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For those seeking background on the events that led up to the GMRSD School Committee's decision to consider changing the Turners Falls High School mascot, here is The Montague Reporter's coverage of the May 24, 2016 Gill-Montague Regional School Committee meeting. (Reprinted with permission from the May 26, 2016 issue.)
"Residents Ask School Committee To Again Rethink Mascot"
By Mike Jackson
Gill-Montague – At night’s meeting of the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee, several local residents spoke during the time allotted for public comment to suggest that the district should once again consider changing the mascot of Turners Falls High School, which is currently the Indian.
“Frankly, we’re going to have to change the name, sooner or later,” said Jean Hebden, a resident of downtown Turners Falls and a Montague town meeting member from Precinct 5. “Either the MIAA… or the state, or the federal government, is going to pass a law saying that we can no longer use Native American nicknames for our schools, for whatever reason.”
Hebden said that she was shopping online for shoes when she discovered that shoe giant Adidas is offering financial support to any needy district voluntarily changing their Native American mascot.
“They’re willing to help with the design, they’re willing to help with new uniforms,” she said. “To me, now would be the time to look into it… I think it’s socially responsible for us to do it before it’s mandatory.”
“It feels a little bit silly, in a way, that we even need to come here and state this,” said Natan Cohen, also of downtown Turners Falls. “The Native American genocide was real, and something that happened. Appropriating these symbols is not really a sign of respect at all.”
“A little bit of a dilemma, I know, is for people that went to the school and played on these teams, or supported these teams – it’s part of an identity that they feel proud of,” said Anne Jemas, of Montague’s Precinct 4. “I think a lot of people are interpreting the meaning of the name differently, and that’s convenient, and understandable… But times change, and when you know better, you have the opportunity to do better.”
Jemas said she thought the process of selecting a new mascot could be “an empowering experience” for the towns. “We’re not coming to this early, but we also don’t want to come to it late,” she said. “It makes much more sense to be ahead of the curve.”
Precinct 5’s David Detmold spoke at length, focusing on the massacre of Native American people carried out within territory currently represented by the district in 1676 by an English militia led by Capt. William Turner. “You’re naming the team Indians in a town, and a school, named after the man who killed every Indian he could find,” Detmold argued.
Detmold also cited a 2005 resolution by the American Psychological Association recommending the retirement of ethnic mascots. “They’ve done studies on this, which they cite, that the use of Native American mascots is harmful to Native American students,” he said, pointing out that there are Native American students in the district.
Detmold suggested that the district “spend a year of outreach and education on this subject within the school community, and the towns of Gill and Montague, and bring it to the town meetings for an advisory opinion next May – to report back to the SC, to see what the will of the town is. “We’d very much like to use this as an educational opportunity, and a chance for everyone to be heard,” he said.
“I feel like this is something that is perhaps viewed as a small thing,” said Suzette Snow-Cobb, also of downtown Turners Falls. “But it could go a long way to recognizing that all of us live in this community, and we don’t want to have degrading or derogatory images or actions for the people that live here.”
School committee chair Michael Langknecht thanked the residents for their input, and noted that any committee member could place the topic on the agenda at a future meeting.
Marjorie Levenson, recently reelected member from Montague, said she felt the committee should add it as a future topic for discussion. “Obviously whatever happens requires a great deal of thought, and education, for the community,” Levenson said. “We want people to feel involved in the process as we pursue, or don’t pursue, this, and how we do it….I think the onus should be on the school committee to pursue these avenues,” she said. “The charge is our charge,” not that of the members of the public who had brought the topic before the committee, “to do the work.”
Thirty-nine high school teams in Massachusetts still have Native American-themed mascots, including several in western Massachusetts: the Athol Red Raiders, Mohawk Warriors, Springfield Red Raiders, and Ware Indians.
That count was 46 as recently as 2007. Some of those teams – including the Dedham Marauders, Lowell Red Raiders, and the Matignon, Nauset and Brookline Warriors – have kept their names, but discontinued their ethnic logos (the Marauders famously adopting a pirate).
The Natick Red Men have become the Red Hawks, and the Watertown Red Raiders dropped the “Red” from their name, though not their uniforms. Locally, the Frontier Redhawks were known until 2000 as the Redskins.
In 2009, the GMRSD school committee voted to discontinue the use of the “tomahawk chop” cheer at athletic events, though some say it is still heard. The school’s longtime team logo, generic clip art of a Plains Indian in silhouette, has been officially retired by the district, but is still actively used in the community, including by the Turners Falls High School Alumni Association.
"No," said 82% of students surveyed at Great Falls Middle and Turners Falls High Schools on an anonymous national survey in early 2015. (Read more about the survey below.)
Research* shows that when young people feel supported by their neighbors (and other adults), they do better in school, are more likely to graduate and less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and reduce their risk of being involved in violence or crime.
So this is an area where our community clearly has some room for improvement, but it’s also a situation that’s not difficult to change. You, on your own, can make a real difference!
Challenge yourself to get to know young people in your neighborhood. Pay attention to their accomplishments – large and small. Then, let them know you noticed!
The “My neighbors notice...” statement is from the Prevention Needs Assessment, or PNA, a survey that measures the presence of “risk and protective factors” – things that have been shown to influence the likelihood of academic success, school dropout, substance abuse, violence, and delinquency among youth. Young people across the United States take it each year. In our region, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students from nine school districts complete the PNA on a 3-year cycle **. The most recent results are from 2015.
It's important to keep in mind that there is a distinction between whether youth are supported in our community (which they are, in many ways!) and whether they feel supported. The PNA asks teens to report on what they think and how they feel, which is not necessarily the same as what is true. The 82% of students who responded “no” to the “My neighbors notice...” statement don't know what their neighbors know about them, because their neighbors didn't tell them. Let's change that!
Here are three examples of local adults celebrating youth that we noticed recently on Facebook:
* For more information about risk and protective factors, see: http://www.channing-bete.com/prevention-programs/risk-protective-factors.html
*For more information about the Prevention Needs Assessment, including 2015 results from Franklin County, see: http://www.communitiesthatcarecoalition.org/surveys
Did you see the great article about the peer mediation program at Great Falls Middle School in the March 10, 2016 issue of The Montague Reporter? Here it is, reprinted with permission:
Peer Mediation at the Middle School: Transformative, on Both Sides of the Table
By LEE WICKS
TURNERS FALLS – There’s a peer mediation program at Great Falls Middle School that is helping students resolve problems without adult intervention. It won’t work for every disagreement – conflicts that escalate to hitting and violence require involvement with teachers and administrators – but hurt feelings, jealousy, misunderstandings, and complaints against teachers and coaches have all been successfully mediated by a well-trained and enormously dedicated group of students.
There are ground rules. Participation requires two full days of training (for which students are required to make up missed school work), and weekly meetings.
Mediators must learn to stay calm, listen without judgment, wait patiently for answers, and lead people to a resolution without suggesting the answer.
They practice between sessions, looking for ways to improve. They make up scenarios, correct one another, enjoy experiencing different points of view.
Last year eleven students received training, bringing the total number of mediators to fourteen. The state-funded program is run in partnership with Debbie Lynangale of the Mediation Training Collaborative in Greenfield, and staffed by mediation coordinator Scott Smith. Smith is a school administrator who came out of retirement to work with students again.
He strides through the hallways as if he’s worked there for decades. He gathers the student mediators for a weekly lunch/discussion, and without compromising anyone’s confidentiality, the mediators have a chance to discuss challenges, share ideas, and role-play.
He also sits in at each mediation session. “I am so impressed by the maturity of these students,” he says. “I watch them, and sometimes my jaw drops with admiration.”
Fourteen students have been served by the mediation program in terms of training and leadership, and according to Ms. Lynangale, approximately 60 young people have participated in some part of the mediation process this school year.
She adds, “One could make the arguments that all the middle school students benefit from having heard about and seen mediation modeled. They know that there are options available to help work through fights or disagreements, and that people – both adults and peers – care about resolving issues.”
The mediation program is completely voluntary; it’s an option offered to students with a conflict to resolve.
Mediator Alyson Murphy, an eighth grader who has been with the program the longest, says most problems are resolved in a single 45-minute meeting, as long as the participants come with a sincere desire for resolution.
With the mediators’ help, the participants create a contract. It can call for action, or consist of a promise to avoid one another. “On some occasions, the problem is mostly resolved before the mediation begins. Just being willing to work on a solution begins to create the solution,” Alyson says.
Kate Graves, a seventh grader new to the program, says, “I originally wanted to do this to help others, but it has changed my life. When you walk down the hall and see two people as friends again, you see something you helped repair. It’s a good feeling.”
Allison Wheeler, another eighth grader, smiled at Mr. Smith and said, “This is the best year yet.” She has done seven mediations so far, and in addition to the satisfaction of helping others, she also believes the program has brought her closer to her friends.
“You can hear in what the peer mediators say about the program how impactful it is on them, and the students who participate in mediations,” says Annie Leonard, who is in her first year as the school’s principal. “It’s important to know that this is validated in research about what early educational experiences make for resilient adults.”
Leonard cites four “protective factors” necessary for youth development, and explains how the mediation program addresses all four. The first three are positive mindset (“shown in the way the mediators talk about practicing their craft and seeing mistakes as part of learning”); relationships (“shown in the mutually supportive ties between the mediators themselves, and the mediators and Mr. Smith”); and self-care (“shown in how the mediators talk about learning to balance school work, mediations, sports, arts and other activities”).
The last protective factor, Leonard says, is purpose. She describes “the deep sense that these students have of needing, and wanting, to do something beyond themselves for the benefit of their community.
“I’m just proud to be part of a school that recognizes how important it is to support students developing resilience in this way.”
Leonard’s reference to self-care emerged from one of the last questions during my group interview with the mediators. I asked the students what other activities they were engaged in, because I was curious to know if the peer mediation program allowed enough time for sports or the arts. I anticipated that it would not, but I was wrong.
Most are three-season athletes; many also play an instrument. One is on the yearbook staff; another is a member of the gay/straight alliance; yet another belongs to the anti-cyber bullying group. They ride horses, dance, play softball and tennis, swim, and serve on the student council. I could not write fast enough to capture it all.
When asked how they manage, most laughed and said it isn’t hard if you give up sleeping.
But they didn’t look tired. They looked energetic and resilient, and proud of themselves, as they should be.
For the rest of the week (until Friday), the Teen Drop-In Center at the Brick House will be open for its regular hours: 2:30-6pm. If you've ever wondered what the Teen Center is like, this week is a great time to stop by and check it out!Children's Room there's an Art-To-Go box with free craft kits that you can take and make at home? There's also a new display of art on the walls, all made by Hillcrest Elementary students! The Carnegie Library is open from 1-8pm, 1-5 on Thursday, 10-5 on Friday, and 10-2 on Saturday, and has several special programs for children scheduled this week.
This morning (Wednesday) Montague Catholic Social Ministries offers its weekly Emergency Basic Needs program. Go to 43 Third Street, Turners Falls, MA (Moltenbrey Apartments) and press #103 for help with emergency concrete needs, including food, housing, utilities, clothing, diapers, and assistance with filling out forms.
The Great Falls Discovery Center will have a different investigation station at the front desk each day this week! Wednesday is "Mammals in Winter," Thursday is "Indoor Birding," and Friday is "Bobcats."
Check out our online calendar for more ideas about things to do in Turners Falls during the February School Vacation week!
The Great Falls Discovery Center is open from 10 am - 4 pm, and is offering a special "Plant a Seed and Think Spring" investigation station activity for visitors of all ages this day.
Also at the Discovery Center, check out the exhibit in the Great Hall, which features near-life size portraits by Louise Minks and handmade dolls by Belinda Lyons Zucker. The show is part of "Music and Diversity II," Turners Falls River Culture's celebration of Black History Month.
Places where you can buy food downtown on Mondays include The Rendezvous, CeCe's Chinese, Subway, Black Cow Burger, the Five Eyed Fox, the Shady Glen, Hubie's Tavern, and the new Riff's North. At the Rendezvous you can also see many of the portraits in Turners Falls RiverCulture's Call and Response show!
Unity Park, including the playground, basketball courts and the long-awaited skatepark, will be open as usual from dawn to dusk. While you're there, keep an eye out for bald eagles and other interesting creatures around Barton Cove! (If you see a bunch of people with binoculars and telescopes by the river nearby, don't be shy -- ask what they are looking for!)
Our Lady of Peace Church hosts a free community meal on Mondays: Doors open at 5pm, and dinner is served at 5:30.
With your help, we’ve gathered LOTS of information to help families and youth make the most of this time. We hope you will join us in sharing these ideas and resources with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and young people you know. For starters:
Check out this special edition from The New York Times about sleeping more and better to achieve a better overall healthy lifestlye. This article focuses on developing ways to sleep more and better.