"A fantastic way to bring the community together"

posted Jan 10, 2018, 12:43 PM by Jen Audley   [ updated Jan 17, 2018, 8:14 AM ]

Did you see the great article about the districtwide food drive at in the January 4, 2018 issue of The Montague Reporter? Here it is, reprinted with permission.

GMRSD Food Drive ... A Huge Success!


TURNERS FALLS – Gill Montague Regional School District recently had a food drive to help support Montague Catholic Social Ministries, and it was a huge hit at my school, Great Falls Middle School!

My school turned the food drive into a friendly competition between students and staff. If the students won, the staff would have to do the chicken dance at an all-school meeting, and if the staff won, the students would spend a CPR meeting (a small amount of time we have in the morning with our homeroom) doing community service around the school.

I am still awaiting the winner! The winner will be determined by the percent of their goal they have reached. The staff’s goal was 200 items, and the students’ goal was 500, considering there are around 250 students and only about 40 staff.

[Update: We followed up with the author, who reported that the winner was announced after the article went to press. "The Staff won :( We collected like 450 or something and they collected about 200, so we collected more, but they raised a higher percentage of their goal, so they won :( ."]

Other schools in the district involved in this drive were the Turners Falls High School, Hillcrest Elementary School, Sheffield Elementary School, and Gill Elementary School.

All in all, our district collected 1,500 items for Montague Catholic Social Ministries. The Great Falls Middle School collected the most: a total of 606 items. That is awesome!

As Lesley Cogswell – a parent, a member of the Friends of Sheffield and Friends of Hillcrest, and a very enthusiastic and active member of our community – said, “We chose this time of year because it seems like it is the most important time of need, and a time of giving. All this food will keep their pantry full until March!”

I wondered why they picked Montague Catholic Social Ministries. “Last year we did one with them, but only some local schools contributed,” Cogswell said. “So this year we made it a much bigger thing and we committed to filling the shelves at MCSM for a second year!”

Fun fact: In May 2017, the entire school district was awarded MCSM’s “Volunteer of the Year” award for our contributions to their food pantry.

My little sister Markie goes to Sheffield Elementary School. “I’ll tell you how the food drive worked at Sheffield,” she said. “You bring your food you brought into your classroom, and then you put your food in the box your teacher has in your classroom, and they all collect it on Friday. I brought in food because we’re competing in a competition. It’s grade versus grade.” The student council was a huge help with the drive at Sheffield under the direction of the assistant principal, Mrs. Limoges.

Cogswell said that every Friday at Gill Elementary School, Jen Audley from the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership and her stepson Emmett Larkin-Harmon would go to Gill, check all the food’s expiration dates, and count everything up. They were a tremendous help.

At Hillcrest and Sheffield, Lesley Cogswell and her brother Ryan McCord would gather all the food they had collected that week, and bring it to MCSM. A few first-graders from Hillcrest brought food to the truck each week, too! McCord, Geralyn Johnson, Janice George, and Cogswell picked the food up at Great Falls Middle School (GFMS), too.

Hillcrest students helping

This food drive was really a fantastic way to bring the community together. The drive lasted for about three weeks: pretty much all schools started around November 20, and ended by December 15. Mary Conway, MCSM’s Basic Needs Coordinator, was very appreciative of the help our school district gave to the community.

The way the food drive worked in my CPR is that Mr. Brewster, who taught my CPR, had two cardboard boxes: one that said Students, and one that said Staff. The students brought their donations in the student bin, and the staff put theirs in the staff bin.

The student council at GFMS, led by Ms. Mason and Ms. Krems, was in charge of getting people excited about the food drive and organizing it. “Our Student Council members have been really invested and have expressed how good this type of community work makes them feel,” Ms. Mason said. “They are excited to collect and count all the donations on Friday, and fill out our progress charts, which they have designed to look like Campbell’s Soup cans.”

One of Markie’s best friends at Sheffield, Ethan Damkoehler, was very excited about the food drive. “I was in this grocery store, and I went to an aisle that had mac and cheese and ravioli,” Ethan said. “So I told my mom that none of the people in my class bring food in for the food drive.

Sheffield Elementary School's Silver Can Award

“I wanted to get some macaroni and ravioli because it was a competition – the grades were racing to see which grade could collect the most food, so I wanted to get food so our grade would be winning. So we got two packs of mac and cheese, and two packs of ravioli. My grade [third grade] ended up being in second place!”

The third grade was very close to winning, but the fourth grade ended up pulling ahead in the last week. They will be awarded with the Silver Can Award.

Even though the food drive is over, you can still help! Donate to MCSM, or to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. These organizations help so many people in need. Who knows – maybe what you donate will go to someone who works with you, or to the person who sits right next to you in school!

Youth Employment

posted May 2, 2017, 2:16 PM by Jen Audley   [ updated May 3, 2017, 10:04 AM ]

Youth working hard at All Out Adventure! Youth Works
At our March 2017 Partnership Meeting, several guest speakers helped us learn more about youth employment programs and opportunities in our community. Thanks to Donna Dusell of the Franklin Hampshire Employment Board, Lev Ben-Ezra of Community Action Youth Programs, Ricia Elwell, Community Action’s Summer Jobs and Beyond Program Specialist for Turners Falls, and Dana Lee Mengwasser of The Brick House Community Resource Center for contributing! Here is some of what we learned:

Teens these days don’t have the same kinds of opportunities to work that we had. Adults at our meeting reminisced about the first paying jobs we held in middle and high school – bagging groceries, working on farms, in offices, at restaurants, and with children in various ways – and then we learned that, for better and for worse, having an after school or summer job is no longer the norm for local teens. The percentage of Massachusetts youth aged 15-19 who work declined from 57% in 1980 to 50% in 2000 and is down to 25% currently. Plus, nowadays young people who have jobs tend to come from more affluent families.  Read more about this topic here: http://fhyouth.org/drupal/read-research-youth-employmentunemployment

A positive early employment experience can be a powerful protective factor. When youth have opportunities to work in environments that are supportive, healthy, and positive, they benefit in many different ways. In addition to earning money and simply being occupied, real life work experiences help youth develop organizational and interpersonal skills, forge relationships with adult mentors, and demonstrate to themselves and others that they are capable of setting and reaching life goals. Or, as Ian, a participant in the 2016 Summer Jobs and Beyond program, described it: “feeling like I’m getting my life started.” 

Our community has some great resources! While the pool of state and federal funding for youth employment programs has shrunk significantly, local youth have access to some amazing opportunities:

Donna Dusell, whose work connects her with 17 schools in Hampshire and Franklin counties, reported that Gill-Montague schools are doing “a great job” laying the groundwork and promoting career readiness for our middle and high school students.  She also pointed us to the Franklin Hampshire Youth Employment website - http://fhyouth.org – an awesome information hub for youth, employers, and educators.

Lev Ben Ezra gave an overview of the impressive array of programs and support Community Action Youth programs offers to youth ages 14-25 in and out of school. You can get this information from their Winter 2017 newsletter (link below) or in the “Workforce Development” section of their website, here:  http://www.communityaction.us/our-groups-programs.html

Ricia Elwell told us about “Summer Jobs and Beyond,” a remarkable opportunity for rising juniors and seniors at Turners Falls High School, and other in-school  youth (16+) who live in Gill/Montague. This year-round program offers training for youth who have little or no work experience and connects them with paid internships with local businesses -- at no cost to the business! The students and the employers also get behind-the-scenes assistance from Community Action – the goal is for both parties to have a successful experience. Dana Lee Mengwasser, who employed four young people at The Brick House last summer, including two who've continued on during the school year, reported that it has been an “awesome” experience for them so far.

This summer the Summer Jobs and Beyond program aims to match up to 35 youth from TFHS, Gill and Montague with summer employment opportunities. Check out the flier and application at the end of this post!

Community Action is also seeking local employers who’d like to participate in this summer’s program. For more information, contact Rebecca Jacobson, Employer Liaison @ 413-774-7028 x794

Parenting in the Age of Legal Marijuana

posted Mar 22, 2017, 8:37 AM by K McLaughlin   [ updated Mar 24, 2017, 1:30 PM by Jen Audley ]


flier for 4/6/17 event at FCTS
An Evening Event for Adults Who Raise, Care for and Educate Young People

Franklin County Tech School
82 Industrial Blvd, Montague, MA 

 Thursday, April 6th, 2017
5:30pm-6pm  Light Dinner
6pm-8pm  Presentation, Q&A

Community Education Forum on Marijuana

posted Oct 4, 2016, 1:56 PM by K McLaughlin   [ updated Oct 18, 2016, 10:04 AM ]

Come learn about the impact of marijuana on adolescents from local, regional and national experts.

"Residents Ask School Committee To Again Rethink Mascot" (Montague Reporter, 5/26/16)

posted Sep 16, 2016, 11:59 AM by Jen Audley   [ updated Sep 16, 2016, 12:06 PM ]

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 Tuesday 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.

“My neighbors notice when I do a good job and let me know about it.”

posted Jul 20, 2016, 1:34 PM by Jen Audley   [ updated Jul 22, 2016, 11:12 AM ]

Ad from The Montague Reporter asks "Do You think local youth said 'Yes'?"

"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

GFMS Peer Mediators Made the Front Page!

posted Mar 14, 2016, 5:14 PM by Jen Audley   [ updated Mar 14, 2016, 5:19 PM ]

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:

WICKS PHOTO Mediators (l-r) Emily Young, Alyson Murphy, Amber Taylor, Allison Wheeler, Catherine Bezio, Katie Graves, and Josh Galvin are among those who help their peers resolve conflicts in a pioneering program at Great Falls Middle School.


Mediators (l-r) Emily Young, Alyson Murphy, Amber Taylor, Allison Wheeler, Catherine Bezio, Katie Graves, and Josh Galvin are among those who help their peers resolve conflicts in a pioneering program at Great Falls Middle School.

Peer Mediation at the Middle School: Transformative, on Both Sides of the Table


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.

More February School Vacation Week Ideas

posted Feb 17, 2016, 4:50 AM by Jen Audley

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!

art to go
Did you know that in the Carnegie Library 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!

What's Open on Monday, 2/15?

posted Feb 15, 2016, 5:34 AM by Jen Audley

Lucy Terry Prince x2
The first day of school vacation week is also Presidents' Day, which means that many offices and organizations (including libraries, banks, post offices, and the FRTA bus service) will be closed. But not everyone is on holiday! If you are looking for things to do in Turners Falls, MA on Monday, 2/15, here are some ideas:

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.

It's School Vacation Week!

posted Feb 13, 2016, 2:20 PM by Jen Audley   [ updated Feb 14, 2016, 11:22 AM ]

From February 15-19, 2016 those of us who live and work with school-aged youth will have a break from our usual routine while most schools in our area are closed.

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 the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership online calendar for information on scheduled events.
  •  Like and follow our Facebook page! We’ll be highlighting and sharing ideas, resources, and programs there all week long.
  • Visit this website, especially if Facebook is not your thing. We're planning to cross-post most of the information we put on social media right on our homepage next week. 
We also hope you'll find time to enjoy and appreciate some of these wonderful places in Turners Falls next week:Thank you again for all you are doing to help make our community a better place for youth and for all!

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