Archives for March 2017

Lexington Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Series

The Lexington Chamber of Commerce kicked off the 2017 Women in Business series with a presentation by Lexington School Superintendent Dr. Mary Czajkowski.

The Lexington Chamber of Commerce kicked off the 2017 Women in Business series with a presentation by Lexington School Superintendent Dr. Mary Czajkowski.  The standing-room-only crowd enjoyed the presentation and came loaded with questions.  Among the issues Dr. Czajkowski addressed were the effects of the presidential election on education, charter schools, student stress and curriculum development.

The event is held on the second Tuesday of every month.  The meetings are sponsored by realtor Lester Savage, and are held at Tres Petite Creperie — a French bistro in Lexington Center.

For more information about Women in Business or the Chamber of Commerce, please visit www.LexingtonChamber.org.

Pictured left: Dr. Mary Czjkowski speaks with members of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce at the monthly Women in Business meeting.

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NEW TIME! RIVALS UNTO DEATH Book Talk

Sunday, March 26, 2017

7:00 PM
The Depot Building
Lexington Center
Free and open to the public

 

Rick Beyers

Rick Beyer will celebrate the publication of his latest book, tell us how it came to be and the interesting stories he discovered in its writing.

Rivals Unto Death explores the largely unknown three-decade dance that led to their infamous duel. It traces the rivalry back to the earliest days of the American Revolution, when both men, brilliant, restless, and barely twenty years old, elbowed their way onto the staff of General George Washington; follows them as they launch their competitive legal practices in New York City and through the insanity of the election of 1800 when Hamilton threw his support behind Thomas Jefferson in an effort to knock Burr out of the running for president; and takes them finally to the dueling grounds from which just one would emerge.

Rick Beyer is a New York Times best-selling author, an award-winning documentary producer, and a long-time history enthusiast. His new book Rivals Unto Death: Hamilton and Burr will be published in February 2017 by Hachette books. His independent documentary The Ghost Army, premiered on PBS in 2013, and won a CINE Golden Eagle Award. It tells the story of an extraordinary WWII unit that used creativity and illusion to fool the Germans.  He also has co-authored a bestselling book on the unit. Rick has produced numerous other documentaries and is the author of the popular Greatest Stories Never Told series of history books.  He has curated museum exhibits relating to World War II and the American Revolution.  He has also made numerous media appearances, and frequently speaks to audiences on subjects that include innovation, film making, and the quirky tales that make history come alive. He is an adjunct faculty member in the communications department of Lasell College.

 

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CARY LECTURE SERIES – MARCH 4TH

“Spotlight: A Story of Asking the Right Questions and Holding Institutions Accountable”

with Sacha Pfeiffer and Dan Rothstein
CARY HALL • SATURDAY, MARCH 4TH, 2016 AT 8:00 PM

Hear Dan Rothstein and Sacha Pfeiffer speak in Lexington!
The importance of the press and of citizens in demanding a culture of accountability in a democracy. As citizens, how can we learn to ask the right questions and engage in effective action?

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Question Everything

 

By Laurie Atwater

We’ve become an answer culture.

Do we have time for questions anymore? As busy parents, do we reward the constant why, why, why that is the hallmark of childhood? Do teachers entertain questions in time-crunched classrooms? Do our leaders encourage questioning and transparency as they represent us? Do our doctors have enough time to ask the questions that would aid a proper diagnosis?

The lowly question has lost its appeal in the information age. Answers are so easy—why ask questions?

Dan Rothstein

 

Dan Rothstein is a Lexington resident, and co-founder (with Luz Santana) and director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). RQI is a nonprofit based in Boston.

Rothstein is a big fan of questions. His professional experience has taught him that thinking in questions—like little kids—may be the key to becoming better problem solvers and decision-makers, more creative thinkers, better students and more engaged citizens. In fact, Rothstein and RQI think that formulating effective questions—strategic questions that lead us to the answers we seek—may be the foundational skill for critical-thinking and higher learning. But, it is a skill that is rarely, if ever taught in school.

A PROTOCOL CREATED THROUGH GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY
Early in his career Rothstein worked as the Director of Neighborhood Planning Director in Lawrence, Massachusetts trying to curb high dropout rates in the city. It was Rothstein’s job to work with parents from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and get them involved in their children’s education—to convince them that they could make a difference and encourage them to engage with the schools.

In these conversations they learned that many parents didn’t participate in their children’s education and didn’t engage with their kid’s teachers because they “didn’t even know what to ask.”
That was an epiphany for Rothstein and his team. “The parents named an insight that had never really been fully recognized—not knowing what to ask as a major obstacle to effective participation,” he explains.

Rothstein set out with other members of his team to explore this problem in their community-building work. They first tried a simple fix: supplying the parents with prepared questions to take with them to a school meeting. “We discovered that it only created greater dependency on us which was the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish.”

They needed to teach the parents to come up with their own questions so that they would take ownership. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the simplest way to teach what is really a very sophisticated thinking skill—learning to ask your own questions and getting better at asking questions,” he says.

They found that the skill did not come naturally to most people. Initial barriers to participation—fear of judgment, embarrassment or shyness could be overcome as a group built trust. “But we started to understand that this was a dramatic change in practice,” Rothstein explains. “People were accustomed to being asked questions not to actually being invited to work on asking their own questions.”

Working with small groups, they observed how people formed questions and that producing questions (not statements, ideas or facts) was very difficult. “We then had to create these rules for producing questions that are similar to brainstorming rules, but also very different because you are working only with questions.”

 

“QFT helps you organize your thinking around what you don’t know.”  

                                                 -Stephen Quatrano, RQI board member

 

They tested out lots of ways to lead people through the process of developing questions and determined that an essential element was a stimulus or focus for question formation. “We came to understand how important that was. We created this term Question Focus (QFocus).” The QFocus is an initial prompt that focuses the group to form more directed and relevant questions. It can be a description of the problem at hand or a statement or subject depending on the setting.

THE QFT TECHNIQUE
The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:

  • Design a question focus (QFocus)
  • Produce questions
  • Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions
  • Prioritize questions
  • Plan next steps
  • Reflect

Once a group has a QFocus, each member must pose as many questions as they can and one member records the questions without stopping for discussion. No question is judged, reworded or rejected. When the questions have been formulated, the group works on improving the questions (changing close-ended questions to open-ended and any statements to questions). They then prioritize the questions and select three key questions. They decide how they will act on each question and finally they reflect on what they have learned from the process.

It took years of trial and error to refine the process—to make it simple, usable, repeatable and reliable. The Right Question Institute calls this protocol the Question Formulation Technique (QFT).

Rothstein points out that this is not a technique that was created in a think-tank or by academics or communications experts—this is a ground-up process that began with regular people in challenging circumstances. Although they started their work with adults in low-income communities, it soon became apparent that the protocol could be effective in almost unlimited settings across age groups, disciplines and education levels.

These days QFT is used by Lexington Public Schools, Harvard graduate students, Microsoft Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, schools in rural Appalachia and many more organizations around the globe to stimulate participation, aid in self-advocacy, unlock creative potential and facilitate learning.

 


Why is the Question Formulation Technique so powerful?
As participants learn to produce their own questions, they are thinking divergently—that is, more broadly and creatively. When they focus on the kinds of questions they are asking and choose their priority questions, they are thinking convergently—narrowing down, analyzing, assessing, comparing, and synthesizing. And when they reflect on what they have learned through the process, students are engaged in metacognition—they are thinking about their thinking. -RQI


 

HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER CITIZENS? The Hawaiian Sugar Cane Plantation Experience
When sugar cane plantation workers were about to lose their livelihood in Hawaii, RQI was brought in to help the workers through the transition.

“The plantation was being sold off,” Rothstein explains. “The department of public health brought us in. They were worried about how company owned housing was going to be divided up, how the land was going to be used, how healthcare was going to be provided all of these things that the company had provided.”

Working with these farm workers, RQI gained insight about how the QFT could empower people to take ownership and participate in decisions that could affect their immediate welfare and their future. Like their work in Lawrence, they observed that the simple act of asking questions was empowering to those who felt disempowered.

“That was a major point in our development—in understanding how to help people learn to focus on decisions right in front of them as the first step in learning how to participate effectively,” Rothstein says. ”What people learned was they needed to ask questions about the decisions that were going to be made locally—about the housing and the healthcare but that they were not able the change the decision made by a corporate board in London.” RQI witnessed that this process engendered a sense of control in people who felt helpless. “This process changes the dynamic and says that it’s not just the person with more power who gets to ask the questions,” Rothstein says, “but it’s the person who needs the service or the information or the help that also is entitled to question.”

What RQI observed through this experience and other advocacy work they conducted around the country was the many ways that positive interactions by disenfranchised people with institutions or figures in power could improve their self-esteem and increase engagement. “The process of asking questions sets up the expectation for responsible decision making from that authority figure,” Rothstein says. It’s a way to hold the system accountable.

This led RQI to the insight that each of these advocacy situations had produced citizens that were more prepared and therefore more engaged with their communities through each productive interaction. Government agencies like Medicaid, Social Security, immigration, schools, courts or housing authorities can be little gymnasiums for the “small d” democratic muscle necessary for citizenship. “They need an opportunity to see how all those services and programs are affected by decisions made by elected officials who are usually invisible,” Rothstein says. “It’s a muscle that develops over time through action. If you don’t develop the muscle it atrophies.”

RQI calls this network of public institutions “outposts of democracy or a Microdemocracy” where citizens or prospective citizens are often discouraged from participating in their own government. “When they experience participation on the micro level they discover the value of participating in traditional forms of democratic action,” he adds.

RQI’s Better Questions Better Decisions (BQBD) Voter Engagement Workshop uses the Question Formulation Technique to help citizens become more involved with the democratic process. “It’s a voter engagement strategy that starts where people are and allows them to ask questions about decisions that are affecting them all the way up the democratic decision-making chain. It’s a different way to approach voter education,” Rothstein says. RQI thinks their strategy can make democracy work better.

HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER STUDENTS? The Classroom Experience
It’s actually fascinating that Rothstein and Santana, who started their work so many years ago with adults, have come up with an insight and a protocol that has perhaps its most natural application in the classroom.

And, it could not be timelier. As intellectuals, college educators, employers and innovators reflect more and more on our current testing-centric education system—the decline of creativity, the collapse of critical thinking and the crisis of school funding—RQI enters with a decidedly low tech, low cost protocol that can radically transform learning. Switching the classroom dynamic and allowing kids to do what used to come naturally—ask questions—paves the way toward a coveted educational goal—creating critical thinkers for 21st century jobs and lives.

Naysayers believe that there can’t possibly be time for student generated questioning in the modern classroom with its performance demands and multiple assessments. To the contrary Rothstein says, “When students spend time on forming questions about what they need to learn it’s not a detour—it’s actually a shortcut. They just get there much more quickly and more effectively.” He’s not guessing about this; he’s seen it in practice. “This is what we have seen from educators all around the world—there are now over 200,000 educators using the question formulation technique.”

Teachers continue to inspire Rothstein and his colleagues at RQI. “There’s an art and a science to the question formulation technique. The science is—it’s a protocol. The art is in learning how to adapt it to what you need to be teaching what the students need to be learning,” he explains. RQI has now developed an extensive library of tools available for download from their site to help educators deploy the protocol in their classrooms.

QFT IN LEXINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
As a Lexington resident, Rothstein is particularly pleased about the enthusiasm that the Lexington Public Schools have expressed for the QFT program. “So many Lexington educators are using the QF technique and it’s really great,” he says. “When successful communities also recognize that they want their students to be asking better questions, that’s inspiring.”

The Lexington Education Foundation awarded a grant to Lexington middle schools to attend a RQI summer seminar. Social Studies specialists were interested in using the technique to foster “higher order thinking skills.” RQI did further professional development across the district to enhance teachers’ understanding and implementation of the protocol.

Karen Russell, an English teacher at LHS, was one of the QFT pioneers in Lexington. I talked with Russell by phone and she was very enthusiastic about using the QFT in the classroom.

“I often use it when I begin a text,” she says. “Students’ questions inform me about their interests and [through the process] they take ownership over where we are going with the text,” she explains. “It gives me a chance to listen to their concerns about what the text might address. Great texts have plasticity that way and can lead in many different directions.” Russell says it works particularly well with students who may not be so quick to speak up in a regular setting. “I often worry about the students who take more time to process and want to go deeper—where do we give them a chance for their voices to be heard? This process values that.”

Russell also refers back to the student’s questions throughout their study of the text. “They’re given permission…their thinking is valued and they know it’s not just the right answer I’m looking for. When they ask their own questions, the seed of their ideas has been planted early on and they’re growing their own ideas.”

Russell also appreciates that the QFT is being used across the history curriculum at LHS so the language and process is familiar to students. She finds the common practice creates fluency and ease for the students. “In a place like Lexington where so many students are articulate and so quick to have the answers, it’s a chance to slow down. It’s a very different way of thinking and it often frustrates the kids who always have a quick answer which isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “To work together and listen to what other students have to say is a benefit for them.”

Rothstein says all teachers like this about the QFT. “It creates a better community and it creates respect for different perspectives among the students.”

****

Through creation of this invaluable protocol, the Right Question Institute has taken a complicated skill and made it accessible to everyone in any setting that requires engagement, advocacy or problem-solving.

In education, where problems often seem insurmountable, this technique is low-tech, affordable and transformative. Encouraging collaboration, sparking curiosity and creativity, creating confidence and laying the groundwork for critical thinking can only increase our capacity as a nation to thrive in the 21st century and help our kids realize their potential in these challenging times.


To learn more about the work of the Right question Institute, visit them online at rightquestion.org.

Right Question Institute

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Identifying Depression in Children and Youth

By Alicke Grobler

There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about clinical depression perpetuated by media and pop culture. Although there are some common signs and symptoms of depression that occur in most cases, depression can look very different in everyone. The presentation of depression can also vary significantly across different ages and genders.

Depression is not an uncommon occurrence in adults. Recent research indicates that about 16% of adults experience depression in their lifetime. Depression is significantly more common among women and the elderly. Additionally, approximately 65-75% of people with depression are initially diagnosed in adolescence. This indicates that depression is a chronic disorder and most often develops in the teenage years. Because of this, it is essential to know and be able to identify the signs of depression as early as possible, in order to ensure that your child has access to resources and support and develops coping skills early on in the course of the disorder.

Although rare, it is possible for children younger than adolescence to be diagnosed with depression; according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 2.5% of young children in the US suffer from depression. Under the age of 12, depression is slightly more common in young boys than young girls. However, once children hit adolescence, the rate of depression jumps up to 11%. This rate is the average for all adolescents between 12-18, but the risk of depression increases substantially for older adolescents. Adolescent girls are 2-3 times more likely to develop depression than boys.

This article is not meant to scare parents, but rather to provide them with information and resources to best help their children who may be struggling. However, because depression can manifest differently in everyone, it can be hard to identify it in teens and children, and to distinguish it from the typical and developmentally normative angst of the teen years. As such, the following information will include ways to recognize depression in children and teens, risk factors to look out for, ways to help your child cope with depression, and resources available to parents and children.

Depression most often presents, across ages, as persistently low mood, hopelessness, fatigue, and lack of enjoyment. However, in children, other symptoms may be more obvious including:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite – eating too much or too little
  • Changes in sleep pattern – sleeping too much, not sleeping enough or at all
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Difficulty functioning and completing day to day tasks at school, with friends, or at home.
  • Physical complaints such as stomach or headache that do not respond to treatment
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Lack of motivation
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

In children under 12 years old, irritability or anger, changes in sleep pattern or appetite, vocal outbursts, and physical complaints may be the easiest to identify and the most strongly expressed symptoms. In adolescents, depression looks more like adults, with major changes in mood and functionality. However, all of the symptoms listed above could apply to a child or adolescent suffering from depression, so it is important to be aware of your child’s mood and behaviors. Children will likely display different symptoms in different settings, and most with significant depression will display a noticeable change in academic performance, social activities, and even appearance.

Some children may be at greater risk for depression than others. This is especially true for children who have a parent with depression. Depression has been linked to a genetic predisposition, and tends to run in families. Children whose parents have depression are also more likely to develop depression earlier than children whose parents do not. Other risk factors include substance use. Depression may also lead to substance abuse in older children and adolescents, which is likely to worsen the symptoms. Children may also develop depression based on major life events, loss of loved ones, or biochemical disturbances.
If you notice some of these behaviors in your child, especially if they are persistent for more than two weeks, do not be afraid to consult a mental health professional.

Depression is a cyclic disorder. This means that those who have depression typically go through periods of feeling healthy and functioning well, and periods or episodes of depression. Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosed if an individual has a depressive episode lasting two weeks or more that significantly interferes with their daily functioning. However, depressive episodes often end on their own after a period of time. The end of a depressive episode does not mean that depression has been cured and is no longer a cause for concern; rather, it is highly likely that a depressive episode will recur in the future. Therefore, even if your child is not currently exhibiting the symptoms or signs described, or if the symptoms stop or improve naturally, it is still essential to seek resources and support for your child.

There are a variety of effective treatment options for depression, including psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. Mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms, and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of relapse of a depressive episode. If you are concerned that your child is depressed, you have a number of options to seek support.

Your pediatrician may be able to help you find suitable antidepressants for your child, and can likely refer you to a psychiatrist and/or therapist.

Your child’s school counselor can connect you to resources both in and out of school.

The Youth and Family Services Social Worker, Kristie Demirev, at the Community Center can work with families on an individual basis to assess their needs and connect them to supports they need. She can be reached at 781 698 4843 and is free to all residents.

The following articles are also helpful for educating yourself about depression in children and adolescents. If you are concerned about your child, please reach out and find support for yourself and your family:

Hankin, B. L., Young, J. F., Abela, J. R., Smolen, A., Jenness, J. L., Gulley, L. D., … & Oppenheimer, C. W. (2015). Depression from childhood into late adolescence: Influence of gender, development, genetic susceptibility, and peer stress. Journal of abnormal psychology, 124(4), 803.

Avenevoli, S., Swendsen, J., He, J. P., Burstein, M., & Merikangas, K. R. (2015). Major depression in the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement: prevalence, correlates, and treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 37-44.


 

Alicke Grobler is a Master of Social Work candidate at Boston College, studying clinical social work with a focus in mental health. She is currently an intern with the Lexington Human Services Department, and aspires to help increase access to and awareness of mental health care for low income families and military families. She can be reached by calling the Human Services Department at (781) 698-4840.

 


Parenting Matters columns are presented to the Lexington community through a collaboration with the Lexington Human Services Department of Youth Services. Information provided in these columns is general in nature and not intended to be a substitute for a personalized clinical evaluation. Please see a professional for any concerns you may have about this topic or any others in a Parenting Matters column. LEXINGTON COMMUNITY CENTER 39 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421. Open Monday – Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM

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Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Q: The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that Massachusetts was not doing enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to maintain a livable climate. What steps are necessary to get back on track?
A: In response, Gov. Baker’s Department of Environmental Protection issued new clean air regulations that would require utilities to purchase generation credits from zero-carbon sources – starting at 16% in 2018 and increasing to 80% by 2050.
The first big step along that path was taken last year under the Omnibus energy bill that requires utilities to purchase 35% of their power from hydro and wind sources.
Our grid is now going to be greening a lot faster than we had previously expected when these regulations take effect.
Q: What can we do here in Lexington?
A: 97% of Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels to produce our electricity, heat our buildings, power our vehicles, and produce our food. 36% of those emissions come from producing our electricity, 30% from heating our buildings, 23% from transportation, and 10% is related to the food we eat.
We can start by switching our oil and natural gas heating systems for our homes, offices, and schools to the latest highly efficient and low-cost air source heat pumps. The latest heat pumps can provide more than 3 kWh of heat for every kWh of electricity used.
Q: Are we designing the new Hastings School to be capable of achieving zero emissions?
A: We are currently considering two designs – one design uses a natural gas boiler to provide heat and one uses heat pumps. If we choose to move forward with a natural gas boiler – we will be locking in fossil fuel emissions to heat Hastings School for the next 60 years. With heat pumps, we can reduce our emissions to zero by switching to renewable electricity. In addition, the initial cost of going with the heat pump design will be $600K less than the natural gas boiler and our energy costs will also be about 30% lower.
If you care about this decision – I encourage you to come to the Board of Selectmen meeting on February 27th where the Board will make their recommendation.

Natural gas flaring seen from space.

Q: What other benefits would we see with a heat pump design?
A: The heat pump design would protect our students and staff from breathing the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels on site. Heat pumps will directly improve the health and cognitive performance of our students and staff because they will be breathing cleaner air.  An MIT study found that 1,775 Massachusetts residents die each year from premature mortality due to the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings.
Second, we should look at the health and global warming impacts of continuing our over dependence on natural gas. The CDC has determined that on the job fatality rates for oil and gas workers is 7 times higher than for typical workers. Researchers from University of Columbia and University of Pennsylvania have found that Pennsylvania residents who live near natural gas fracking sites are 27% more likely to suffer from severe heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders. Fracking sites produce 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater each year. The Wall Street Journal found that 15 million people in the US now live within one mile of a fracking site.
Recent studies have determined that the leakage rate at natural gas drilling sites is between 4 and 9%. A leakage rate of 3% makes the global warming potential of natural gas worse than using coal to produce our electricity.
Then there is the out and out waste of natural gas flaring. Gas flares at natural gas fracking sites can be seen from space – like city lights. National Geographic reported that the gas lost to flaring could have powered all the homes in Chicago for a year.
Finally we need to consider the cost of delivering natural gas. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had 680 people die, 2,646 people injured, and $1.4 billion in property damage from natural gas pipeline explosions in the US.
Q: What kind of world would you want for your kids?
A: If we wouldn’t want our kids to experience these negative effects, why would we want anyone’s kids to suffer from our continued over dependence on natural gas.
Send your sustainability questions to questions@sustainablelexington.org. We look forward to hearing from you.


Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Send your sustainability questions to questions@sustainablelexington.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Local Election

Click to read candidate statements for the March 6th Election.

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