by Veronica Mildish with help from The Big Red staff With the prevalence of U.S. school shootings, Hudson Public Schools trained students and teachers within the community for the worst case scenario. ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training was created as an alternative to the lockdown procedure for an armed intruder. The ALICE Training Institute claims it is seen as a safer, proactive procedure which provides many options for differing situations. According to the ALICE website, the procedure that began in 2013 is used by 4,200 schools across the nation. With the help of the Hudson Police Department, Hudson High practiced this procedure on Wednesday, September 12.
Principal Jonathan Bourn announced over the loudspeaker that this was a drill and that an intruder was on the bottom floor in E pod, heading towards the dance studio. He provided a brief description, as he would in this actual situation. Teachers and students had to brainstorm what they would choose to do with that information. “I’ve only been here a short time, but the teachers I’ve spoken to really are invested in your safety and well-being,” said Principal Bourn. Students and teachers alike worked together to practice the best outcome for the simulated situation. Even with the practice, some were still in shock. “I just couldn’t imagine someone having a weapon inside our school,” said freshman Mason Cole. The drills are in place, so people know what to do in case this scenario becomes a reality. “We were prepared,” said Detective Shamus Veo after the drill concluded, “We do this to be prepared but you can always be more prepared.” Hudson police and school officials will look at what ways they can improve the training. Even with the drill, some students feel as if they still are not ready. “I don’t think I could be prepared for something like this,” said senior Angelina Vaccari, “In the moment I would freeze.” For other students, it barely affected them. “I wasn’t scared,” said sophomore Maggie Baker “I knew it was a drill and most people acted like it was a drill” Multiple people felt this way. “I felt, a little uneasy, but the general reaction from the drill wasn’t a serious one,” said junior Bruno Capatio. Some of the students were goofing off during the drill, jumping around and playing with their friends while practicing the evacuation. “That’s kind of a natural human response to what is a fairly sizable topic,” said Principal Bourn. While some students struggled with behavior other students struggled with understanding the announcements, as they are not native English speakers. “It took a few minutes, but native speakers from the class next door helped translate,” said ELL history teacher, Pamela Porter. For some of the students, they have never experienced a drill like this before. “In Brazil, we don’t do this, we don’t do tests,” said freshman Tiago De Nascimento “We just have to know what to do.” With that help, the students were able to understand what was happening and follow the practice procedure that they needed to. “I knew it was fake but I was still nervous,” said junior Maiara Carvalho. Others are also nervous; nervous that this drill could become a reality. “I feel sad that this is where society is and that it has gotten to the point where we have a drill for this,” said English teacher, Elizabeth Albota. But “protection and safety must be the priority,” as said on the ALICE website this is why the drills are done: to be prepared. “I don’t think you can ever be prepared enough,” said freshman Alessa Mauri, “We’ve gotten to the point where anything can happen at any time.”
The School Committee elections on May 11 resulted in the reelection of chairperson Glenn Maston, the end of Michele Tousignant Dufour’s tenure, and the election of Matthew McDowell and Nina Ryan.
Both McDowell and Ryan have education experience. McDowell is an assistant principal in Acton while Ryan worked in a Sudbury child care facility.
All of the newly elected candidates as well as the voters emphasized the need for communication between the School Committee and the public.
Elizabeth Cautela was one student who voted.
“I based my vote on the budget forum,” Cautela said, “which made me angry due to people saying that students didn’t matter.”
McDowell also had a reaction to the budget forum.
“When I saw the budget forum, I was surprised,” McDowell said. “The district should have had a clearer, more transparent plan.”
Maston felt differently.
“We don’t want to harm student’s experiences,” Maston said, “so the cuts made were unfortunate yet necessary.”
The cuts resulted in the public being unhappy with the School Committee. While Maston still stands by his opinion on the cuts, he does believe School Committee can learn from the cuts and repair the relationship between the public and School Committee.
“I think School Committee has learned from last time,” Maston said, “and needs to work on building a relationship with the community.”
McDowell agrees with Maston.
”We need to focus on listening and learning,” McDowell said, “so that we can find out what the public wants.”
Ryan felt that people elected her because “they wanted change. They wanted a new voice.”
She believes that “the community has a strong voice, but no one shows up to the meetings.”
While Cautela does not go to the meetings, she says that there is another place where people’s voices can be heard.
“School elections are vital,” Cautela said, “as voting lets you voice your desire for change.”
“Voting is a civic duty,” Cautela said, “so you can’t complain if you don’t vote.”
The Hudson Public Schools cut 23 teachers on April 6 – five positions at Hudson High School, 12 at Quinn, four at Farley, and two at Mulready. Four positions are being added at Quinn, four at Farley, and one at Mulready. There are one vacancy and one retirement at Hudson High School. This means the total amount of teacher cuts is 14.
“The reduction in personnel is a result of the decline in student enrollment,” says Superintendent Marco Rodriguez.
In 2018 about 11% of the district’s school population was lost to other schools, with 7.1% going to Assabet and 3.4% going to AMSA.
There will be a decrease of 108 students within the district next year. Fifty-seven students going into 9th grade will leave to attend Assabet and 33 going into 6th grade will leave to attend AMSA. The other students impacting the decrease are those graduating this year or joining the district next year.
“Students and families will always have choices,” says Rodriguez. “The plan is to create additional exciting and engaging opportunities for students, grades K – 12.”
At Quinn instead of three teams in each grade, there will be two. The Flex block at the beginning of each day will be replaced by a period of additional related arts classes. The four new positions being added at Quinn are a literacy teacher, a numeracy teacher, a STEM teacher and a humanities teacher.
Many students and people in the community aren’t thrilled with the changes Rodriguez has made.
At the school committee meeting on April 10, 12 community members spoke, five students and seven adults. On April 24, 6 community members spoke, two students and four adults.
Community members spoke about how they feel the committee didn’t approach the personnel cuts properly. At meetings, many spoke about how they don’t feel it is fair to have the cuts to teachers, but not administration. Others spoke about how they aren’t satisfied with the responses Rodriguez and other school committee members have given to their questions.
The father of sophomore George Sachs-Walor spoke at one of the school committee meetings and at the Budget Forum on May 1.
“I felt it was necessary for me to get out there, in front of the school committee,” says Kevin Walor. “I’m very passionate about education, and as a parent, I want the proper education for the children of our community.”
He feels that there is a lack of communication between the school committee and the community, making it unreasonable for them to make such drastic measures without any warning.
Celina Chaves is one of the students that spoke at the school committee meeting and the budget forum. She set up a petition to show support for the teachers. It got over 250 signatures on the paper version and 243 signatures online.
“When I learned Mr. McCardle was going to be one of the teachers to be cut, it was so infuriating and so upsetting to me,” says Chaves. “He was a big part in everyone’s life, and I started the petition.”
Rodriguez has not released the names of the teachers who are being cut to the public, yet some teachers have informed their students.
As a reaction to the cuts students have also made an Instagram account, saveourteachershhs, that has 237 followers. Dates for town meetings and students thoughts and concerns about the changes are posted.
This account has generated controversial responses, as some students believe that the cuts will keep the schools funded. What is not clear is the purpose of the cuts.
“There are no savings associated with the reduction in personnel,” says Rodriguez. “We are engaged in an ongoing process of reducing the revenue gap by identifying expenditures other than personnel to balance the budget.”
Since the beginning of the year, Rodriguez has already been able to reduce the 2.5 million dollar deficit to $549,192.
The actual budget cuts will help fund those in the “High Needs Category.” This includes those who are English language learners, economically disadvantaged or those who have disabilities.
“For the past few years, there has been a growing need to support students beyond the academic areas,” says Rodriguez. “Social/emotional learning has been an area of concern as so many students struggle academically due to other personal or health factors.”
The budgeting to help this will come into effect in the future if everything goes as planned.
The community is unsure when or whether the protests will stop.
At the budget forum on May 1, Rodriguez and many others on the school committee provided answers and information to questions, concerns, and misconceptions people within the community had.
“(I am) completely unsatisfied,” says Walor. “In their responses, they did not consider many things.”
These things that Walor is talking about include the housing market, that he feels will not benefit from the changes to the schools. As he has explained, when families are looking for houses and towns to live in, a big factor is a good school system. He feels that the situation with the school committee will hurt the schools’ appeal drastically.
At the budget forum, Walor said that the news of the personnel cuts has already spread to other towns.
People in the community attended the Town Meeting on Monday, May 7 to downvote the budget in hopes that this will help keep the teachers. The current budget passed, making it implausible that anything will change in regards to the personnel cuts.
“Teachers are our biggest asset at school,” says Chaves. “Any teacher losing their job is just a horrible circumstance.”
Despite rainy conditions, the HHS Boosters and Jr. Boosters held the first 5k color run on April 29. This community event raised 700 dollars that will go toward funding for team dinners as well as the HHS Boosters scholarship. This year there will be 13 scholarships awarded to seniors of the class of 2018.
The new internship program, which started April 3, gives seniors the opportunity throughout Term 4 to participate in a career field, and before investing time and money in that field, they see the daily responsibilities and expectations of that career.
This year, 12 students are participating. To become part of that group the students had to submit their applications in October, and shortly after Career/School Counselor Kerry Bartlett, Assistant Principal Danica Johnston, Director of School Counseling Angie Flynn and Principal Brian Reagan interviewed them.
Since November, students in the program have been trying to find a location and communicate with that site.
The program started with 50 applications, but as students considered obstacles, such as coming back for AP classes, some decided not to join the program.
Students have certain guidelines and regulations. They have to have at least a C in all their classes to be considered for the program.
For the seniors who are participating, their term three grades are duplicated to term four. Teachers decide whether the student takes the final exam.
Senior Jonathan Vickrey will work with animals at Animal Adventures in Bolton. “I hope to gain an understanding of how to work with strange animals,” he says.
Senior Olivia Lepore dreams of becoming a school nurse.
“I wanted to do an internship to get more experience working with kids,” Olivia says. “I have experience working with kids because I taught CCD to five and six year olds.”
Once the students’ internships are completed, they are required to give a presentation on their experience and what they gained from participating in this.
When Dr. Reagan worked at Shrewsbury High School, they offered this internship program. The program was designed to build relationships with local businesses and to allow students to explore a certain career.
Recently math teachers Mark Krans and Cary Schwartz have been experimenting with an electronic hall pass. The hall pass is a QR code that takes the student to a Google form. Then the student puts her name in and the place she is going. When she comes back, she puts her name in again and selects “returned to classroom.” The teacher receives a message with the time the student went out and the time she came back. This is a Google form, so it doesn’t cost any money, and students don’t have to write out or carry a hall pass. It can also track how many times a class goes to the bathroom.
“This is potentially a better alternative to the regular paper hall pass because you can save paper, and there doesn’t have to be any interruptions during class,” Krans said. If a student does not have a device, then she will have to resort to using a regular paper hall pass.
Krans started the electronic hall pass on February 6. He so far hasn’t thought of presenting the idea to faculty, but he would if administration wanted him to.
There are a few problems with the hall pass. Students might not be able to connect to the internet, they could lie about their name or where they are going, or they might not have a device. If the internet isn’t working, then a student could use mobile data to get to the website. To prevent people from lying about what their name is, they need to have their Google account signed in with the device they’re using. Krans still thinks the Google form is “a few years out for improvement, but so far it’s working well.”
Community Council celebrated the addition of a new water bottle filler in the cafeteria this week after months of fundraising and planning.
“They had just discovered that their most recent fundraiser has allowed for them to get one over February break with the help of the facilities,” Community Council adviser Leah Vivirito said. They raised most of the money, $1200, in the fall with Penny Wars during Spirit Week.
“It was a priority for the Community Council because students every day use plastic water bottles, and they always get thrown into a landfill somewhere,” Community Council representative Ben Carme said. Carme set up the task force and oversaw the process.
Carme talked to Director of Facilities Leonard Belli, and they came up with a plan for the facilities team to install it. There was no extra fee for them to install it.
They got a good deal on it, paying less than half the price. The original price was about $4,000.
They chose to install the new fountain in the cafeteria because kids will use it often at lunch. It took about half a day to install it.
Many schools, such as Marlborough and Assabet, already have them.
“With having the fillers, it will better the earth and the student body,” Carme said.
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.
Next year several courses will be added to the 2018-2019 program of studies. These courses range from technology to art.
These new courses represent subjects that interest students.
“We try and listen to what courses the students want,” says Principal Brian Reagan.
The teachers choose the courses that they think will interest students. Teachers may get these ideas from what students say or what they feel will be a good selection for the students.
The new classes available for next year are as follows:
Songwriting and Music Technology
Principles of Biomedical Science
AP Physics 1
Mindfulness & Movement
H. Adv. Portuguese for Heritage Speakers IV
Computer science is a Project Lead the Way-based class offered to eighth graders and freshmen. In this course students will study mobile apps, programming, and the basics of computer science. This is the first level for computer science courses offered, and it is worth two credits.
Public Speaking will be available to all grades next year. This will be a project-based class where students will learn how to become better public speakers. They will use visual aides to help strengthen presentations, and there will also be a focus on ways to lessen speaker anxiety. This class counts as an academic elective and is worth two credits.
“This course will teach students that with a little hard work and prep, anyone can speak in front of people,” says Drama teacher Kathleen McKenzie, “and that it really isn’t as scary as they may think.”
Another course for all grades is Songwriting and Music Technology. This course will study many music types and how they were composed using computers. Students will study songwriting and how music is formed. This class counts as an academic elective and is worth two credits.
The school wanted to add this course last year but could not because of the high price of the equipment needed for the course, such as computers and keyboards.
Students who are going to be freshman and sophomores can take another Project Lead the Way-related course called Principles of Biomedical Science. In this course students will study ways to determine health conditions, using biology and medicine. This course is an academic elective, and it is worth four credits.
If there is a high interest in this class, then more courses may be added in the future to further students’ studies in biomedical science.
Adobe Illustrator is an elective offered to students who are freshman or older. In this course students will study how to use Adobe Illustrator, and they will be able to create art using the program. This class counts as an academic elective and is worth two credits.
“For the Illustrator class next year,” says technology teacher Arianna Silva, “we’ll be examining how we can use Illustrator to digitize sketches, doodles, and drawings.”
AP Physics 1 is a new option that juniors can take. They will study both the basics of physics and go more in depth. This counts as a lab science, and to be eligible for this class students must have a grade B or higher in Honors Chemistry. They must also have a current enrollment in Honors Precalculus, Honors Calculus or AP Calculus. The course is worth four credits.
The course Mindfulness and Movement will be offered to juniors and seniors. This course will consist of exercise sessions that focus on flexibility, balance, and body alignment. Students will learn breathing and relaxation techniques for stress management. Students expressed an interest in this class through a survey that they took. This counts as an academic elective and is worth two credits.
An H. Adv. Portuguese for Heritage Speakers IV course will be added for those that are eligible. It will count as an Honors language course with four credits. This course will encourage language, not only within families of those that speak Portuguese, but in the Portuguese speaking community as well.