Hudson police arrested resident Michael Driscoll for a “civil rights violation” mere moments after he spray painted a Nazi swastika on a jersey barrier on Pope St. in mid-November of 2017.
Three months later, a Big Red investigation has documented the existence of at least four similar symbols in Hudson High School (HHS) bathrooms. Those, however, have gone unreported to administration, joining a larger list of hate speech issues facing the school after the political and cultural upheaval of the 2016 election.
“That makes me worry that if this is happening more regularly,” Principal Brian Reagan said after seeing the Big Red’s reporting. “If this is in more bathrooms and being seen by more students, is somebody not saying something?”
Over the course of four weeks in January and February of this year, the Big Red surveyed every bathroom in the high school and found two complete swastikas etched into stalls walls. In addition to those symbols, the Big Red documented at least one racial slur, one homophobic slur, and two partially erased swastikas also scratched or drawn in bathrooms.
Reagan said the school has a clear procedure in place for documenting and removing these instances of vandalism. If a student or staff member reports the sign or slur, administrators themselves take photographs of it before asking custodians to remove it. If a custodian finds such a sign or slur first, Reagan said he expects them to take a photo or notify administration before taking further action.
“If we see that, then we want to memorialize that in some way…before [the custodians] get rid of it,” Reagan said. “But they do that pretty quickly because they want to get that off the wall.”
That process, however, Reagan said, had only taken place once as of February 15, leaving the four complete swastikas or slurs clearly written on bathroom walls.
While Reagan raised the concern that custodians are not seeing or reporting vandalism, custodian Kevin Blanchard echoed Reagan’s description of the procedure for dealing with such problems. Likewise, he expressed similar frustration with the presence of graffiti on walls.
“I don’t know why people do stuff like that,” he said. “It’s defacing the school, and the swastikas and stuff like that are a part of history that we want to move past.”
Beyond the hate symbols and hate speech documented by the Big Red, however, Reagan said such problems crept out of bathrooms and into classrooms especially in the wake of the 2016 election.
He said he and fellow administrators addressed two cases of students drawing swastikas in their classes. In one, a student “doodled” the symbol on the corner of their paper, prompting a discussion between administrators, the student, and their parents.
“[It was] sort of an education piece for that student and the parent about the power of that and the ramifications of doing such a thing,” Reagan said.
The other case, which Reagan described as much less discrete, prompted a suspension.
“[It was] done in a way that other kids saw it, and [the student] was sort of making a big deal out of it so in that case there was discipline,” he said, later adding, “You would be hard pressed to find a young person in the building who doesn’t understand that that symbol in particular is problematic, but I think we have a lot of younger students who don’t understand exactly how that can impact people.”
Lack of understanding, Reagan said, extends beyond students, even prompting arguments between administrators and parents from time to time.
“We have very heated arguments with parents who disagree with putting a student out of school for two weeks for making a comment like that,” he said. “Our position has always been very firm on that. They can disagree with us, but we’re really trying to set a strong message to students and their families that this behavior is completely unacceptable and that, while it leads to a suspension when you’re 13 or 14 years old in school, it has even bigger consequences when you’re an adult out in the world.”
Within the even larger context of classroom discussion, Reagan said, teachers have observed students emboldened by the current political climate saying once taboo things.
“Whether it be anti-semitic or homophobic or misogynistic, I hear from history teachers all the time that they’re in awe that this might come out of the mouth of a student,” he said. “Two years ago they would not have heard a student say something like that.”
In response to those comments, Reagan said Humanities Curriculum Director Todd Wallingford led multiple meetings with social studies teachers to plan responses to offensive speech in class discussions.
“How do you turn it into an academic moment?” Reagan said of the meetings’ focuses. “You don’t want to overreact, but you turn it into a moment where we all learn from the comment that was just made?”
He said the problem has improved slightly in recent months but added that he feels the presence of eighth graders in HHS made it particularly severe here. He noted that both cases of students drawing swastikas in classes that rose to administrators’ attention occurred in eighth or ninth grade classes.
“There are a lot more immature 13 year olds that are here,” he said.
Overall, Reagan said he fears the current political environment helped foster the rise in hate speech, particularly in young students. As he and his fellow administrators navigated classroom hate speech, however, he noticed the same political climate also prompted an urge to speak up that he had not seen before in his work with students.
“If there’s a plus to what we see happening in Washington, what I’ve seen as a person working with teenagers is that there is this drive among so many of them to be much more socially aware,” he said. “As a result, they say, ‘Feeling like, as a citizen, I need to tell you that this is happening, and it’s not right.’”
Elizabeth Cautela contributed additional reporting.
Katherine Neff remembers attending meetings at the UN.
She remembers her awareness of the bureaucracy of it all.
She remembers the scheduling conflicts which that bureaucracy beget.
And she remembers that, while those conflicts played out, bloody ones raged a world away.
“To know that there are children being abducted by Al Qaeda while we are trying to have a meeting…that part was frustrating,” she said.
Now a Hudson High School social studies teacher, Neff traveled around the world during and after college, holding jobs at four different organizations all loosely unified around the principle of helping war or poverty stricken communities advance. Her work acquainted her with Haitians recovering from the earthquake that devastated their country in 2011. It introduced her remotely to the plight of laborers in Zambian and El Salvadorian sugar fields and to humanitarians in Malawi opening opportunities for girls to go to school. Then, her work sent her to war torn Ugandan communities where she helped plan access to clean water.
She also landed behind desks in Washington, D.C., and New York and specifically, in meetings at the UN and supporting attendees of meetings at the US Capitol Building among other places.
Neff left international aid after years spent both stateside and abroad. But, before she did, she learned lessons that she applies to her new career as a Hudson High School history teacher.
Much of Neff’s international work focused on helping communities and their members see beyond their often restrictive circumstances to get educations or to improve their health.
In Hudson, she continues to employ that philosophy, now helping her community of students see beyond the circumstance and stereotypes that life in a free and comparatively affluent society gives them.
Early in her career, Neff collaborated with schools in Malawi working to break cycles of child marriages to get young girls into schools and careers.
These communities had, for generations, effectively sold their young daughters into those marriages. Few girls went to school. Many simply stepped from childhood into the homebound lifestyle deemed traditional for women.
Neff’s organization, Advancing Girls Education in Malawi, wanted to change that. In doing so, they set a goal to get 14 year old girls into school and, within five years, see 80% of those girls graduate and/or enter careers.
“They had good numbers of girls who were able to go to school, stay in school and go into some sort of career beyond the traditional roles that women play in Malawi,” she said. “There was enough buy in on the ground from people.”
But, she added, in seeing generations of tradition challenged, some in those communities pushed back.
“There can be backlash where people have these entrenched roles,” she said. “That is a big topic of discussion in the field of international development.”
Changing those entrenched roles proved to be a line running through much of Neff’s time in Africa.
Later in her career, while working with the Clearwater Initiative, a Ugandan NGO, Neff and her colleagues served as educators, pushing a local community to practice better hygiene with their water usage.
Waterborne illnesses ran rampant in at least one community. The stream from which they were drinking was to blame. But the community members would not stop drinking from it. It was the same stream from which their ancestors drank.
Knowing that, Neff, her organization, and the community sought solutions that kept the community drinking out of the same stream without getting sick.
In other places, Neff and her organization taught communities to keep their animals away from clean water supplies and wash their hands before using wells among other things.
“Clean water is great, but if you do not have the hygiene and sanitation and education parts down, too, clean water is ridiculous to have,” she said.
All through her international aid career, Neff taught people to look beyond the traditions and lifestyles with which they were familiar.
In Uganda and Malawi, those were generations-old traditions of drinking from the same stream. They were habits of letting livestock walk right up to riverbanks. They included an expectation that girls would skip education, marry young and never work.
In Hudson, meanwhile, most girls not only go to school, but attend college. Clean water runs from a tap. And food comes from the supermarket, rather than from a live animal by the local river. Traditions and lifestyles here clearly differ from those Ugandan ones. Their strength in shaping perceptions of the outside world, however, is just as strong.
Many she met in Uganda, Neff remembers, believed stereotypes about the outside world.
“They think the U.S is a bunch of fat people eating McDonald’s, which is not the case as all,” she said. “It’s much more complex and different than people think.”
Likewise, some of Neff’s current students hold stereotypes about the corners of the world they’ve never seen.
“Isn’t Africa just desert?” one student once asked Neff.
Using moments like those, Neff now hopes to, with her lessons, break those stereotypes American students have about the very countries she saw first-hand.
“It is just misconceptions because those are the stories we are fed growing up,” she said.
She shares pictures of Africa’s sprawling cities to show students the differences of culture, lifestyle and geography even within the continent. From time to time, she shares stories of her time there.
“I think at 14 years old, you are thinking that a lot of places are strange and far away,” she said. “They don’t have exposure to it.”
Near the end of Neff’s career abroad, tensions in South Sudan ignited into armed conflict. Roughly an hour’s travel away from such active violence, Neff began reevaluating her career path from a personal perspective.
“We were a little nervous while we were there,” she said. “Thinking about it long term, what was my career going to look like? What was my life going to look like?”
The answers to that final question continue to unfold. Neff met and married a man who, like her, saw the impact of human tragedy first hand — he is a veteran of conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
She then left Africa and came to Hudson. Neff is teaching now, her life contextualized not by systemic violence, subjugation, and inaccessible education, but by the hallmarks of suburban America.
6,500 miles removed from her informal classrooms in Uganda, however, Neff still teaches with the same mindset about broadening students’ worldviews. She finds the same joy in doing that she did in Africa.
“Being in the classroom, I am getting that same sort of feeling that I had on the ground in Uganda — the one on one, working with kids is amazing,” she said, later adding, “I love it.”
3.1.18 – 7:33 A.M – An earlier version of this article incorrectly represented Neff’s work at the UN and the US Capitol. She attended meetings at the UN and supported people who attended meetings at the US Capitol but did not technically work at either location.
Both teams celebrated when time expired on Saturday’s hockey matchup between the Hawks and Marlborough Panthers.
With a 1-1 tie, Hudson punched its ticket to the playoffs by clinching the second seed in the Quinn Conference. Marlborough, meanwhile, kept its own playoff hopes alive with their late comeback in an at times tense rivalry matchup between the teams.
“It’s unreal [to qualify for the playoffs],” said Hudson junior and forward Jameson Fecteau. “I’ve been there before, and the atmosphere is just crazy. I’m just happy that the team gets to experience it for once and actually realize that it’s not all talk and that it actually lives up to what we say it’s like.”
Hudson jumped out to an early lead when sophomore Anthony Carlman jammed a puck past Marlborough’s Owen O’Brien just over eight minutes into the game.
From there, however, O’Brien ignited frustration on the Hudson bench and in the stands when officials called off what would have been a second goal for Hudson early in the second period. As senior Kyle Lally rifled a shot past him, the Marlborough goalie kicked the net slightly off the goal line.
Officials blew the play dead against Hudson’s argument that O’Brien intentionally dislodged the net. Adding insult to injury, Hudson Head Coach Mike Nanartowich said he remembered the net coming loose at least eight times during his team’s last meeting with O’Brien and the Panthers.
“I had already spoken to the official and said, ‘Hey, in the past, he uses the post to push off, so he kicks the net off,’” Nanartowich said. “I think [the officials] were being a little too technical on that, but the call is the call. I made my point.”
Moving on from the reversed goal, Hudson held its lead through the rest of the second period and the first half of the third period before Marlborough’s Tino Pizzarella scored to tie the game.
Both teams locked down defensively in what became a highly physical conclusion to the game as the Panthers and Hawks both battled to preserve at least a tie. Nanartowich noted that he pulled at least one forward back into a defensive position on the majority of shifts in the game’s final minutes.
Marlborough’s players matched that, pushing play to the corners as time ran out.
“We didn’t want to press as much and put ourselves in a bad situation,” he said. “So we just had to shorten our bench and play three defenders down the stretch. We just wanted to be smart and manage the puck well.”
As time expired, both teams stormed the ice with Hudson’s players excitedly celebrating with goalie Ryan Gonzalez despite settling for a tie in a game they led moments earlier. After all, the team was headed back to the playoffs with many of its players now set to make their postseason debuts there.
Hudson missed the playoffs a year ago, last seeing postseason ice in a 2016 loss to Algonquin. That year’s team featured a sampling of this year’s leaders, including Fecteau, who saw considerable playing time in what was a promising freshman season.
Though excited to make that return, Fecteau said he and his team are focused on their remaining games as they work to ensure they finish the regular season in the best position possible.
“We want to get better seeding, so we’re going to just keep treating these like they’re every other game,” he said. “[We will be] trying our best, trying to win these games and pull out some more points.”
Cori Hansen scored her first goal of the 2017-2018 season less than 30 minutes into her first game of the season. Hansen hopes the goal will be one of many she scores after rising in the ranks of a girl’s hockey team changed by two major offseason departures.
Early in the season, however, she offered few words on her new role — “I like it.”
The team includes student-athletes from Hudson, Marlborough, Nashoba and Algonquin high schools but has undergone a period of transition dating back to last winter. Longtime coach Jay Monfreda left the team for a job at St. Peter Marian High School during the offseason. Perennial all-star and then Hudson junior Kayla Currin transferred out of Hudson High School before the team hit the ice again last month.
Monfreda spent eight years coaching the Tomahawks and helped build the junior varsity program that many current players used to climb onto the varsity roster. Currin, meanwhile, earned all star recognition in her freshman through junior years.
As their first season without their old head coach and their former star continues, however, coaches and players agree the team has compensated well.
“We coach who is here,” said head coach Mike Hodge, who earned a promotion from the assistant coach position with Monfreda’s departure. “We’ve got some great incoming freshman and new talent.”
Hansen has been central in that growing talent pool. After scoring just one goal a year ago, she was on pace to score at least seven times in 2017, already with a goal and an assist in her first three games.
The team meanwhile, has outscored opponents 17-9 on their way to a 5-2 record to start the year.
As Hansen has been integral in the team’s offense, fellow Hudson athlete Maggie O’Brien has joined the rotation as one of the team’s young defensemen.
O’Brien jumped straight to the varsity team this year after gaining experience on a club team prior to high school.
Though she said the transition to the co-op team has been difficult, O’Brien added that she is feeling better especially after she and her fellow defenders helped shut out King Philip High School in their season opener.
“It’s a lot more comfortable now,” O’Brien said. “It’s not as awkward as it was in the beginning. I talk to more people now, so it’s easier to communicate with each other on the ice.”
As the team continues to coalesce under its new coach and new leaders, it does so with the added challenge of being a co-op program. Hansen and Hodge, however, said the structure still allows for team unity, O’Brien said the split program made difficult the process of getting to know her teammates earlier in the year.
“It’s weird because when you’re here at school, you can talk about the practice or talk about the game, but I really can’t do that with anyone,” she said.
She added that this persists even with her Hudson teammates, as she is the school’s only freshman in the varsity lineup.
Nevertheless, after missing last year’s playoffs by just one point, this year’s Tomahawk team began this winter with the goal of uniting their 11 underclassmen under their new head coach and the group of four upperclassmen left on the team.
Despite losing leaders behind the bench and on the ice before the season began, Hodge and Hansen agree that process has been quick.
“We have a good infrastructure,” Hodge said. “[We’ve got] good assistant coaches and good leadership on this team. It’s been very seamless.”
It took a rare overtime period to settle it, but in the end, the girls basketball team remained undefeated with a 49-40 victory over Littleton.
The win improved Hudson’s record to 4-0, punctuating one of the team’s best starts to any recent season.
Hudson only secured that win, however, after coming back. They trailed 24-20 at halftime and, later, 32-30 after the third quarter. They did not tie the game until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, entering overtime knotted 38-38. Once in overtime, the Hawks scored early and then padded their lead with a series of free throws.
With the win, the Hawks turned their attention to Tantasqua, whom they hosted on Thursday.
Nancy Tobin speaks in a Hudson High School classroom. | by Dakota Antelman
by Dakota Antelman
Nancy Tobin spoke to the friends her son Scott left behind as they all mourned his death at his funeral.
She held those teens and twenty-somethings close and promised to support them if they ever needed help with the disease that took her son — substance use disorder.
“Don’t let this happen to you,” she said. “If you need me, come find me. I really would be there. I would be the person who would go and pick you up and take you to a rehab.”
Roughly eight months later, she was speaking to teens again, not at a funeral, but as a guest speaker in a Hudson High School Wellness class. Indeed, Tobin has taken her story public, joining a growing community of people touched by substance use disorder working to prevent future addictions by describing their struggles.
Families Tell Their Stories after Their Loss
Tobin said she speaks both to process her grief and to help others avoid the trauma she experienced in losing her son.
“I can either sit in the corner of a room with a blanket over my head and cry and never want to move; I fight that feeling every single day of my life now,” she said. “Or, I can stand up and I can say, ‘I’m going to go on, and I’m going to go on because my love is that strong — because Scott’s love was that strong.”
Tobin struggled alongside her son for years. He was first exposed to opioid painkillers after a terrible car accident in his senior year left him with bone breaks in his ribs, feet and wrist, a bruised lung and a concussion among other things.
He still graduated from Hudson High School that spring and moved on to Franklin Pierce University in the fall. His addiction worsened, however, once he was at college.
Over the next five years until his overdose, Scott asked for help. Unfortunately, many of the treatment centers his mother sought for him turned Scott away, saying they had no open beds.
As her son struggled to get help, Nancy Tobin said Scott told few people about his addiction.
In speaking publicly, Tobin hopes she fights the stigma surrounding drug use that she said caused Scott to keep that pain quiet.
“It’s one more thing, that, if they let it out into the open, they’ll lose any bit of credibility that they once had,” she said about drug addiction. “That’s a very hard thing to be in a situation like that. Again, why do we do that to people?”
She continued, saying that stigma persists even though recently soaring drug overdose rates have included several young people killed in Hudson alone.
“It still makes people very uncomfortable, and that discomfort makes people want to sort of still turn their head and wink and whisper about it,” Tobin said. “[They say], ‘That happened because so-and-so was hanging around with the wrong people,’ or that it was bound to happen because of something that they have heard. There is a lot of rumoring and a lot of talking. That’s the piece that has to change.”
Despite the stigma, Tobin realized her story’s effectiveness even mere minutes after her presentation to Hudson High School students. She hugged students who, she said, trembled as they thanked her and told her they knew people who struggle with addiction just as Scott did.
“I will never forget looking around into those students’ eyes and seeing them looking right into mine and feeling as though they were as open to hearing me as I was open to telling them whatever I could that might be of help to them,” she said. “They don’t feel that it’s a joke. They don’t feel that it needs to stay in the shadows. They know it’s real, and that’s what they looked like. They were afraid.”
In addition to her presentation at Hudson High School, Tobin was involved with a recent vigil for overdose victims in Marlborough. Marlborough mother Kathy Leonard, who also lost her son to an overdose, organized that vigil and currently runs a support group that Tobin attends for families of overdose victims. She has also worked with the executive director of the Addiction Referral Center, Marie Cheetham, on fundraising and awareness events for the center, which provides care for recovering addicts.
After her presentation in Hudson though, Tobin said she wants to focus mainly on small-scale, person-to-person conversations going forward.
“I want to really bring this idea of getting rid of the stigma and getting people to realize that it’s everywhere,” she said.
Addicts Tell Their Stories during Recovery
While Tobin provides the perspective of a grieving parent, Dot Fuller speaks as a recovering addict.
Fuller, like Scott Tobin, was a member of the Hudson High School Class of 2012 who struggled with heroin addiction. She remembers getting high with him when the two were younger but had been clean for just over a year when Tobin overdosed.
Part of her recovery, Fuller said, has involved separating herself from the community and acquaintances that she knew while she was using. As a result of that separation, she did not immediately know her friend Scott had died.
Fuller followed in Nancy Tobin’s footsteps, also speaking to Hudson High School Wellness students just days after Tobin’s talk.
Reflecting on her own experience as a student in Hudson, Fuller noted the absence of similar drug use prevention education even just five years ago.
“People came in, but they were all old and no stories hit home,” she said. “Maybe it just wasn’t as relevant when I was in high school, so that’s good that they’re doing more stuff about it now.”
Fuller struggled with drug addiction earlier than many of her classmates. While Nancy Tobin said Scott did not use harder drugs such as heroin until college, Fuller vividly remembers feeling out of control before even starting her sophomore year.
“It turned into a job — like a career — just getting high, not wanting to be sick anymore but not being able to do anything, even to take a shower without getting off E,” she said, using an expression used by many addicts to describe the feeling of emptiness and lethargy when sober. “I was well into that stage by the summer before sophomore year.”
With a pervading feeling that she would be punished by administrators or guidance counselors if she asked for help, and without dialogue about drug use in her school, Fuller remembers feeling disconnected from her school community.
“It was very isolating because Hudson High School was a school where everybody did sports,” she said. “Everybody was so focused on what college they were going to, so I was in Worcester a lot. I related a lot more with the inner city schools. Worcester was the closest.”
Fuller dropped out of Hudson High School before her senior year. In the ensuing years, she managed to get sober and hold a job at Tufts Medical Center. She frequented Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous meetings for support, but she once relapsed after nearly a year sober when she visited Hudson and felt a sudden urge to use again.
Now with close to two years of sobriety, Fuller feels like she has regained some of the control she lost as a teen. Still, she told students during her presentation that relapse remains a very real threat.
As she continues to push back against that threat, Fuller has made appearances like the one at Hudson High School a regular part of her life. She finds them healing.
“When I tell my story to people, I’m practicing honesty,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things to me, to be honest with myself and be like, ‘This happened, and this is where I don’t want to go back to.’ Hearing myself say it out loud is like a reminder.”
Fuller said dishonesty was a major part of her addiction, in school and outside of it. She explained, “If you asked me what I had for breakfast, I would say a bagel even when I had cereal. It was just a habit to lie.”
In addition to her presentation at Hudson High School, Fuller has spoken at rehab centers she herself attended and visited the MCI Framingham Women’s Prison to make a similar appearance. She has also spoken at other Massachusetts high schools, including Bridgewater High School.
Though she insists these presentations help her far more than they help students, Fuller has seen her story’s impact on teens and addicts.
At one point, a group of people recognized her at a coffee shop after her presentation and thanked her. One said her brother was an addict. Fuller was able to connect that person with treatment opportunities.
“It feels good,” she said. “I’ll go back and visit programs that I’ve been to and speak as an alumnus of the program. When I then go to an AA meeting or something a year later and I see them, they say, ‘Yeah, I’m still doing good.’ That feels wicked good.”
Educators Hope Speakers Change Minds
Fuller and Tobin both found their presentations to Hudson High School students to be beneficial. They only made those presentations, however, because of the willingness of the Hudson High School Wellness Department to bring guest speakers into classrooms.
Wellness teacher Dee Grassey and Curriculum Director Jeannie Graffeo agreed, however, that those recent presentations were not the result of any major changes to the Wellness department’s approach to guest speakers. Rather, they said, simple scheduling issues often decide whether speakers come to Hudson High School.
Hudson’s rotating block schedule does make it difficult for guests to speak to all of a teacher’s classes, which often do not all meet on a given day.
Still, Grassey said the staff’s attitude toward such guest speakers has changed as substance use disorder has affected former Hudson students.
“We couldn’t just be [saying], ‘No, no, no,’” she said. “Kids have to hear real life experiences in order to connect. You have to be able to put yourself in that person’s situation and go, ‘I’ve done that. I’ve been there.’”
Having taught in Hudson since 1994, Grassey said the current wellness curriculum is much better now than it was years ago.
Nevertheless, she and other wellness educators agree that the schools need to devote more energy towards improving student health. Otherwise, Grassey fears, student drug use will only continue.
“I get it,” she said. “If it’s reading, writing and arithmetic over health education, health education is going to get cut. But I think the schools over the years have to take some of this responsibility that, when they’re not consistent, this is the stuff that happens.”
For Tobin, an educator herself, schools also need to change the atmosphere surrounding conversations about drug use.
“[Students] come here, and they can breathe when they come here because we don’t always know what goes on in their lives outside of here,” she said. “Let’s also make it a place where, if they need that kind of help, they can ask for it here and not be afraid of the repercussions.”
She proposed expanding drug use prevention education into Hudson’s middle school curriculum and bringing in public speakers to address staff in an effort to change faculty biases about drug use.
For Graffeo, health is crucial to the success of a student body. As drug use persists and continues to kill many young people nationwide, she wants to bring a better awareness of student health into education.
“What’s the first thing we ask about children when they’re born — are you healthy?” she said. “As we go through education, one common piece is that sometimes we forget that and we focus on test scores. We focus on all these other things, and we forget the fundamental building block, which is health.”
As Crisis Continues, Those Left behind Speak to Save Lives
The Hudson Public Schools has said it will not release hard data on student drug use collected by last year’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, meaning it is difficult to determine the immediate local impact of addicts and their families telling their stories. Still, Superintendent Marco Rodrigues said in a presentation on the data that drug use rates among Hudson students are trending downward.
Though school committee members and teachers agree that is a positive sign, the school committee also agreed during that same presentation that the Hudson Public Schools must keep working until those rates reach zero.
According to national data, that goal is a distant one. Last year, 64,000 people died from drug overdoses according to the New York Times, an increase of roughly 12,000 from just the year before.
Scott Tobin’s death earlier this year, unfortunately, made him the 13th Hudson resident since 2012 included in that year-end data, according to a Massachusetts Department of Health report. Thus, as she grieved, Nancy Tobin found a group of Hudson and Marlborough parents already grieving similar recent losses.
Kathy Leonard in Marlborough has spoken publicly about her loss as she planned the vigil Tobin helped with this year. Cheryl Juaire of Marlborough, who lost her son in 2011, actually formed an online support group of which Tobin is a member. And Erin Holmes, who lost her son in 2016, has also spoken publicly. She works with the Hudson Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition to run events educating the community on the dangers of drug use.
Those are just a handful of the people affected personally by the opioid epidemic. In fact, the national community of grieving families and friends grows regularly as an overdose claims a new life every eight minutes, according to the 2016 data mentioned by the New York Times.
Though that is a community which, Tobin said, no one wants to join, it is also a community of people now eager to push through their grief and save lives by reaching into schools and other aspects of society.
“Something completely unfathomable has happened, and no matter how much I wish it to go away, it won’t,” Tobin said. “I just don’t want others to feel this. I just want to do something to help someone else with that big laugh that Scott had. I want that person to live.”
UPDATED: December 4, 2017 – 2:18 p.m.
There are programs and advocates available for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.
MetroWest Hope meets on the second Wednesday of each month from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at First Church of Marlborough.
Addiction Referral Center (ARC) in Marlborough offers daily meetings and a drop-in center “to enjoy fellowship and a healing, healthy environment, where one can spend time with their peers.” They also offer referrals for treatment to those struggling with addiction or their families.
ARC also maintains a 24-hour emergency hotline (1-800-640-5432).
Learn to Cope meets weekly at 7:00 p.m. at the Hudson Senior Center. It provides support and education to families of those struggling with addiction. It also offers trainings in the use of Narcan, a drug that, when administered quickly, can reverse an opioid overdose.
Students struggling with addiction can also speak to their guidance counselor for support. Guidance Director Angie Flynn said that, while guidance would inform school nurses, administration and a student’s parents in such a case, a student would not be disciplined unless they violate Hudson’s substance use policy by carrying drugs on school grounds or attending school while high.
Marco Rodrigues, in one of his first acts as superintendent, offered 12 students a seat on a new Superintendent Advisory Committee that encourages and facilitates student involvement in the district’s decision-making processes.
Meeting monthly at Hudson High School, the committee includes representatives from grades 7-12 and has already addressed issues ranging from the quality of cafeteria food to the possibility of a study hall for all grades.
“We want them to be part of the solution and perhaps better understand the process,” Rodrigues said of the group and the motivations behind its formation. “Sometimes, if there’s a problem, people will say nothing is being done. But, sometimes, nothing is being done because we can’t fix something now, but we can fix it in January, or it is something that we’re already talking about in the budget process.”
After discussing the idea during public interviews with the School Committee in March, Rodrigues solidified plans for the committee over the summer. He asked principals to select students for his committee who would not otherwise be involved in such a program.
From there, Hudson High School Principal Brian Reagan said he consulted with the school’s guidance counselors to identify students within each grade that fit that profile.
“[We were looking for] different types of students who may have an interest in leadership but maybe wouldn’t have run for student government or did run and showed interest but didn’t get elected,” he said. “There are a number of kids who, we think, maybe if we tap them, they might be good in that setting.”
In addition to the superintendent and the students chosen to advise him, HHS Assistant Principal Dan McAnespie has attended the committee’s first two meetings to potentially allow HHS administration to solve issues.
“Issues are raised, and we’re able to hear them first hand and see if we can’t address some of those issues or move them on to the Community Council,” Reagan said.
Already two meetings into their schedule, the committee will meet six more times before the end of the school year. As student representatives approach those meetings, Rodrigues said, they decide which issues get discussed.
“They need to go out and talk to other students about things,” he said. “Then whatever issues they want to bring to the table, they bring that and populate the agenda.”
Before the committee can gather those student concerns, however, Rodrigues and members agreed, it must focus on informing students that it exists.
“We don’t have the means yet to focus on getting the word out,” said senior representative Garet Mildish. “The thought was to use social media and, more importantly, to use posters which would have all of our emails so that you could contact members about an issue that you have. But we’re working on that.”
After just over one quarter of the school year, members and administrators are excited about the committee’s potential. As it continues to take shape, however, students say they are eager to see results, and administrators say they are looking forward to the new perspective students can provide on aspects of the Hudson Public Schools’ operation.
“When they have ideas, how can those ideas be incorporated into something that maybe the adults didn’t think of but the kids thought about,” Rodrigues said. “That is the kind of input that I want to see happening.”
Senior Tony Francolini said he expects to cry regardless of the results of Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Football game.
He is one of several seniors on the Hudson roster now looking back on five years spent in a program that has experienced notable ups and downs.
He cemented a spot as Hudson’s number one running back after the graduation of Jesse Nemerowicz. Francolini had a standout senior season, leading the Hawks in rushing with more than 1,000 yards.
Teammate and lineman Conner Nemerowicz made a name for himself in Hudson football even after his brother’s high school and college success. Nemerowicz’s defensive performance as a senior recently earned him all star recognition.
Senior quarterback Cory Clemons stepped into his starting role this year after the graduation of Stephen Miranda in the spring. He was Hudson’s third starting quarterback in three years, and, at times, promised to bring new dimension to his offense. Describing himself before the season as a “pass first quarterback” he frequently targeted senior receivers Spencer Cullen and Austin Berry.
All three recently spoke with the Big Red about the season so far and the upcoming 2017 Thanksgiving Day game against Marlborough.
Superintendent Marco Rodrigues touted Hudson’s success in lowering drug use and bullying rates, but he acknowledged the persistent problem of stress in Hudson students as he presented the results of last year’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey to the school committee last Tuesday.
The data released is just some of the information the survey collected. Still, it serves as a measuring stick for the district and the success of its efforts to improve student health in Hudson. Administered every other year, the release of the 2016 data comes almost exactly two years after data from the 2014 survey sparked concern and some action over mental health and drug abuse in the district.
“We look at all those indicators to understand the landscape of a school. When we look at those indicators now, they’re trending down,” Rodrigues said. “That’s encouraging. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we see a decrease in the number of incidences that we are being able to capture through the survey.”
Indeed, recent electronic cigarette use among high school students fell 12% in 2016, continuing a downward trend from a peak of 39% in 2008, the first year the survey was administered. Cigarette smoking also decreased among middle school students while rates of electronic cigarette use fell as well.
Lifetime alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drug use all continued downward trends in both middle and high school categories.
Bullying and cyberbullying rates also decreased, according to Rodrigues’s presentation.
Director of Nursing Lee Waingortin, who prepared the presentation, attributed those decreases both to improvements in wellness education and to the efforts of the Hudson Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. The Coalition grew between the 2014 and 2016 surveys and has helped organize a variety of public awareness campaigns about drug abuse, ranging from a 5k last fall, to a demonstration to parents about how to identify possible signs of drug use in teens.
“There’s no magic bullet,” Waingortin said. “But things are trending down because of efforts in the community and in the district.”
The mental health portion of the survey results, however, showed smaller gains by the district.
While Rodriguez noted a decrease in depressive symptoms and self-injury among high school students, he said stress levels remained unchanged after they spiked from 25% in 2012 to 35% in 2014.
“You don’t have easy solutions for that,” Rodrigues said. “You can council a person. You can help a person maybe manage time better or be able to do things different, but, in the end, I cannot control somebody’s personal life. I cannot control somebody’s attitude, or caseload, or job issues, or family issues, or household situation.”
In addition to high school data, stress rates among middle school students continued to increase from 11% in 2012 to 19%.
That increase persists even after the district took action to mitigate middle school students’ stress after the 2014 survey. They, specifically, implemented a three-year grant they won in 2016 allowing them to hire additional staff to help students transition into the middle school after elementary school or extended absences. Though the district has worked to address these issues, Rodrigues noted that they remain at the core of the ongoing stress issue among middle school students.
“Everything changes,” he said. “You’re in a larger environment where you rotate from class to class. I think all those things impact [middle school stress]. I don’t think it’s all of it, but it is part of it.”
While Rodrigues did address data on depressive symptoms, self-injury, and suicidal behavior, his presentation did not include the actual numbers behind those statements. It simply said that there was a “decrease in depressive symptoms and self-injury while there was no notable change in suicide attempts since 2008.”
The presentation’s summary of that data for middle school students was even more vague.
“After increasing from 2010-2014, reports of mental health problems are somewhat lower in 2016,” it said.
In the past, Hudson has released hard data on those categories. According to Waingortin, however, the district will not release that data this year.
The superintendent of each district surveyed decides what data get released publicly. Two years ago, Rodrigues’s predecessor, Jodi Fortuna, released raw data on several “key indicators,” such as suicide attempts or recent depressive symptoms. This year, however, Rodrigues decided to publish only his presentation, not the data it analyzed, according to Waingortin. As a result, the only trends publicly available are the ones specifically mentioned in the presentation.
“It’s not that anyone is trying to hide anything, but it can be misconstrued or misread by individuals who may not know the backstory and what is being done,” Waingortin said of the decision, noting that each of the 25 other districts surveyed publish varying amounts of their district-specific data.
Regardless, the Hudson Public Schools and their students are already considering possible paths forward from this year’s data.
Sophomore and student representative on the school committee, Ben Carme, said he feels little has changed since the 2014 survey, even though Hudson did emphasize mental health education in its wellness curriculum in recent years.
He hopes that, with the 2016 data, the district, among other things, solicits students’ feedback about possible remedies to student stress.
“We all know that we have to get these perfect scores for college,” said sophomore Ben Carme. “That leads to stress from eighth grade all the way up until when you’re a senior. There is no specific group to help deal with that. That’s the biggest problem.”
Waingortin, however, said Hudson’s efforts are having a positive effect on key categories. Going forward, she hopes the district can increase the community’s involvement in continuing downward trends in such areas as drug use, bullying, and some mental health categories.
“We’re certainly not letting down the efforts at all,” she said. “If anything, we need to keep on track with what the data is. So far, it’s showing good response to what we are doing. We need to continue those efforts.”