Clark Ave’s Siriani Named Rotary Teacher of the Year

Clark Ave’s Siriani Named Rotary Teacher of the Year

It came as quite a surprise, but was much deserved, as Supt. Mary Bourque and Clark Avenue Middle School Principal Michael Talbot informed Clark Ave teacher Sally Siriani on May 31 that she was the Chelsea Rotary

Supt. Mary Bourque, Teacher of the Year Sally Siriani, and Clark Ave Principal Michael Talbot.

Teacher of the Year.

Siriani has spent 20 years in the district, all at the Clark Avenue Middle teaching math and science in grades 5 and 6.

“I love the kids,” she said. “I as born to do this. I put magnets on the refrigerator when I was little and pretended to grade homework papers. I played school all day. My friend Holly Correia, who now teaches in Revere, would always play school. We would take stuffed animals and put them in seats and play school all day long. I’m flattered and honored and shocked. It’s great to be recognized.”

Siriani grew up in Winthrop and attended Catholic Schools there, graduating from Winthrop High School in 1990. She attended Fitchburg State and then worked at the now-closed Assumption School in Chelsea. When it closed down, she was hired to be one of the first teachers in 1998 to come into the new Clark Avenue Middle School.

Previously, the building was used as Chelsea High School.

Current Supt. Mary Bourque was the assistant principal at the time and said that Siriani was the backbone of the school.

“Personally, I know Ms. Siriani from our early days at the Clark Avenue School and her deep devotion to providing the highest quality education for all students,” said Bourque. “I also remember the days when a new school was but a conversation for us all. Ms. Siriani has lived through another Clark Avenue Middle School milestone – construction – and is now teaching  a new generation of students in the new building that we used to only dream about in 1998.”

Principal Talbot said her strength is building relationships with her students.

“She collaborates with the other Math teacher at her grade level in order to best meet the needs of all of her students,” he said. “She regularly uses pre-assessments to see where the gaps are and flexibly groups her students in differentiated activities in order to help them with the mastery of the skills that are required. She also asks students to self-assess themselves, set realistic and challenging goals, and then plans thoughtful learning activities for all of her students.  She works incredibly hard on behalf of her students and she is able to build strong relationships with her students, as evidenced by so many coming back to see her each year.”

Siriani was to be honored at the Rotary Lunch on Tuesday, June 5.

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Stricter Lead Testing In School Fountains Detects 17 Problems

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea Public Schools has conducted a laborious sampling of all the water fountains and faucets used for food preparation in its buildings this summer and found that 17 of 313 fixtures had levels above the limits.

The testing was reported by Supt. Mary Bourque on Wednesday morning and indicated that the schools have tested randomly every year throughout the schools over the last 20 years, but had never tested every fixture and, this year, had to test with newer, stricter standards.. This year, likely in light of the fountain problems discovered in Boston schools this past term, the Chelsea schools decided to conduct thorough tests using the new, stricter lead level standards recently adopted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“A total of 313 water samples have been recently tested,” wrote Bourque in a letter to parents that went out Thursday (today) morning. “While we are pleased to report that the Silber Early Learning Center, the Wright Academy, the Browne Middle School and Chelsea High School passed with no samples tested above the lead action level, the sampling did indicate that 17 fountains and sinks had lead levels that exceeded the Massachusetts action level for lead in drinking water.”

The problems were detected mostly at the Burke Complex. Those exceeding levels were at the following schools:

  • One water fountain and one sink at the Clark Avenue Middle School.
  • Two water fountains at the Kelly School.
  • Four water fountains at the Berkowitz School.
  • Four water fountains at the Hooks School.
  • Five water fountains at the Sokolowski School.

The problems at the school buildings, especially the Burke Complex, is a bit confounding due to the fact that it is such a new facility with fully updated plumbing. Bourque said an analysis has indicated that they don’t believe the water source is contaminated nor is the plumbing faulty.

“Because our schools are relatively new, and based on an analysis of our recent test results, we do not believe the internal school plumbing is contributing to lead levels,” she wrote. “We have also confirmed that our water source does not contain lead. The testing is indicating isolated instances of excessive lead levels which are likely caused by the installation of these faucets or water bubblers or the fixtures themselves…We will be replacing the fixtures identified above and retested before they are available for use.”

Bourque said the administration is taking the 17 problem fountains very seriously, and have taken five action steps to prevent the problem by the time school starts later this month.

First, the fixtures have been shut off and enclosed. Second, parents and school staff were notified. Third, the Chelsea School Committee and Board of Health were notified. Fourth, the fixture is evaluated by a licensed plumber to determine the source of the problem and the fixture is remediated or replaced.

Finally, the fixture is retested to determine if lead levels are below the new Massachusetts standards.

The letter describing the problems and the non-problems was sent out to parents and posted on the district’s online networks Thursday (today) morning, Aug. 11.

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Tufts Partners with Wright School for a Closer Look at Medical Careers

By Seth Daniel

Middle schoolers are historically hard to keep the attention of, but last Friday morning at Tufts University Medical School, a large group of students sat quietly in the dental lab transfixed on preparing and making dental teeth impressions.

There was no need to call for quiet, or re-focus the youngsters from the Wright Middle School onto the task at hand. They were all busy at work, taking instruction from the volunteer second-year medical and dental students.

The field trip was part of the partnership between the Wright and students at Tufts who have formed the Ideas in Medicine program. Every year, second-year medical students in the organization volunteer to show Chelsea students around the school, exposing them to dental work, CPR, medical school classes and anatomy lessons – among other things.

“This program was set up five to seven years ago,” said Aditya Gill of Ideas in Medicine. “The whole concept here is to get the seventh graders at the Wright exposed to the medical school. It’s an underserved community and we wanted to get the students here to spark their interest. The whole process is one where we don’t want to shove information down the student’s throat. They’re giving up their free time, so we want to show them this place in a fun way…You never know, one kid could be inspired here and have a dream to become a dentist or get involved in the medical field. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Brian Coffey, also a second year medical student, is the president of Ideas in Medicine. He said he enjoys showing the kids what’s done here as much as they do.

For example, instead of feeding them formulas, some of the presentations dealt with simple chemical experiments like mixing Mentos and Diet Coke to cause an explosion. After showing them what happens, they explained the chemical reason for the reaction.

Nick Matthew, a seventh grade science teacher at the Wright, said the program has been very good for the kids and has gotten their interest.

“It gives them a firsthand view of life outside of Chelsea and how people studying these things get to their careers and train for it,” he said. “For many students, leaving Chelsea is a big event. It’s great to get them out and out of the classroom and see what science is and how to apply it.”

The mentors of IDEAS in Medicine are first and second year medical students of Tufts University School of Medicine who volunteer their time each week planning, tutoring, and coordinating program activities. The volunteers are motivated by their enthusiasm in teaching and giving to the community. The field trip last Friday was the culminating event for the IDEAS in Medicine program – a year-long tutoring and mentoring partnership aimed at getting the kids excited about the health sciences.

Pictured are Tufts University Dental students getting ready to welcome Wright Middle School seventh graders into the dental lab. Back row: Aaron Lalonde; Jared Wirth; Taphaphene Young; and Jessaca York. Third Row: Ignacio DeLaCruz; Dr. Yun Sakrena; and DeAngelo Ingram. Second Row: Haley Sacks; Samantha Ward; Travis Thomas; Alexis Irby; and Mikenah Vega. First Row: Lauren Trager; Lauren Williams; and Soteji Adeuti.

Pictured are Tufts University Dental students getting ready to welcome Wright Middle School seventh graders into the dental lab. Back row: Aaron Lalonde; Jared Wirth; Taphaphene Young; and Jessaca York. Third Row: Ignacio DeLaCruz; Dr. Yun Sakrena; and DeAngelo Ingram. Second Row: Haley Sacks; Samantha Ward; Travis Thomas; Alexis Irby; and Mikenah Vega. First Row: Lauren Trager; Lauren Williams; and Soteji Adeuti.

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A Handshake She Won’t Soon Forget: Suncar Meets the President…again

A Handshake She Won’t Soon Forget: Suncar Meets the President…again

Browne Middle School 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar, 10, got to meet President Barack Obama on March 23 as part of a one-day trip to Washington, D.C. to present a project at the White House Science Fair.

Browne Middle School 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar, 10, got to meet President Barack Obama on March 23 as part of a one-day trip to Washington, D.C. to present a project at the White House Science Fair.

In the lore of Browne Middle School 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar’s family, there is a story about her great grandmother meeting the president of the Dominican Republic many years ago when she was a little girl.

As it’s told, Suncar’s great grandmother got face to face with the president and he told her he could give her anything she wanted – a house, money or schooling.

She chose simply to shake his hand.

Fast forward two generations, and another member of the family has come face to face with a president – this time U.S. President Barack Obama.

And this time around, Toni-Chanelle Suncar humbly shook the president’s hand, just like her great grandmother, and added to the presidential lore of the family.

It came last Monday, March 23, when Suncar went on a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the White House Science Fair as part of a national presentation by students from all over the country. During the fair, Suncar got to be front and center with the president as he gave a speech honoring the achievements of the students.

“I guess the president of the Dominican Republic could have given my great grandmother anything in the world, and she just chose to shake his hand,” said Suncar in an interview late last week. “Now, everyone in the family is making a big deal of the fact that my great grandmother met a president and now another member of the family, me, has met a president. My mom was happy the day we found out I was going to Washington, D.C. The whole family was talking about it.”

So was the entire Browne Middle School (BMS).

Suncar was chosen for a computer coding project she did through the BMS’s partnership with Citizen Schools and the Boston technology firm Digitas. Students from the BMS get to partake in short internships with several of the partner companies, including Digitas, and work on science and engineering projects. For Suncar, she and other team members combined with Digitas volunteers to code a computer game called “Flappy Unicorn.”

“Our main goal was to make a video game using the program ‘Scratch,’” Suncar said. “So, we chose a unicorn because that was the logo of Digitas. They taught us how to code and counseled us. We based it on the game ‘Flappy Bird’ and put the blocks together to tell our unicorn what to do based on an x-axis and a y-axis – like we learned in math…For us, the coding was kind of like the instructions for our figure – sort of like a Morse Code…I didn’t know when I was at Digitas that I was doing anything really big. I never thought it would lead to a trip to Washington. I thought I would move on to another internship and take with me what I learned.”

Suncar said they chose her because she stood out as the hardest worker on the project.

“They felt I had been the hardest worker on the project and were impressed with what I had done,” she said. “So, they chose me to go and represent our team.”

Coding is something that is becoming a primary building block of learning for students all over the world. In short, it’s the language of computers and tells them what to do and how to do it. Many technology companies, including Microsoft, believe that coding needs to be taught in every school to students just as a foreign language would be taught. Technology companies routinely report that there are jobs open at their companies, but no one with the skills to fill them.

With students like Suncar, that might change.

However, other pursuits might take her away from the computer.

Suncar, 10, said she probably will become a veterinarian when she’s older, but she’s also considering journalism.

“My inspiration to become a veterinarian is my aunt’s dog,” she said. “I always observe him a lot when I go over to her house – to see how much he sleeps and how he behaves. I really enjoy observing and noting his behaviors and how he acts around certain people.”

BMS Principal David Leibowitz said the opportunity to meet the president and present a project at the White House Science Fair is something that only comes because of the great partnerships the BMS has built with the community and Citizen Schools.

“This special opportunity is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Toni-Chanelle to display the work she’s done and present to an incredible audience what she’s learned,” he said. “It’s also a great model for other 5th graders that shows what anyone can do with hard work. It’s something for other kids to aspire to.”

Suncar said, in summary, it was great to meet the president, but she’s also ready for family history to repeat itself again.

“I hope I can meet him again; I really would like to go again next year,” she said.

Suncar is the daughter of Wanda Barrios, and she credited her older sisters Erica Maria Tapia and Stephanie Rivera – as well as her Citizen School teacher Lydia Cochrane – with supporting her in her efforts.

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Council to Address Clark Ave. School

A City Council Committee of the Whole will meet in the near future to begin a discussion on funding the proposed Clark Avenue Middle School project.

The project is currently in the final stages of the state School Building Authority (MSBA) process, but a final plan has been submitted. It calls for a brand new school on the same site at an estimated cost of about $60 million – with the City being responsible for as much as $18 million after state reimbursements.

To date, the discussion has been around designs and educational plans. Now, however, the discussion begins to turn to the more serious subject of paying for the project.

Councillor Brian Hatleberg said they have scheduled a meeting for the discussion, but it hasn’t happened yet.

“This has been going on for quite some time with the School Committee and the Building Committee, but now it’s time for the Council to come in and be part of the discussion,” he said. “It’s still new news in a lot of ways and we’re going to work on it and figure out what can be done. We need a new school. There’s not a lot of wiggle room on that. I think we have to take a closer look at it. In other words, we won’t sacrifice quality and we will figure out how to get this down as efficiently as possible.”

He said the Council’s involvement is still just at the beginning stages, but he expects the school funding issue to be a major point of discussion throughout the fall.

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An Unspeakable Tragedy

An Unspeakable Tragedy

Perhaps I am still in sense of shock as the details and the reality of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday sinks into my mind.

One is almost immune when you hear about civilian targeted  bombs exploding in those places of unrest like the Middle East or Africa.

Today, I can only wonder how something like this can happen here in my neighborhood.

These are the very streets that my family walks on a daily basis.

This Marathon is the event that I have run and finished with my family watching me cross the finish line.

We frequent those stores on Boylston St. that were damaged in the blast.

That this tragedy could happen in my neighborhood is all the more unsettling.

That my 10-year old son was literally on the corner of Newbury and Fairfield Streets and walking toward Boylston Street when the second bomb exploded is all the more surreal. As my son said last night, “I felt the ground shake, saw the smoke and a horde of people running towards me” and then he gave me a big hug.

My family was lucky – no one was injured.

There will be other families from our community that were in the race or observing the race that were not hurt physically but may be scarred emotionally.

However, there are those innocent people who have been killed or permanently maimed and words cannot express our sympathy.

As a society, we know that those responsible will be found out and brought to justice.

As part of the human race, we can only pray that this will never happen again.

But the sad reality is that world has grown up and until Monday I had not.

(Stephen Quigley lives with his family in the Back Bay section of Boston.)

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