Side used to be home to many blue collar families who lived in these three deckers and hundreds of others like them. The same held true for decades in Worcester’s Vernon Hill, Union Hill and Green Island neighborhoods. Gentrification has changed these great old Woo ‘hoods!

Anyways, Miss Avedikian and I had just finished up our little meeting at Forest Grove and we were heading to her car to drive back to Prov. I had never been to the West Side and was impressed by all the nice houses, their expansive front lawns, and the new modern Forest Grove Junior High School with its connecting, enclosed walkways between parts of the school, big panes of glass that were frosted. As in decorative. Wow. Who wouldn’t want to live here and attend junior high here?

But when I asked my music teacher: Which school do you like better, Miss Avedikian? She said, Prov, Rosalie. She looked at me and smiled and said: I like our kids. Over here they can be – and she stuck her dainty little finger under her rather big nose and lifted it up, pointing it to the sky. Then my music teacher gave me a little hug, we got into her nice car and drove back to our favorite junior high school in all of Worcester.

That day was eye-opening. I lived with a father who hated everything about our Green Island neighborhood, called the people “crippled freaks,” and he hated us, his family, too. He called my mother a “fuck nut” and why were my kid sisters so skinny and couldn’t Ma do anything right?! … To have Miss Avedikian, a real musician and concert violinist in her earlier career, a teacher who wore beautiful clothes and could teach at Forest Grove Junior High School – a beautiful new school in a beautiful rich neighborhood – PREFER to be in Vernon Hill, at Providence Street Junior High School, teaching us blue collar and working poor kids music, impressed me. Made me feel proud and squeeze a little harder when Miss Avedikian and I hugged. She wanted to be with us kids because maybe she knew what it felt like to be the underdog. She was gonna make us the overdog. Because we loved her so.

🌱It’s Easter weekend …

By Rosalie Tirella

Jett relaxing to the music … photos: R.T.

Enjoying THE BAND this Easter weekend. I only have three of their lps but two of them are the great ones. Yesterday I watched The Last Waltz DVD, checked out from the library. Watching the movie I remembered how great these guys ALL were – how American this mostly Canadian band was – what gifted storytellers they were via their wonderfully evocative songs – tales of “Lonesome Susie” and Southern soldiers, downtrodden but defiant … and lights shining West to East/I shall be released (this tune written by Bob Dylan). You enter an earthy, hardscrabble, wistful world whenever you listen to a Band song.

The Band

I saw The Band, without Robbie Robertson, at the old E.M. Loews theater in Downtown Worcester decades ago. Right after Robertson, the band’s main songwriter and “leader,” left the group – I think. I remember seeing Rick Danko on that grungy old Loews stage. He looked a little heavy, the sound wasn’t so terrific, it was drafty in this tired old concert venue that hosted oldie shows like Warren Zevon, whom I saw a few years later at Loews. Once young and beautiful and great, now these guys were simply GREAT. I don’t know if Levon Helm was there. I was around 18 … it was a long time ago. Before heroin took Danko, before Robertson got into Native American music, before I left my mother’s house, remaining close to my mom for the rest of her life but seeing my father only a handful of times after that.

Rose’s mom, left, circa 1945.

I had yet to understand how unlucky I was to be born in Green Island but how lucky I was to be young in the 1970s, a teen in the middle of all this fantastic music coming thru to me and every American kid on FM radio. For free. Sounds and songs and artists extraordinaire getting through to us, as John Lennon once said about the power of rock n roll. The songs expressing our outrage over the Vietnam War/war, our love of nature, our longing for love. And all wrapped up in these beautiful, powerful, intelligent songs. Seeing these great bands in concert – for not a lot of dough – was life changing. To be poor and still be a part of it! How could you not be?! … To be 16 and living in a crumby flat on Lafayette Street, with an asshole of a father yelling at your sweet mom in the background while you’re listening to John Lennon on your record player sing-scream: MOTHER, YOU HAD ME, BUT I NEVER HAD YOU./ I WANTED YOU/YOU DIDN’T WANT ME! That was my world. That was rock n roll back then.

My father lived with us all thru my junior and senior high school years, adding very little money to the household kitty, basically sponging off my mother who killed herself at the drycleaners to keep it all going, to give her kids good food, clean clothes … stability. My father, who had a rickety old truck back then, never once picked her up from the drycleaners. Ma always walked that stretch of Lafayette Street home, alone, in the dark, sometimes pulling a wagon filled with groceries she had bought for the family at Supreme Market on Millbury Street…us kids running down the stairs to help her bring up the groceries, Daddy sitting on their bed reading the classifieds in yesterday’s newspaper. Why is Daddy still living with us? I wondered. Why doesn’t he take his bad feelings and just go away from us – again? We were happier without him! Without a father!

But Daddy didn’t go away.

And yet to be HAPPY whenever I cranked my music! FM radio or my Beatles albums! Spinning them on my cheapie Emerson “stereo” and feeling these seismic shifts in … possibilities. I started writing poetry. My mother bought me a used acoustic guitar. A few times “Daddy” rose to the musical occasion – like the Frank Sinatra records he brought home instead of the loaf of bread my mother had sent him out to buy one evening. Or the way he could sing a Frank Sinatra tune, emotional but still kinda poking fun at it while singing the lyrics. My father came from a musical family. His brother Al (my Uncle Al) had a jazz band in Worcester during the 1930s/40s and his brother George (my Uncle George) was a terrific banjo player. One summer day – I think I was in the 8th grade – Daddy hit a yard sale and walked away with 50 albums and scores of 45s. Good stuff that he lugged up three flights of stairs – a couple of times – to our apartment. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The Supremes. Gladys Knight and the Pips. Donovan. Simon and Garfunkel. I mean, the old man had struck gold! As soon as he laid the used albums all out on the kitchen table, I grabbed them and began playing them all, one after the other, on my cheapie record player in my bedroom – to my father’s delight.

The Last Waltz captures the beauty of ’60s + ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

The Last Waltz, the Scorsese classic film, brought it all home to me last night: the Green Island flat, the hopes, the tangled feelings, the fear, the disappointments, my angel mother, our canary in her cage, all our cats and dogs and little turtles and newts and gold fish … and Daddy. The perennial fish out of water. The movie also made me cry: for my youth, for the singers’ youth. All gone now. And for the music, so beautiful, so all encompassing in the ’60s and ’70s. These days nothing compares to it. In the film: Joni Mitchell svelte and strong limbed; today in a wheelchair. Neil Young’s wife died of cancer a few years ago, after he left her for a movie actress. Neil Diamond so cool with his sunglasses in The Last Waltz has Parkinson’s Disease today. My old beau, who took me to so many concerts great and small, venues where I saw Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, YES, the Moody Blues and many more, walks haltingly with a cane these days. His back operation was risky … I remember driving to Boston with him years ago to an oldies rock concert – maybe the Monkees? – and glancing over my shoulder to see him driving but turned to me and smiling at me, his long platinum hair blowing in the wind, falling all over his aviator sunglasses, looking so cool and free… I snapped a photo of him with my cellphone camera and it came out looking so ’70s! My hippie guy, his long platinum hair streaming in the wind, the open highway before him, the sun ricocheting off his aviator sunglasses…he used to own a motorcycle. I had wished we were on one then. He looked so full of himself – and handsome! I kept the photo in my phone for years.

We talked on the phone yesterday and wished each other a Happy Easter. His girlfriend is making the traditional Easter Dinner – baked ham with pineapples, mashed potatoes and all the fixings. This old vegetarian hasn’t eaten meat since she was 19, but the old beau wasn’t all in when we were together, despite my nagging. I said: So, you’re going to have ham this Sunday. He said, in his quiet, but sexy deep voice: “No. The poor animal.”

I was stunned by the … emotion, the goodness. He had made my Easter! Then I wanted to be with him all over again. But now, we’re old and he made his choice years ago. He chose her.

My wrist has a wrist plate after the surgery and my fingers are stiff. Just yesterday I dropped a whole jar of tiny Vitamin D caplets on the floor when my fingers couldn’t hold the little bottle right. I got very upset. I felt old. But then I listened to MUSIC FROM THE BIG PINK and THE BAND and talked with the ol’ beau and heard him say “No. The poor animal” and then I saw a pig, clean and pink and rotund, walking before my eyes, very quickly on its piggy legs, happy and free in a rolling country meadow, and I felt … hopeful.

Happy Easter🌱


📚🏫New school column by Mr. Monfredo 📚

My Dream School

By John Monfredo, retired WPS teacher and principal and former Worcester School Committee member

Little girl in downtown Worcester. CECELIA file photo.

As a lifelong educator, teacher, principal and former Worcester School Committee member, I am passionate about public education. Tom Brokaw was right when he stated: “There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny. … It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

As a community we need to do all that we can to provide the best education for all of our children. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets and no one solution to achieving this goal. But if the community and the schools work together, we can achieve success. In the next few months the state funding issue will play a huge part in moving our WPS forward because, once again, COVID money will be available.

As a society and as a school system, every decision we make should be focused on the questions “Is this best for our children? Can we do more?

Let me create for you an imaginary journey through “My Dream School” …

First, the additional funding, at the request of the school principal, was spent on hiring additional teachers to keep the teacher-pupil ratio down … then they started a full-day Preschool Program … funding was set aside for tutors, additional teacher assistants, a robust after-school program with opportunities available for remedial learning and playing a musical instrument, a strong summer school program, and students being involved in community service. COVID funding also went to purchase books for the school library.

The extra money was put into the school – and not used for system-wide administrative needs.

Now let’s visit my dream school:

As you walk with me into the school for the first time you see signs that welcome parents into the building. The office staff greet you with a warm smile and say, “Thank you for coming into our school … how can we assist you?” You are then escorted to the newly refurbished Parent Room. The walls in the room are full of suggestions on how you can assist your child in learning, and there are posters everywhere on the walls with messages such as “The most important 20 minutes of the day is reading with your child.” Another poster that caught our attention was: “A house without books is like a room without windows.”

As we continue our walk, every corridor has a positive message: for example, “Reading is the Real Magic Carpet.” There is display of books and pictures of students flying on a magic carpet reading a book.

Next, outside the teachers’ lounge, there is another quote that serves as a reminder to staff: “There are no learning gaps in children, only opportunity gaps. It is our job to close the opportunity gaps.”

We also see a giant calendar for the month listing all of the activities taking place in the school and a list of teacher and parent workshops. Teachers have workshops next week on “Read, Write and Lead.” Teachers also have a collaborative meeting tomorrow by grade level to plan together and have time to discuss individual children. In my dream school all of the children in their classes are viewed as “their” children. The teachers work on developing effective strategies that benefit both the children and their families. We are told that the families love this idea of teachers accessing the educational setting and making collaborative decisions based on the best interests of the students and families. Meaningful homework takes place each school day to reinforce what the child has learned or simply to ask the child to read pages from the library book supplied by the school.

As we venture forward, we see a sign-up sheet for a monthly “Read Aloud Day” for parents to volunteer to come in and read in one of the classrooms. There is a flyer for this Friday evening’s reading party … PJ Reading Night – come and meet Harry Potter! In addition, kindness plays an important role in this school, as we see quotes such as “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain.

More important, the school practices what it preaches, for staffers go out of their way to make parents feel that they are an important part of the school’s success. The school makes it a point to let the children KNOW that they are special with a tag stating, “Student of the Week.”

Quietly we walk into a few of the classrooms in my dream elementary school to see the activities taking place. We are greeted with a warm smile by the teachers, and we see parents as volunteers working with a few of the children. The teacher continues to interact with the students and goes from desk to desk encouraging and asking questions of each student. We are in awe of the enthusiasm that the children show for learning.

Finally, we head back to the Parent Room and we are greeted by other parents. We see parents working on projects for the teachers and parents putting together their school monthly newspaper. We notice that this month’s newspaper not only has suggestions for parents on helping their child at home but also has a principal’s book review column. In addition, the newspaper lists several other after-school opportunities for the children, from sports to clubs to chorus to help sessions. As one parent says, “After-school opportunities at this school are very important in this neighborhood – and the children love it.”

A parent comes over to talk to us and speaks about how great this school is and how the school offers her meaningful opportunities to engage and contribute to the school. She went on to say that during her interactions with school staff they always respond to her concerns in a professional manner, whether or not they agree or disagree with her. Also, the parent mentioned that the principal and staff take the time to call up parents with good news about their child when they do something special and how happy that makes her – and her child – feel.

As we walk out the door of My Dream School, we smile and think: YES, this is a school that I want my child to attend!