Free Counseling Center Opens

Left to right- Betsey Weiss ( Board member), Bill Blout ( President), Elise Goplerud ( Youth Advisor) Tim Dugan ( Board Member) Sharon Stirling ( Staff Counselor), Conne Counts ( Treasurer) and Michele and Cooke ( Clerk) . Absent - Mary- Jane Donovan ( Legal Counsel and founding Board Member ) and Joan Robinson ( Board Member).

By Laurie Atwater  | A Safety Net for Teens in Crisis

Social safety nets are not taken too seriously until something “bad” happens.  For the past decade Lexington has struggled to find the appropriate mix of services to provide to the young adults in the community as well as the most effective structure for delivery.  As concern has mounted over student stress, student suicides and “risky behaviors” uncovered in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted each year at high schools all over the country, communities have responded in different ways to the need for services.With cutbacks and struggling local economics, safety net services are usually the first thing to go. In Lexington it has taken many dedicated volunteers and activists to advocate for, and ensure, a fully-functioning human services department that serves all members of the community including youth and families.  The town has maintained its Youth Services Director—an important part of the team that works with law enforcement, the public schools and mental health professionals to help families access services and make useful connections.  And recently the community and the schools have responded to the issue of academic stress by forming The Collaborative to Reduce Student Stress to work with the schools, the faith communities and other organizations to address policies and programs that will help students deal with academic stress.

However, the most critical need has remained unmet until this March when the Lexington Youth and Family Services (LYFS) opened its doors at the First Parish Church in Lexington.  LYFS is a private, non-profit, after-school safety net for teens looking for an accepting place to express their problems and access counseling.  “We want to add another dimension to the existing services in town,” says LYFS board member Betsey Weiss.  “We are open after school when counseling services are not available at school or through the town,” she says.  Weiss also notes that counseling services at LYFS are free and do not require insurance.  That can be so important to a young person who wants to get help but does not want his or her parents to know or to someone whose problem is their parents.

So what kind of student would seek help in this kind of a setting?  “It could be a high achieving student who is depressed, but doesn’t want to worry parents,” LYFS President and volunteer therapist Bill Blout explains. “Or perhaps it is a more serious problem like suicidal thoughts or self-injury.”  According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey 50 students indicated that they had actually tried to commit suicide, and over 200 had thought about it. Over 300 students admitted to being depressed.  Clinicians know that this type of depression can escalate to other risky behaviors like substance abuse including excessive drinking and risky sexual behavior.  Board member Conne Counts says that so many kids “feel invisible” at the high school. “It’s good for them to have an outlet for their concerns,” she adds.

“This is not a drop-in center,” explains Bill Blout. “We are a crisis-intervention center open after school in an easy to get-to location. It’s a private counseling space.  “The location was very important to the success of the program because it needed to be within walking distance from the high school and close to public transportation.  When the First Parish offered the group what used to be the “bridal suite” they were so grateful and remains so.  The facility has a separate entrance which makes it perfect for this use. LYFS is not affiliated with any religion, but appreciates the powerful gesture that First Parish has made to support youth in the community.

Michele Cooke, board member and general clerk for the group has done an amazing job transforming the space into two warm and inviting rooms—a waiting room/office and a meeting room for clients and clinicians. It’s a “safe space” for kids to seek help for anything that is disturbing them. So far staff counselor Sharon Stirling sees lots of kids convincing their friends to come in because they are worried about them.  “We didn’t know what would happen when we opened the doors,”  Blout says. “I actually thought it would be a couple of months before we saw anyone.”  They’ve have had over 20 teens stop in to check it out!

LYFS Youth Advisory Board member Elise Goplerud has been spreading the work at LHS; she has been giving short talks in freshman health classes to introduce the service to students.  “We did a week on depression in the health classes,” she explains. “It was a perfect time for me to go in to each class and tell them about LYFS.”  Elise says she stresses the relaxed noncommittal environment and the fact that it’s free.

So far six Lexington therapists have volunteered their time to offer free counseling services.  This is an enormous advantage and something that the group agrees is very special about Lexington.  “This is a very busy time—after school—for therapists who see adolescents and teens,” explains Tim Dugan, a volunteer therapist and LYFS board member.  “This is when we see our patients so we are very grateful to our volunteers.”  Blout explains that they not only have six therapist signed up and ready to go, but the also have another six who are in the process of committing to the program.  “We have a great group of professionals in town who are ready to step up and give three or four hours a month,” says Betsey Weiss a seasoned Lexington activist and volunteer.Both

Bill Blout and Tim Dugan were involved a couple of years ago when the Lexington Human Services Department was being reorganized.  They have both worked extensively with at-risk teens.  Over time they became increasingly worried about the lack of a real safety net for young people who are troubled and could hurt themselves.  While they were happy that the Youth Services Director position at the town level was preserved, they knew that many of the most troubled teens would not seek help unless they could do it in an anonymous and non-threatening environment.

After the Youth Summit conducted by the town and the schools, they decided to collaborate on a non-profit counseling model.  It has been several years in the making. Many hours went in to formulating a mission statement, establishing clinical guidelines and setting up a legal framework.  Founding board member Mary-Jane Donovan who is an attorney donated her legal services to the effort.

Now they are very anxious to get up and running.“Too often towns wait until there is a crisis like a suicide,” Blout says. “Then they act. We wanted to get out ahead of the crisis and hopefully we can fill that gap in services in Lexington.”Currently the offices are open ever Friday from 3-6 and they will be open during the summer as well. Staff counselor Sharon Sterling is always in during these hours to see patients, do an assessment and make future appointments.  In the future the group hopes to expand those hours and offer additional services like support groups, peer leadership opportunities and a crisis hotline. Of course, because they are a nonprofit, they are relying on donations and they are applying for grants.

Join Us! The LYFS Open HouseSunday May 22nd, 1 to 3pmParker Hall, First Parish Church7 Harrington Road, Lexington, MA.There will be speakers, a power point, and a visit to the new LYFS office space.Please join us.For more information, email Bill Blout – bblout@LYFSinc.org781-862-0330As a non-profit, we are dependent on donations so we appreciate all contributions. Checks can be made out to: LYFS Inc., and send to 7 Harrington Rd, Lexington, MA 02420.  (781-862-0330)

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Making Music and Making Connections

Holly Stumpf with several of her students

By Elena Murphy  |  Holly Stumpf’s Unique Teaching Style Helps Her Students Hear the Music All Around Them

On a recent afternoon, students are smiling widely as they start thumping on drums or shaking a rattle made of beads in Hollace Stumpf’s classroom at Harrington Elementary School.

So is their music teacher. “I’ve always enjoyed making music with others,” says Stumpf. “When I began teaching, I wanted kids to feel music is connected to their lives.”

Recently, her approach has won recognition. A music specialist at Harrington for a number of years, Stumpf was named a Distinguished Educator by Yale University School of Music, one of only 50 educators from around the country to receive the biennial award. Educators who win this award have integrated music with other curriculum and included a multicultural perspective.

Finding connections to other subjects students are learning, and bringing influences from around the world into the classroom is something Stumpf has always done. When she was just out of college, she read about the Orff Schulwerk, an institute founded by composer Karl Orff. The institute offered a program that was unlike anything she had heard about in her studies to become a music teacher and flutist.

Stumpf says Orff saw similarities between learning music and learning a language. In his view, students need opportunities to listen, imitate, and experiment as they develop mastery. Unlike schools that only taught musical technique, Stumpf took percussion and movement classes along with ensemble and music theory. Students connected music to dance, art, and everyday life. Stumpf says, “In a broader sense, Karl Orff was teaching how culture is in a lot of places.” It was only in the West, she says, that music was increasingly being separated from other activities, such as dance.

This experience changed everything about how Stumpf saw music education, and after two more years of studying and playing the flute professionally in Europe, she returned to the United States and embarked on a career that has brought influences as diverse as African drumming and the study of bird songs together.

“I realized I wanted to teach through music, not just teach music” in terms of technique, says Stumpf. To achieve that, she says she’s integrated music with almost anything in the curriculum, and has enjoyed collaborating with teachers over the years. When one class studied birds, she asked each child to choose an instrument that sounds like the bird they had researched, and replicate the bird’s song. She also blends in music theory, such as pointing out woodpeckers’ style of rapidly tapping their beaks sounds “staccato,” while smooth, more melodious songs are “legato.”

Students in her class also look at painting or sculpture to learn about music. The polygons in an Edward Hopper painting, she says, can be connected to different time signatures, with four-sided figures representing four beats and triangles representing three beats for a measure of music.

As Stumpf sees it, “If kids are doing things, they’ll remember a lot better.” So she has younger students compose music based on shapes: circular drums, a triangle, and rectangular wood blocks. She also has them recognize the high and low notes they can produce with their voices, so when she explains “pitch,” they already know the concept.

But she doesn’t stop with teaching musical technique. “When you want kids to be creative and experimental, think about expressing emotion,” she says. To do this, she uses “small frameworks,” such as asking children to “improvise a rhythm” with only two notes, before adding more notes or other guidelines.

The biggest challenge is “kids get stuck in their own heads that they ‘have to do it right.’” With just two notes to work with, they can create a pattern, and know they have achieved a goal, “and I can honestly tell them they’ve been successful,” says Stumpf.

To show how music figures in daily life around the world, Stumpf often invites guest artists to perform. After a trip to Senegal, Stumpf arranged for an African drum and dance performance followed by a workshop for students. This year, she had Hawaiian dancers perform in traditional dress, so students saw “authentic movement and instruments.”

Stumpf says that once a teacher decides to bring in multicultural influences, “it affects everything you do.” She’s been to Africa twice, most recently to Ghana, and as a result, enjoys African drumming herself. But her diverse interests also include English country dance from 600 years ago, and she has even taken up the cello to play in a chamber music quartet.

“If students see ‘different’ and make a connection or remember experiencing something different in my classroom, and recall that they liked it,” that’s part of “making the world a better place,” says Stumpf. “Different can be interesting.”       

 

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Facelift for a Lexington Icon

 

By Heather Aveson  |  The Hayden Recreation Centre Renovates For Families and the Future

 

 “It’s at Hayden”, “I’m headed over to Hayden”, “Take a right at Hayden”, these are all phrases that any Lexingtonian knows refer to the Josiah Willard Hayden Recreation Centre on Lincoln Street. Hayden is such an integral part of life in Lexington that we may not think much about it until earth movers, construction signs and fences draw our attention.

Originally built in 1958 the building is undergoing its first major renovation since 1990. The changes will not only help the center further J. W. Hayden’s wishes for the organization, but mechanical upgrades will bring the building well into the 21st century.

THE MAN BEHIND THE NAME

Josiah Willard Hayden came from a background rich in local history. His Great Great Grandfather was Samuel Hayden, a colonel in the Revolutionary Army and Lexington Minuteman. His “Great Grandfather six times over”, as John Chase describes him at the building dedication in 1958, was Simon Willard, who founded the Town of Concord.

Hayden grew up in Boston as part of a wealthy merchant family. He was the younger brother of Charles Hayden. Charles amassed a great fortune during this lifetime and dedicated himself to philanthropy. Although best known locally for funding The Hayden Planetarium in Cambridge, he was a major donor to The Boys Clubs of America and other groups.

Brothers Charles and Josiah enjoyed the advantages of a privileged youth spent enjoying the outdoors and sporting activities. Gayla Beu recounts Josiah’s desire to share those benefits with other children in a 1962 Hayden newsletter. ‘Mr. Hayden, a rich man’s son, had had a very happy childhood, with many advantages. He wanted many children to enjoy the sort of things he had, including the opportunity to learn games and sports” 

When Josiah and his wife moved back to the family’s hometown of Lexington in 1904 he was surprised, and disappointed, to find that there were no gymnasiums in town, not even in the schools. William Greeley, a contemporary of Hayden, remembered the situation this way. “The attic room in the Hancock School provided a cramped and dangerous makeshift for smaller children to play their games in, and was responsible for a broken nose or an injured arm at intervals. The children of High School age longed for a gymnasium of some kind, but with little hope of having one.” Josiah Hayden, William Greeley and Henry Putnam set off to remedy the situation.

HOW THE PLANS ALMOST FELL THROUGH – LITERALLY

The three formed the Lexington Gymnasium Foundation in 1906 and started looking for an appropriate location to hold classes. They settled on the second floor of what was then known as Historic Hall and which is now the Masonic Temple at the fork of Bedford and Hancock Streets. Again, Mr. Greeley recalls those early days in a paper titled ‘The Lexington Gymnasium Association.’ “Classes were soon enrolled and ready to begin. We found an able teacher named Vickers, living in Arlington. He took the girls’ classes while I took the boys, two evenings each week.” Things went well for a year until “…security of the floor construction began to be questioned and a careful inspection showed that it would not be safe to continue with the gym classes. It was a sad blow.” The year long experiment ended with an exhibition by the children at Town Hall to which the whole town was invited.

THE NEST EGG

The group turned their attention to outdoor athletics. Probably a wise move as solid ground was less likely to give way to active children than an aging wooden structure. A ‘baseball nine’ was fielded, games were well attended and a small fund was being accumulated. According to Greeley, as Treasurer, J.W. Hayden decided to take custody of these funds and build a nest egg for the construction of a proper gym. Research later showed that the initial “nest egg” was a $2 deposit in the Lexington Trust Company.

Photo, courtesy of The Worthen Collection

Baseball games were not the only fundraisers in support of the Gymnasium Fund. Hayden took the effort from playing field to Pageantry. He sponsored both the original 1915 “Pageant of Lexington” and the even more grand150th anniversary Pageant in 1925. The pageants were extravagant affairs full of lighting effects and melodrama. The widely published article ‘Lest we Forget’ describes the 1915 pageant this way. “The English arrive, and possess Lexington: over the hill comes a catafalque borne by angels carrying a doll, and the program says it represents the birth of Lexington.” The 1925 pageant took the event to a whole new level. Ms. Beu describes it as “similar to that of 1915, but said to be “far ahead” of it. World-famous dancer, Ruth St. Denis, portrayed the figure of Freedom in an unforgettable role.”

From his efforts in the field of pageantry J.W. Hayden was able to deposit $4,154.14 into the Lexington Gymnasium Fund. By 1938, the fund had grown to $10,000, still far short of what he’d need to realize his dream.

A NEW CHAPTER SETS THE STAGE FOR THE JOSIAH WILLARD HAYDEN RECREATION CENTRE

Board Member Dave Eagle and Director Don Mahoney in the lobby where a large observation window will allow viewing of the pool area.

In 1937 Charles Hayden passed away a bachelor and left his vast fortune and philanthropic foundation in the hands of his only brother J.W. Hayden. Josiah administered the foundation with a steady hand and an eye to the interests in athletics and recreation that he and his brother shared. Shortly after Charles’ death The Articles of Organization were drawn up for The Josiah Willard Hayden Recreation Centre, Inc. with Josiah as President and Treasurer. The document set forth the following purposes.

“To assist and found, equip, build, and maintain buildings and gymnasia…for mental and physical recreation, and whole educational entertainment and physical training of youth of both sexes in said town of Lexington…

To establish a place of meeting of the youth of Lexington for their moral, mental and social improvement and development and in general to do all things which may promote directly or indirectly their intellectual, social and physical welfare.

To assist and advance any and all religious, educational, charitable and benevolent activities for the moral, mental and physical well being, upliftment and development of the youth of both sexes of the Town of Lexington.

To aid deserving boys and girls of the Town of Lexington and assist them in attending education institutions in this country and abroad”

A clear vision of Josiah’s desires had now been set forth. But it would be another 20 years before the vision became a reality. It wasn’t until his death in 1955, from injuries received in a devastating car accident on Concord Turnpike here in Lexington, that money from the estate become available to fund the organization and construct the center of educational and recreational training for the youth of Lexington that Hayden envisioned.

On January 24, 1958, fifty-two years after the Lexington Gymnasium Association was originally formed, The Josiah Willard Hayden Recreation Centre buildings were dedicated. John Chase, the centre’s first President charged the residents with these words. “…from now on it behooves the officers and Directors of the Centre, the members of the staff and, most important of all, the people of the Town of Lexington to breath life, high purpose and dedication into this frame of opportunity which Mr. Hayden has provided.”

LIFE, PURPOSE AND DEDICATION

It’s hard to imagine a centre with more life than Hayden. Generations of Lexingtonians have learned to swim, played basketball, gathered and grown at Hayden. Don Mahoney is the current Director, “When I got here in the ‘80’s I got a lot of parents that came in and said, ‘I came here as a kid’, now I have grandparents saying the same thing”.

Some things have changed since those early days. The centre was originally two completely separate buildings, one for boys and one for girls, and the offerings were different as well. Dave Eagle is a member of the Board and the Building Committee, “Back in the ‘50’s it was always separate. Sewing and arts and crafts for the girls and woodworking for the boys.” Don Mahoney adds, “On the girls side it was called arts and crafts on the boys side it was pottery.” Josiah Hayden had never mentioned anything about wanting separate facilities, but his brother Charles had been a big supporter of The Boys Club, which was always separate from The Girls Club. It was a common configuration for the times. Tom Brincklow practically grew up at Hayden. Tom is a Lexington Native who now teaches Phys Ed in the LABBB program. “When I used to go as a kid there was a boys side and girls side. Joe Burns was in charge of the boys side. I look back at it now and I laugh, but that’s just the way it was. I don’t think that would go over now.”

The first major renovation in 1990 ended the separation by joining the two buildings with a cut-through. This coincided with the welcoming of adults to the facility. The Centre developed schedules that allowed adults to use the pool and gyms in the morning and later in the evening, reserving prime time in the afternoons and early evenings for the kids. Making more use of the facility fit perfectly into Josiah’s vision. He stated in his will that it was his “hope that the buildings maintained by the Recreation Centre shall be kept open at all reasonable times and made so attractive that the youth of Lexington will make constant use of its facilities and of the privileges which it affords.” And the numbers show that Hayden Rec Centre is doing just that. “On a good day we’ll have a 1,000 visitors between the rink and this facility. We have more than 3,800 members and they’re all from Lexington. We can keep the membership costs low because the endowment offsets the operating costs so everyone can enjoy it,” says Don Mahoney

UPGRADES, UPDATES AND FAMILY FRIENDLY

Looking at an aging infrastructure and increased usage by youth, adults and families led the Board to consider some major building upgrades. Improvements had been made along the way mostly to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Dave Eagle points out that all seventy-seven windows have been replaced for greater heat savings and all the lighting has been upgraded to be more efficient as well. When the board realized how much water was being used at the centre, they dug a well that provides water to irrigate the field and make ice for the rink.

But now it was time for a major facelift. About two years ago the three building committee members, Don Mahoney, Dave Eagle and Bill Kennedy began meeting to discuss their options. “We got input from the staff and some of the kids. At first it was no holds barred,” says Don Mahoney. But, those old partners time and money had their say too. Don continues, “then it became, what do you need? And what would you love? One of the essential things is that we have to be ready to go at full speed when September comes.”

Everyone agreed adding a family changing room and upgrading the boys and girls locker rooms were a major priority. Then there were the aging mechanics and utilities serving the building as well new ADA regulations to be considered. A renovation of the second floor was also in the running. Then sticker shock set in.

As a private foundation, all the funds for building, upkeep and operation come from the endowment left by Josiah Hayden. The board votes on any allocation, and this was going to be a big one. They decided to cut costs by saving the second floor renovation for a later time. Ready to move ahead, the Centre’s endowment was caught in the economic downturn and construction was delayed for a year until their financial situation improved. Now it’s full speed ahead throughout the summer with a completion date of September 12, 2011.

The main lobby has been turned into temporary changing rooms while the boys and girls locker rooms have been taken down to the concrete walls and floors and will be replaced with brand new facilities and a family changing room will be added for those with young children.

 

 

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Lexington Open Studios

Click on the image to download a copy of the Lexington Open Studios Guide and Map.

 

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Six painted Chairs Fundraiser!

The Lexington Historical Society’s ongoing Munroe Tavern fundraising project, Six Painted Chairs features the talents of six local female artists have donated their time and talent to decorate each chair in her own style, and the public can bid to win the chair (or chairs) of their choice at $10/chance.  The raffle drawing will take place on November 19th at a special gala evening at the Lexington Depot, but you don’t have to be present to win your chair! Contact the event co-chairs Pat Perry or Christina Gamota with any questions or for tickets at: p-perry@comcast.net or christinag16@verizon.net or the Historical Society.

 

Features: Open to All

Website: http://www.lexingtonhistory.org

Phone: 781-862-1703

Email: office@lexingtonhistory.org

Price: $10/chance

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Markey calls on Obama to deploy Strategic Petroleum Reserves; Seeks Repeal of taxpayer subsidies to large oil companies

By Jim Shaw

|  April 27, 2010  |

With the price of gasoline soaring out of control, Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) called on President Obama to tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves, which according to Markey will swiftly and significantly address the issue of the spiraling cost of gas for average hard working Americans.  With a Medford Getty station serving as his backdrop, Markey stood firm in his resolve to help consumers gain the upper hand over big oil companies and their drive towards record profits.  Markey said, “Now is the time for President Obama to deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. We have over 730 million barrels of oil in reserve. If ever there was a time to do it, it’s now, and as soon as possible.”

 Markey explained that previous administrations have tapped federal oil reserves which resulted in immediate short term relief. He said, “The first President Bush used his executive powers to deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserves in 1991 and the price of gasoline dropped precipitously. President Clinton used it, and President George W. Bush used oil reserves and again the price of gasoline dropped precipitously. It’s a weapon that works!”

 Markey also called for a repeal of taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies that will cost $40 billion over ten years.  “As oil companies report the largest profits in the history of the world, there’s going to be an outrage against these companies.”  Markey reported that while Republican leaders in Congress want to continue oil subsidies, they have moved to cut funds for wind, solar and other alternative energy resources by 70%.

 While Markey acknowledged that the White House has yet to move on deploying the strategic Petroleum Reserves, he did indicates that he has the support of several members of Congress.  Markey exclaimed, “We need to do this now. Our economy is in jeopardy if we don’t”

 

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REFLECTING ON THE TRADE

By Laurie Atwater  |

The issues the DeWolf descendants are confronted with dramatize questions that apply to the nation as a whole: What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery—for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation? What would repair—spiritual and material—really look like and what would it take?

Many of us in Lexington have now seen the film by Katrina Browne called Traces of the Trade as part of a program of showings and community conversayions sponsored by Lexington CommUNITY and the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association.  In that film, Brown retraces the notorious “Triangle Route” of slave trading from America to Africa to Cuba and back to America. This route was used to move human cargo—Africans captured or kidnapped for the express purpose of being sold to Europeans or Americans.

 

Hidden History

Browne learned of this history from her grandmother on the DeWolf side. The DeWolf family of Bristol Rhode Island is, respected and well-known.  This hidden history was not discussed within her family, but Katrina came to realize through her extensive research that three generations of DeWolf men were the biggest slave traders in America.

Browne began digging for information: journals, ship logs, old ledgers and other family memorabilia told a sordid tale.  How could this upstanding Episcopal family of clergymen, merchants and solid citizens be human traffickers?

Once Browne started down this path she reached out to her cousin James DeWolf.  James joined her in her journey and ultimately wrote a book about his experience called Inheriting the Trade.  I spoke with James DeWolf earlier this month by phone.

“Katrina had approached me early on and asked if I had heard about some history of slave trading in the family.  She wanted to make a documentary film and I thought that was a really wonderful idea and I was helping her to raise money and do some research.  So, by the time she discovered that our family had been the leading slave traders in the east, I was already deeply involved in the project.” DeWolf has spent practically a decade since the making of the film devoting himself to educating and speaking to groups about the slave trade and its impact on our country.

 

The Profit Motive

“Generally, economic historians say there have been times in history when slavery was profitable and times when it was not. In every time it was profitable, societies have done it.  It’s hard to find great societies that didn’t condone slavery at one time or another.  What happened with slavery is driven by economic self-interest and it is something that human beings are perfectly capable of being a part of,” DeWolf says.

Economic opportunity also drove the supplier side of the slave transaction. “Every single person who was sold as a slave was enslaved by Africans and traded to white traders on the coast,” DeWolf says.  “These societies were never trading their own people; they were trading people they thought of as others.” He explains that slaves were often captured deep into Africa and walked hundreds of miles to the coast where they were first sold to Europeans and then later, to Americans. “Groups in African society jumped at the chance to make huge profits,” DeWolf says.

 

Not Just a “Southern” Problem

“Getting people to understand their own connection to this history is always a challenge,” DeWolf says.  While it’s true that most families did not have a direct family link to the slave trade, everyone was indirectly involved. In fact, many common people bought shares in slaving trips as investors just as you would buy shares in the stock market today. They shared financially in the successful sale of Africans. Outfitting these slave trading missions kept many people employed from bankers to provisioners.  The philanthropy bestowed upon various cities and towns by wealthy merchants like the DeWolfs is still evident today.

DeWolf makes the point that New Englanders have rewritten their history to omit their complicity in the slave trade.  But in fact, it was the businessman in New England states—especially Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut—who created the Triangle Trade and supplied the South with slaves.

In the agrarian South, before the American Revolution, the primary crops were tobacco, indigo and rice.  Slaves and indentured servants were used to grow and harvest these labor intensive crops that were ultimately exported. This expanded the economy of the colonies. The financial success of the colonies was also dependent upon the sugar that was procured on slave trading missions and made into rum stateside.

Slavery had reached its peak in the late 1700s and was declining until the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton engine (gin) in 1793.  This machine which mechanized the removal of sticky seeds from short staple cotton, revolutionized the agricultural model of the South. The South’s soil and climate was perfect for this cotton crop.

Suddenly this labor intensive crop could be hugely profitable and farms began springing up across the South to meet the demands of English textile mills. Slavery once again, became a huge money-maker as demand for labor rose.  Huge shipments of bales of cotton regularly left American ports bound for mills in England.

Eventually Americans began getting in on the action and started to open cotton mills of their own (many of them the slave traders themselves).  “The whole reason we have the mills in Massachusetts was because of the cotton picked by slaves.  Wherever we had rivers we saw cotton mills—in Concord, Newton, Watertown and Lowell.  And of course at that time, everyone understood that connection to slavery,” DeWolf explains.

“When we started to rewrite how we thought about our history here in the north, we downplayed slavery.  We didn’t hide it completely, but we pretended it was a brief thing and we started to think of ourselves as having a powerful abolition tradition at the same time.  We washed away the many other economic connections to it,” he says.

DeWolf also talks about the widely held notion that the North was a righteous hotbed of abolitionists.  “It is true that New England, along with other places like Philadelphia, spearheaded the abolitionist movement,” he says. But he adds, “The white working class in Massachusetts was very worried that freed slaves would be competition for wages after the Civil War.”

 

Collective Responsibility?

Understanding this history has put the DeWolf family unwittingly in the center of an issue that they never thought much about.  What is our shared and ongoing responsibility for this shameful part of American history and what can we do about it? This is perhaps the most important work of the film and the filmmakers.

Moving the film into the public sphere through communities, schools, public television and religious organizations has allowed Browne and DeWolf to spread the word about the business of slave trading, its ties to the Northern states and its impact on the economic development of the country. There is little doubt that the profits from the slave trade and the free labor it provided built an economy that was strong enough to free itself from Britain.

The film argues that slave labor is part of the very foundation of our country and that every citizen has benefitted from the proceeds of that labor with the ironic and tragic exception of the direct descendants of the slaves themselves.

The legacy of slavery has left us with African Americans who still suffer the consequences of years of being classified as second class citizens.  While their families were torn apart, and both men and women were forced into labor and servitude, white families from all strata of society profited from the fruits of that labor.

Through the exploration of this one family we get an interesting look at racial attitudes across white socio-economic lines and a revealing exploration of “white privilege” through the lens of their family experience. We get a glimpse into the black/white divide as it exists today—and the difficulty of connecting to events in the past.

According to DeWolf, the concept of white privilege is not readily understood by whites. “It goes to the very heart of who we are,” he says. “Whites want to believe that they have gotten where they are because of hard work and merit.”

Through explorations of family dynamics this film exposes just how sensitive people can be on that topic.  In one scene James DeWolf’s father feels compelled to explain that he would have gone to Harvard whether he was, or was not, a DeWolf.  He explains that his family had no money (not all DeWolf descendants shared in family wealth) and his father was just a minister.  He worked hard and got to Harvard on his own merits, he asserts.  But, he neglects to say that his father also went to Harvard as did his father. This legacy of higher education is a type of white privilege that many whites don’t even enjoy!

Another cousin goes on to argue that he was not as privileged because he attended the University of Oregon. Failing to recognize their own privilege is just one example of how people don’t connect the dots when it comes to race according to DeWolf.  “It’s so emotional,” DeWolf admits. “That’s the way privilege and oppression has always worked. It’s the fine gradations that allow people to look up—from where they are. When people are given a little more privilege they tend to bond with the system and defend it.

 

Not My Problem

James DeWolf admits that the conversations that happen around the screening of this film can be quite difficult.

“Part of it is people are coming to the material from different backgrounds and from different life experiences,” DeWolf says.  “Also, people can have different philosophies and it’s such a big topic. Certainly it’s a loaded topic. When people are confronted with the history their first response is often, ‘This isn’t me!’ Because this happened so long ago, and because it has been whitewashed in most history curriculums, we naturally feel distanced from it.  Avoidance is part of our inheritance,” he says, “and it is very human.”

It is especially difficult for people whose families immigrated to the United States many years after slavery had ended.  But, DeWolf says that the immigrants came because of the financial opportunities that were created during the industrial revolution. Opportunities that would not have existed without cotton—cotton that was grown and harvested through slave labor.

Many feel that because their families came to America after the Civil War and didn’t own slaves, they weren’t complicit. This simply denies the history according to DeWolf.  It’s especially difficult when they know that their own families also experienced so many hardships in pursuit of a better life in America.  But, DeWolf says—they had white skin and because of that it was automatically easier for them to succeed.

“Even if they [immigrants] had little in the way of education or money—just by the virtue of being white the moment they walked of the ship the were walking into an upper echelon of American life.  Being poor and white gave their children access to opportunities and education that black families did not have.”

 

Post Racial?

African Americans in our society start off at a different point. “If you’re born black in this society you’re not likely to have access to the same opportunities,” DeWolf explains. “People who want to put this all behind us are mistakenly under the impression that the history is no longer affecting us—that in the 50s and the 60s we had a Civil Rights movement—and everyone has had equal opportunities since then,” says DeWolf says.

DeWolf claims that there is fatigue on both sides of the issue.  “But in the case of race we still have a great deal of prejudice in our society and a great deal of inequity.  We have made progress in many ways, but it’s the ways that we have not moved on from the history that needs to be addressed,” he says.

Some intellectuals and political activists in both the black and white communities feel that at this point in history, after affirmative action, desegregation, and the many social welfare programs designed to assist the black community, their lack of economic and social progress is their own fault.

This is simply not the case DeWolf says.  Lack of social mobility can be traced back to unfair practices across all areas of society from education to employment to credit.  These practices grew out of prejudice that has its roots in slavery.  When you actually count people as less than 100 percent human, as we did to blacks in the United States, the attitudes continue to persist.

Many of these attitudes led to practices that were hidden from view, including the notorious red-lining mortgage practices by banks, which were designed to keep blacks from moving outside of the cities and into the suburbs.  The concentration of urban black populations in the cities has made them vulnerable to poor schools because schools are financed by property taxes. Lack of education is directly tied to lack of social mobility.  And the cycle continues.

Ever since the election of Barack Obama people have been talking about a post racial America.  But if it were indeed post racial, the statistics on blacks across all measures of social mobility would show less disparity with whites (and even other minority groups).

This compelling lack of real progress since the civil rights era is what inspires DeWolf to keep this conversation moving forward into communities, schools and faith organizations.  As a family, DeWolf says, “we support a national dialogue and education process to lead the United States toward racial reconciliation.”

Join Representative Jay Kaufman at his Open House on May 19th when the topic will race in our community.

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RACE TO NOWHERE

By Laurie Atwater  |
Race to Nowhere (PG-13), the acclaimed film about the epidemic of unhealthy academic stress among students across America, is coming to Lexington.
There will be two screenings, both at Cary Hall, 1605 Mass Ave. Show times are April 28, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and April 29, 10 a.m. to noon. Doors open 30 minutes before show time. General admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Admission is free to the first 300 students, $5.00 per student thereafter. To ensure a seat, advance registration is strongly recommended. For tickets and advance registration, visit www.racetonowhere.com/screenings.
 A community conversation about the film will take place Thursday, May 5, 7:00 p.m.to 8:30 p.m., at Temple Emunah, 9 Piper Road, Lexington. This event is free-of-charge and open to all who have seen the film. Students are especially welcome. Refreshments will be served. Watch calendar listings for additional community conversations.

Race to Nowhere is coming to Lexington. The acclaimed film about America’s “achievement culture” and the burden of stress that accompanies it, will surely open to sell-out crowds in Lexington, as it has all over the country. Make sure you do not miss this film.

I am very grateful to the Lexington Montessori School for allowing me to attend their screening of the film which was sold-out the night I attended. I visited their impressive campus for the first time and was joined by parents from many different communities eager to understand the issue of stress in the schools and what they can do about it.

The film opens with a sea of students walking up and down the stairs of a school in a zombie-like state. Voiceovers say things like: “I can’t remember the last time I went outside,” or “Mom checked me into a stress center.” And saddest of all: “Nobody knows me.”

Parents in the small audience of 50 or 60 were riveted to the screen as kids gave voice to their anxieties and struggles. Most stressed about grades and homework and time—so little time—to finish all of their resume-building activities and then just be a kid.

Kids are taking it all in.  The bad economy.  Increased global competition.  Stressed-out and money-strapped parents.  .War.  Another war.  Tsunami.  Floods.  Nuclear melt-downs.  College competition.  For today’s students, it must feel relentless.

At school they swim in a sea of competition.  Competition with other kids.  Competition for spots on sports teams, leads in plays, solos in band and coveted slots at a few elite colleges.  The list goes on and on before you ever get to high stakes testing.

 IS THIS EDUCATION

Issues arising from “teaching to the test,” are plaguing school districts, for teachers and students. Attaching such high value to testing can distort the entire intent of education turning teachers into sergeants drilling their recruits so that they will perform well and earn accolades for their schools. Students worry about being promoted to the next grade and schools worry about accreditation or rankings. All of this preoccupation with tests can leave deep learning and deep thinking in the dust. In the film, teachers are demoralized and the most passionate teacher drops out. They feel reduced to test-trainers. Their passion and joy is hijacked; they burn out.

Experts like Denise Pope, a veteran teacher, curriculum expert, and lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education are featured in the film. Pope who wrote, Doing School talks the schools and parents sending the wrong message to students. Learning is being sacrificed for memorizing and cheating is rampant.  The goal is to cross the finish line and forget about how you got there—almost instantly.  And forget they do.  One boy says he crams for tests and promptly forgets everything he “learned.” The fact that skills like critical thinking and problem solving—the muscle memory of learning—are being sacrificed to a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep” is troubling. The results are beginning to show up on college campuses. The film asserts that 50 percent of Cal State and U Cal students must be remediated in freshman year.

Then there is self-esteem. Students become jaded and stressed having their existence measured by score after score as though they have no value beyond numerical outcomes. They quickly learn to “do school” as Pope calls it. The students who do not engage in this “race” often drop out intellectually or emotionally.

The film sets out with a big subject and in truth it could be broken up into many films with the list of issues that it raises—ignoring middle students, the fervor over Advanced Placement classes, unprepared students who have always had “training wheels,” isolation, the consumption culture, excessive homework and more. Perhaps the most provocative question is raised by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a noted expert in the area of resilience who fears that the current system of education is stifling creativity. “Without creativity, we will have no leadership and no innovation,” he says.

RACE TO NOWHERE

In this documentary, producer Vicki Abeles, a 48-year-old lawyer, introduces us to her own children, now ages 16, 14 and 11. She details her struggles to succeed and admits that she “wanted to give them [her children] the opportunities that I didn’t have growing up.” When her kids starting getting sick, not wanting to go to school and generally acting stressed, she wants to understand why. Then a 14 year old student in her town commits suicide because she fails a math exam. Abeles dedicates the film to her memory.

Sometimes the film seems to swim in the soup of despair—full of anecdotal evidence from teachers and students who confront Abeles’ camera—and a little short on data-driven information.  But you can understand that the voices of the teachers and kids are far more compelling than pie charts and survey results. In the end the film succeeds because parents nod away in agreement throughout the film and stay around to discuss its implications.  That’s what it’s meant to do.

Many viewers may also think; This is getting old. Haven’t we been talking about student stress forever?  The fact is we have been talking about stress for a very long time.  According to Jennifer Wolfrum, the head of school health education for the Lexington School System, this is a topic that cycle around with regularity in Lexington.

“Hopefully this film will promote conversation,” she says.  “The issue of stress is not going away.  It’s going to be an ongoing issue, so, it’s a matter of keeping it on the radar screen.  That is my hope when we do these types of things.”  While it may seem to each new group of parent activists that the issue is new, it has actually been concerning Lexington parents for some time.  Wolfrum tells me that in the mid-90s they were offering relaxation and hypnotherapy to combat stress.  In the late 90s there was an academic stress committee. “I see it sort of comes and goes in waves,” she says.  “They’ll be a period of time when parents or students or both will [be concerned] about it, and we do surveys and we come up with ideas and things to do to address it.  And then, the energy behind it—all of the people doing these extra things—sort of dies down until it comes back again.”

LEXINGTON INITIATIVES

Right now in Lexington, the Collaborative to Reduce Student Stress (CRSS), which began as a small group at Temple Isaiah and has grown to about 50 or 60 members from different faith communities, has taken up the cause and is doing great work with the schools and other organizations around this issue. B.J. Rudman is the spokesman for the group. “About three years ago,” he explains, “a group of mostly parents and grandparents decided to get together to see what we could do to help. There are many groups in Lexington that deal with youth—the schools, the town, the PTAs; we want to collaborate with these groups with a particular focus on reducing stress.”

Rudman sees the screening of Race to Nowhere as a perfect example of how the group can be helpful.  “The idea actually came from the SHAC (School Health Awareness Committee) group at the high school.  “Many people have raved about the movie,” Rudman says.  The CRSS decided to step up and offer to plan the event.  Their volunteers have organized the screening and will staff the event. Following the screening, on May 5th at 7PM there will be a moderated community discussion there will be a community discussion at Temple Emunah. CRSS has also helped SHAC create their new website http://lhs.lexingtonma.org/Stress.

“My perspective is, a key to change is a change in community attitudes. People need to be educated and this is a very powerful way to do it,” Rudman says.  “We recognize that some stress is good, but too much stress is not healthy and ironically, too much stress actually inhibits academic performance.”

The scientific literature on stress and performance has been well documented in recent years and more recently it’s being updated to include research into the effects of technology on the developing brain. It may not be that academic stress and the focus on high stakes testing is the single driver of this epidemic of stress that we are seeing; technology may also be playing a major part in the problem.

 TECHNOLOGY, STRESS AND THE TEEN BRAIN

Dr. Sion Harris, a Lexington resident and member of SHAC, is a researcher at Children’s Hospital specializing in adolescent substance abuse and prevention strategies. She also has two children in the Lexington public schools.

“What is a 24/7 plugged-in world doing to brain development and our ability to maintain attention?” she asks.  Especially in adolescents whose brains are not fully developed. “It does require effort and high-order brain processing to be able to focus and tune out distractions,” she adds. In fact, teens are being bombarded by information all of the time—especially now that their phones are essentially pocket computers keeping them linked to the internet.  “We know that teens don’t have the prefrontal cortex development to be able to inhibit these behaviors,” Harris says. In other words, they can’t resist the urge to text or to go on Facebook if it’s available—even if they are supposed to be doing something else like homework.  “Even adults have a difficult time putting down the Blackberry,” Harris laughs.  “You can really see why the stress is ratcheting up.”  According to Harris kids are staying up all night texting and losing valuable sleep and brain processing time. “There are definitely casualties to being over-stimulated and over-connected and I do think that is one of the reasons that kids are more stressed today.”

But it’s not the only reason. As Race to Nowhere illustrates, high school students are clearly very concerned about being “successful” in life.  What that has come to mean in our society is following a certain path of achievement—high achieving high school student with a great resume gets into a top college (preferably an Ivy League school) which will guarantee you the American Dream.  This scenario is becoming more unrealistic as colleges become more selective and expensive. “We need to redefine what it means to be successful in this culture,” Harris says.

Dr. Blaise Aguirre is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the medical director at 3East at McLean Hospital which specializes in treating teens and young adults. “Academic stress is real,” he says, “and kids do feel the real and competitive nature of their school lives.”  However, academic stress is not the only stress that causes anxiety among students.  He cites a study in which 4300 students were exposed to a list of common negative life events.  Students were asked to check those they considered “bad” that they had experienced in the previous six month period. The results were compiled into a list the most frequently reported events. Academic stress and school didn’t even appear in the top eight. “Most kids admitted to hospital because of stress-related depression,” Aguirre explains, “are [there] because of relational issues and not academic stress.”  But, according to Dr. Aguirre, there is also no question that any form of stress “is neurobiologically tied to depression.”  In individuals with a genetic predisposition it is a stronger link.

Dr. Harris says that her work has shown her how important it is for children to develop social-emotional competencies when they are young.  “If we are going to address this culturally, we need to engage the parents of younger children.  “Over the course of my work,” she says, “I see how much social and emotional competencies are important in kids.”

Social competency and resilience are protective agents when it comes to the adolescent brain.  The teen brain is impulsive and prone to risk-taking.  Kids without coping skills often become depressed or engage in behavior that can be dangerous to their own safety.  “Resilience can be innate for many people,” adds Dr. Aguirre, “but for those who do not have it, it can be taught.”  In fact, Dr. Aguirre uses mindfulness in his practice with young people.

The Race to Nowhere is a conversation starter. Bring your older children if you can and plan to attend the community conversation on May 5th to share your thoughts and ideas with the community.

 

 

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KIDS POINT, CLICK & LEARN

By Elena Murphy  | 

This year, teachers at Bridge and Fiske elementary schools have a small but powerful tool in their classrooms to help the growing numbers of students who attend but have little or no experience speaking English.

The tools are ELL (English Language Learner) kits and include a picture book with labels, as well as audiocassettes and headphones so students can click on pictures and hear the pronunciation of each word. ELL teachers Dierdre Schadler at Bridge, and Catherine Murphy at Fiske, were awarded a grant from the Lexington Education Foundation to put these kits in teachers’ hands to supplement the direct English language instruction these students receive.

English Language Learner teacher Deirdre Schadler works with a fifth-grade student from Japan using a new kit for students to build their English vocabulary.

“We saw a need in our community,” says Schadler. “The ELL population at Bridge alone is over 10%” of the total enrollment, she notes, and, “There are a lot of kids from all over the world who don’t have the English language to participate in the classroom.” She also points out that the year-to-year changes are so great that the teachers needed something in the classroom that was flexible to support this ever-changing student population.

Schadler says, teachers want to help but they are also covering the standard curriculum. Non-English speaking elementary school students get a half-hour to forty minutes of English instruction in small groups at their grade level, these ELL teachers say, and Schadler says, “They need more than that.”

“Our vision was that kids can use this where teachers are working with the rest of the class” and these students would not know what is being discussed at all. Using these “picture dictionaries” enables the “child to be engaged…rather than have the student feel like they can’t participate,” says Schadler. “It takes seven to ten years to learn a language completely,” so these children need all the opportunities they can get, she notes.

 

There are several themes to choose from, including home, school, food, and helping people. There are also four levels, so the kits can be adjusted as the student advances. There are a number of kits so they can be spread throughout the classrooms that need them, and books are changed biweekly, Schadler says.

Originally, these tools were going to be made available to kindergarteners through second-graders, but Schadler says that they’re being used through fifth grade. After all, she says, any non-English speaker is a “blank slate” and can benefit from the kits, and move up to more challenging levels as they develop their language skills.

The response from teachers and students has been great, says Schadler. “Teachers have welcomed it,” she says. “Each teacher integrates it in their own way.”  Typical use is while a teacher is explaining a lesson in science or social studies the student can take the kit out and work on it independently. The headphones allow the students to work quietly without changing the noise level in the classroom.

It’s important, says Schadler, that kids can move forward as “they feel successful.” For instance, students need to learn concrete words such as “dog” before they can understand abstract words such as “Constitution.” She says “it’s remarkable how well students have learned the basics” using the ELL kits.

ELL (English Language Learner) kits and include a picture book with labels, as well as audiocassettes and headphones so students can click on pictures and hear the pronunciation of each word.

Schadler says when she and Fiske’s Catherine Murphy considered what to include in these kits, Schadler thought of these materials since she had had success in her own family with this type of picture dictionary. Murphy notes if there were more time, she’d like to “write my own texts for these students, aligning them with what the teachers are teaching in the classroom,” but for now, the main goal of building English vocabulary is being achieved. She says, “I can see from my pre-tests and post-tests that students are most definitely acquiring the basic academic vocabulary that they will need going forward.”

“The beauty of this particular tool is that the student regulates his or her own pace,” says Murphy. Schadler agrees that the success of these kits “has everything to do with the child.” She says that while students acquire common expressions from their peers, these kits fulfill a broader need for vocabulary. She recalls a recent conversation with a kindergartner from Israel who began the year with essentially no English. “She was frustrated with communication at the beginning of the year. In March, we had a real conversation. To go from zero to conversant in that amount of time, that’s what makes this job amazing,” she says.

Murphy and Schadler would like to see this program expand throughout the Lexington elementary schools.

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Along a Nature Path with Chet Raymo

By Judy Buswick

Of the writers who might instruct us on the subtle points of how to Let Nature Be Our Teacher, Chet Raymo, author of sixteen books and Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at Stonehill College in Easton (MA), has a unbeatable combination of science interests and life experience. He leans toward astronomy as his favorite science, saying, I love the dark night sky, and love knowing what it is I’m looking at. The sciences, like the parts of nature, are each interrelated; so he notes that astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, biology all illuminate each other. All of them give depth and beauty to our local environments.

 

Chet Raymo

Readers in Cary Library’s Lexington Reads program this March will have encountered the connections in a number of sciences, as Dr. Raymo describes the one-mile path he walked for 37 years from his front porch in the village of North Easton to his office at Stonehill College. The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe (Walker & Company, 2003) is Lexington’s community-wide book selection and Dr. Raymo will be at Cary Hall (1605 Mass. Avenue, next to the Police Station) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 27th to discuss his multifaceted study of nature and the history of his hometown. His observant, inquiring personality shows us how our own path of discovery may begin at our own front door.

Prof. Raymo demonstrates that every pebble and flower has a story to tell, which leads him to introduce geology, botany, genetics, environmental concerns, and the history of human intervention in nature. That scratch on a rocky ledge, he explains, may be the result of glaciers creeping across New England. That weed by the wayside may have descended from a seed that travelled here aboard a sailing ship in the 1600s. Thus, because he knows and loves this particular path, the light-years and the eons no longer seem quite so forbidding. He comforts us by adding that his path is quite commonplace for New England and any path we select for our careful observation and applied knowledge can be filled with surprises and appreciation of nature.

Historians and readers of history will be conscious of how Raymo incorporates the burgeoning wealth of one family and the industrial development of North Easton into his account of nature’s power. The Ames Shovel Shop moved to North Easton in 1803 and Oliver Ames tapped the energy resource of Queset Brook, built dams to control a consistent supply of water power, and watched his shovel factory grow to produce 20,000 dozen shovels in 1844, before converting to steam power. Historically, our nation needed shovels to build the Eire Canal, the intercontinental railroad, and trenches in the Civil War. With the discovery of gold in California and then in Australia, there was a worldwide demand for the high quality shovels produced by this one family.

The Ameses became wealthy and built mansions, public parks, and impressive public architecture in the village many of which are still evident today. They commissioned works by America’s leading architect Henry Hobson Richardson and the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The roles these men played in and beyond North Eastern become part of Dr. Raymo’s story.

Olmsted moved mountains of soil and stone, diverted streams, clear-cut forests, and planted local and exotic trees to create the Sheep Pasture estate, the Ames family mansion and property. Now, a hundred years later, the effects of the hand of man — that is, Olmsted’s hand — appear ostensibly natural on the grounds of Sheep Pasture through which Raymo walks. He passes through woodlands and meadows, crosses Queset Brook on a plank bridge and stoops to examine the astonishing sexual apparatus of the purple loosestrife decorating the banks of the stream, and stops in a community garden to chat with locals who sometimes offer him radishes. He buys bunches of flowers for a dollar (on the honor system) or chats with Bob Benson, the bluebird man who builds boxes for the breeding birds.

At the Olmsted Archives in Brookline, Massachusetts, the plans Olmsted worked on, including land surveys, sightlines from the home’s terrace, and sketches of the landscape he imagined are preserved. Raymo suggests to Lexingtonians, I would encourage everyone who lives in the Boston area to visit the Olmstead home and offices in Brookline. It is now in the care of the National Park Service, and you’ll get a lovely tour by a ranger in a Smokey Bear hat. 

For Olmsted and his colleague Charles Eliot who designed the parks and parkways in the Boston metropolitan system, the harried urban middle class deserved landscape art that was beautiful and alive with the sounds of nature. Behind this was their understanding that we are part of an organic world, and that we need, as Olmsted insisted, relief from the too insistently man-man surroundings of civilized life.

Prof. Raymo believes that Olmsted surely had a greater influence on how Americans think about the natural world than any other person. Boston’s Emerald Necklace is his work, and many other of our favorite public spaces in the Boston area are works of his disciples. Not wilderness. Not urban sprawl. Something artful and natural all at once. Environments that nourish the human spirit.” During his program on Sunday afternoon, March 27th at Cary Hall (note this is NOT at the Library), Prof. Raymo is sure to have more to say about the lessons of nature and the gifts of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Another local author who has shared his ruminations and research about some walks he has taken is Massachusetts Audubon Society editor John Hanson Mitchell. He fully engages readers in The Paradise of All These Parts: A Natural History of Boston (Beacon Press, 2008) about the series of exploratory walks around the old Shawmut Peninsula. In Walking Towards Walden: A Pilgrimage in Search of Place (Perseus, 1995), Mitchell evokes Thoreau with a jaunt entwining history and ecology. Raymo says, “I have long been a reader and admirer of Mitchell. He has a wonderful sense of the layers of a place, from the geologic to the human contemporary. I’ve been enlightened by his books and writings.

Noted author Dava Sobel wrote the foreword to The Path, at the request of George Gibson, Raymo’s publisher at Walker & Company. Raymo acknowledges that he is extremely grateful that she complied. Sobel and Raymo have never met, but she too has taken a familiar walk for more than twenty years. She feels an easy camaraderie with Raymo and knows he will understand when she says that something positive, even restorative happens to me out there on her walk along familiar wet lands. Though not a nature writer, but rather a science news writer, Sobel now authors non-fiction books with a scientific bent that share a complexity with those of Mitchell and Raymo.

Of her work, Dr. Raymo says, She’s a marvelous writer. I especially enjoyed The Planets. (Viking, 2005) Given his years of teaching astronomy, Raymo would obviously enjoy a book such as this that explores the solar system, using popular culture and current research. Her book titled Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (Penguin, 1996) is another that traces the scientific path of discovery and problem solving with a true story of a man once lost to history.

Wildlife artist and naturalist Clare Walker Leslie participated in the Cary Library series when she discussed her book Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, (Storey Publishing, 2000) earlier in March. She and Raymo are friends and he praises her efforts encouraging children and adults to draw from nature. He explains that drawing from nature helps develop powers of observation and reinforce[s] curiosity about the natural world. These are the attitudes that lead to scientific exploration and the awareness of nature’s organic wholeness.

With all this, it becomes obvious why Chet Raymo is an ideal author for sharing Let Nature Be Our Teacher lessons. His science capabilities are matched by his deep affection and respect for the history of Easton, his hometown. He shares with Lexingtonians a love of local history and Massachusetts people whose lives affected our nation. Comparing Easton and Lexington, he says, Both towns are icons of American history, Lexington of the Revolutionary period, Easton of early industrialization. I believe a few Eastoners were there taking pot shots at the Redcoats on the Lexington road.

The lessons of nature are well worth our study. As The Path shows us, minute lived attentively can contain a millennium; an adequate step can span the planet.

Visit Science Musings by Chet Raymo for a complete and annotated list of his sixteen books at  http://www.sciencemusings.com/books/.

 

Judy Buswick is the author of Slate of Hand: Stone for Fine Art and Folk Art (Trafford Publishing, 2007) and is working on a memoir of Massachusetts quilter Sally Palmer Field. Contact her at jt.buswick@verizon.net.

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