June 18, 2014
By Ann Needle
At its final meeting of the school year last night, the Nashoba School Committee wrapped up miscellaneous business, some of it postponed from earlier meetings. One issue was the vote on the length of time half-day kindergarten students would attend class each day starting in August. The emphasis of the meeting focused on what the district is doing to reach out to troubled students.
Nashoba Regional High School Principal Dr. Parry Graham focused on what the school is doing to better settle new students into its culture. For the incoming freshmen, new this year will be a barbeque for these students the week before school opens. Next year’s freshmen also will be required to take a freshman guidance seminar, he said.
Superintendent Michael Wood said that the Substance Abuse Task Force—consisting of NRHS teachers and administrators —is looking into its at-risk protocol for determining whether a student suspected of being under the influence should be sent to the nurse or the front office. Several Committee members stressed that the district also needs to look closely at its discipline protocol around suspected and confirmed drug use, and to involve all students. As Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti put it, “They [students] need to know we don’t want to get them in trouble, but want to help them.”
“There are kids who come to school high; we know who they are,” cautioned Committee Student Rep. Talia Kirschbaum of Stow. “These kids may not listen, they don’t want to be helped.”
A presentation by NRHS’s Gay/Straight Alliance offered a look at how a particular group of students is vulnerable to being at-risk for destructive behavior. Ian Patten, a senior and former GSA member, told the Committee, “As a gay student at Nashoba, I can say that Nashoba is not a very safe place to exist.” He cited a national study showing lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender students are three times as likely to use drugs as their heterosexual peers, and are far more vulnerable to depression and suicide attempts.
While drug-sniffing dogs at NRHS is one approach to preventing at least substance issues, Patten compared the move with “hacking off the branches without dealing with the problem at the root.” He suggested one place to start would be with the middle school health classes, which could stress that sexual identity is not a choice. High school could extend that, beginning with programs starting freshman year that accent acceptance of others’ sexuality, he said.
Nashoba GSA President Hannah Mackie agreed that, with experts pointing to the middle school years as the time when gender identity becomes clearer, this would be a good place to begin revamping the district’s health curriculum to better help students develop acceptance of others’ sexuality—and themselves. “No one wakes up and says ‘my life is not hard enough, so I’m going to be gay,’” she wryly remarked.
As for NRHS, Mackie commented that the current video headlining the health class’s unit on sexuality “just talks about SDTs and shows gross pictures.” She also noted that Dr. Graham approved a GSA presentation for the incoming freshmen next year.
Wood said the district’s Health Advisory Committee should be looking into updating the health curriculum come the fall—especially given it was last revised around 2003.
Kindergarten Vote Passes
After months of debate on the upcoming vote and related issues, the Committee voted to lengthen the kindergarten half-day by 25 minutes, moving dismissal from 11:35 am to 12 noon. Though some parents argued that the change would make the day too long for some half-day students, other applauded the move.
Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk noted that parents she spoke with seemed to like the idea of the half-day children going home at the point where their full-day classmates head for lunch, making the transition to the afternoon more natural.
Earlier this year, administrators stressed that lengthening the morning kindergarten session would assure most of the day’s solid work could comfortably fit into the portion of the day when the whole class is present.
The dismissal time became an issue shortly after the district announced earlier this year that all of Nashoba’s kindergarten classrooms would be full-day (for a fee), with those opting for half-day sessions (no fee) attending classes in the morning. Though Wood said that the ideal plan would be to convert all Nashoba kindergartens into full-day with no fees over about three years, last night he emphasized that the Committee will only vote in any changes year to year.
“I don’t want half-day kindergarten to go away, a lot of parents don’t want it to go away, and I don’t want the towns forced to pay for it,” declared Bolton Rep. Lorraine Romasco.