RES OMers Compete

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
― Maya Angelou
On Saturday, March 17, several teams of RES students will join kids from around the state to compete in Odyssey of the Mind State Finals at Southern Connecticut State University.Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

There is a rich history of Redding students from RES, JRMS and JBHS participating in O M. Several teams have gone on to the world finals. RES teacher Matt Farina took over the helm of local participation after Francine LaMonica retired.

Each team is required to do almost every aspect on their own without “Outside Help” from parents and coaches. This includes building props, sewing costumes, painting sets, writing the scripts and solving the problem presented by the Odyssey of the Mind organization.

An exception for adult involvement is, of course, driving the students to procure their materials and to the competition. Judges are always watching when the team arrives at the school to make sure only the students unload the materials. Officials have been known to circulate in the bathrooms and waiting areas to ensure that the students are doing all preparation such as hair and makeup on their own.

Their budget must be strictly followed and documented. Even items like the clothes worn from home while in the presentations are given a value.

Christine Schwartz and Trang Stuart are coaching a team of first time competitors ranging from first to fourth grades. The team consists of Miley, Lilia, Keaton and Chloe – all in third grade, Olivia who is a fourth grader, and Jacob in second grade. They call themselves the “Redding Color Squad.”

The Color Squad chose Triathlon Travels as their challenge. In this problem, the teams will ride on and drive an original vehicle in an Odyssey-style triathlon. They will try to score in “curling,” hit the right targets when “jousting,” and “run track” by navigating a course in two directions. Between these events, the team will entertain the audience and the vehicle will change appearance. All of the action will take place in a team-created performance that features the vehicles’ triathlon travels, a commentator, and a coach.

The other problems presented this year are called: Emoji, Speak for Yourself; Classics… Mockumentary! Seriously?; Animal House; A Stellar Hangout with a Primary (K-2) problem called We’re Cooking Now

Christine and Trang are very proud of their team. Christine said, “Students learned about the brainstorming process, took democratic votes on each decision, and worked together to make it all happen. The kids learned how to use a power drill, how to cut PVC pipes and wood with a saw, discovered the wonders of zip-ties, made costumes and most of all learned how to become a unified and supportive team.”

“Spontaneous” is a part of the competition where team members get to think on their feet and outside of the box. The teams drill constantly to learn the critical skills needed for Spontaneous; but they won’t hear the problem until they enter the room.

The nature of these problems vary and could be Verbal, Hands-on or combined. Teams who have already completed the question are sworn to secrecy until the day is over so as not to provide an unfair advantage to the teams that come after them.

In between competing, the students have the opportunity to visit the science labs at SCSU. The day culminates in an awards ceremony. Two teams from each Division (grade level) and Problem go on to World Finals in Iowa in the spring.

Good luck to all the Redding teams!

The Redding Color Squad getting ready for Triathlon Travels
Olivia, Keaton, Jacob, Lilia, Miley, and Chloe.

“A moment for youth to find their voice.”

by Susan Winters

At 10 am today, Joel Barlow students will be joining students from over 2500 schools nationwide in a walkout that will last 17 minutes. They will be walking out in solidarity and in memory of the 17 victims of the Parkland shootings, just one month after the Florida tragedy occurred.

Organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March, the event is called the #Enough Walkout.

The nationwide protest is both a memorial and protest action, according to information provided by EMPOWER. The group facilitated the walkout by providing registered local student organizers with tool kits to guide them in organizing a walkout, communicating with administrators and an explanation explaining students’ rights.

ER 9 administration is allowing students to leave the classroom to participate at their own discretion. Students that do not wish to participate will stay in class where teachers will continue to instruct.

Schools like Barlow are attempting to strike a balance between interrupting the educational process and recognizing students’ desires and rights to participate in civil protest.

Teachers are prohibited by contract from joining any protest on school grounds.

Not all schools are cooperating with the protest and have forbidden participation, citing that according to school rules any student leaving the class to protest may face suspension. Although Barlow has similar rules, they are lifted in this circumstance.

The Supreme Court has held that students at public schools have a First Amendment right to express their political views but schools also have a right to ensure that learning isn’t disrupted.

Although part of EMPOWERs mandate is to draw attention and continue a national conversation on gun control and school safety, the Barlow event will center on a memorial for the fallen students.

Barlow Student Council President Mackenzie Wenzel is the point person for the walkout.

She described her desire to get involved, “I am completely distraught by the shooting in Parkland, because I couldn’t personally fathom feeling that kind of terror and insecurity in school, and I don’t want students to ever feel that way in the future.”

She added, “I decided to coordinate efforts at Barlow because I saw other young people acting around the county and I didn’t think twice, I wanted to join in the effort to help solve a problem near to my heart. I want to be apart of the generation of citizens who are showing our politicians that only pursuing their own agendas and not satisfying the wants/needs of the people is unacceptable.”

The H.S. Senior was pleased that the teachers, administrators and students she spoke to were proud that Barlow is joining these nationwide efforts.

An EMPOWER representative said “This is a moment for youth to find their voice.”

Here in CT, The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) and the Connecticut Association of Boards (CABE) compiled a list of resources for member schools to follow for support, assistance and planning. Their letter may be found here.

A few local parents are concerned that their children would be bullied if they did not join in. Wenzel said it is up to the individual student to decide if they want to participate and she hoped that any discussions on their choice would be a conversation and not a confrontation.

There has been a concern that having a school registering on the EMPOWER site is a violation of state law, even if an individual student registered the school and not the administration. Attorney Deborah Stevenson notified the New Milford School District that the basis for the violation is that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. She urged New Miilford to cancel the event. Ms. Stevensons letter is here.

New Milford High School will participate as planned.

At Barlow, the weather may preclude having the students meet outside, so for safety the days weather will determine if they meet instead in the gym.

The administration has asked that no parents or outsiders attend the walk out, including members of the press. Because of this, the League of Women Voters has cancelled its plans to be in the school to register voters

According to Wenzel, music will be playing as the students gather. Poems will be read and the names of the 17 victims will be remembered. At 10:17, students will return to class.

Age appropriate remembrances will be planned for the middle schools.

Some students felt that the event was being micromanaged by the administration and with their desire to keep it non political, saying it wasn’t so much of a walkout as a school sanctioned and arranged event. Wenzel responded that although she and her team have worked closely with Dr. Gina Pin, Barlow Head of School, it is a student lead initiative.

Wenzel has enlisted the help of fellow students Theresa Galban, Veronica Galban, Maddie Migliorino, Riley D’Agostino , Emma Boland, and Anna Speck to help coordinate the event.

She said, “This has been an incredibly positive experience,  challenging me in ways i couldn’t imagine, and teaching me things i might never have learned, about myself and the world i’m living in. Overall I’m beyond excited to be apart of such an amazing event.”

The challenge has been maintaining the incredibly difficult balance of what the students want, what the rest of the nation is doing, and the parameters of Joel Barlow High School.

left to right: Riley D’Agostino , Maddie Migliorino, Anna Speck ,
Veronica Galban, Theresa Galban, MacKenzie Wenzel

For security and safety concerns, the Redding Police will have officers stationed at all road access to Barlow, including the front drive and Turney Road.

Those not affiliated with a school may participate in “March For Our Lives,” in Washington, D.C. on March 24, with satellite events taking place across the country and internationally.

There will also be another school walkout on April 20, to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

The following were used in researching this article

School Safety Forum

Click here to view the Facebook live stream provided by hello, Redding.

Concerned parents, students and community members, numbering about 240, came to Joel Barlow High School on Tuesday to attend a Redding/ Easton School Security Forum. Close to 60 others watched from home on the live stream provided by hello, Redding.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom McMorran started out with a short presentation. He talked about putting our children first and making our buildings even safer.

Dr McMorran said that our priority was to work together to make sure Redding and Easton children were excited and happy to be in school and that they felt safe. Parents also want to feel safe and secure about their children being in the school buildings.

A website called Wait Until 8th was mentioned as a resource for parents who wondered when was the best age to give their children cell phones. Deferring unlimited access to what is happening in the world was suggested as a way to keep children’s anxiety level down. An anti bullying app called Rethink was also suggested.

Dr. McMorran said that sharing all of the details about the tightening up of the schools would be similar to leaving the key to your front door in the lock when you went on vacation.

He did share that Barlow’s large windows were now lined with a 3m shield that was less susceptible to shatter. All of the interior doors, which only lock from the outside, were double checked. Building management software called School Dude was implemented. Large boulders already present were relocated to provide a place for students to shelter in case of an emergency.

The Superintendent explained that schools were built to provide learning and to allow for a quick and smooth egress if an emergency arose. Lock Ins and lock downs were new phenomena so new ways to protect people sheltering in the building have been developed.

Steve Schnell from the Redding Police department was instrumental in installing systems where police dispatch can view the feed from school cameras.

Both Redding and Easton police departments have collaborated on safety plans with the schools.

Currently, Redding has a School Resource Officer (Officer Chris Vadas) in the middle school and a School Security Officer (Officer John Parisi) at the elementary school. Easton has one SRO (Officer Mark Pastore) that spends time in both of the lower schools. These men have an excellent rapport with the students and the programs are working well.

Dr. McMorran stated that they are very mindful of building a community where no child feels isolated or victimized Each student should feel they are part of a tribe.

The kids need to know that everything is built on a foundation of love so they can prepare for happy, capable lives as adults.

Redding’s Captain O’Donnell and Easton’s Chief Shaw went through the training protocols required for their staff.

Dr. McMorran then opened up the floor. About 2 dozen parents and students took turns sharing their thoughts and asking questions.

Most were in favor of having a Student Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to Joel Barlow High School. A concern was if the SRO would be in addition to the current security staff or would be a replacement. Dr. McMorran and Reg 9 Board Chair Mike D’Agostino explained that the security staff was an integral part of the life of the school. Replacing them was not a consideration. Their costs are covered on the school budget. Traditionally the SRO was a member of the police department and therefore covered on the town budget.

Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton said she was in favor of having SROs and SSOs in our schools. Although, as a shared resource, Easton would have to bear part of the financial burden. Easton First Selectman Adam Dunsby agreed that Easton would pay its share. Both agreed that we needed to decide the best method to keep kids safe and then we’d figure out the dollars.

Metal detectors were suggested, although Dr. McMorran had previously stated that he didn’t want to make our schools into fortresses. The idea is still under consideration.

The doors at the high school are locked during the school day but open after hours. Parents were unhappy with this policy and wanted to see the doors locked at all times.

Several Easton parents said they wanted an SRO in both of their lower schools instead of a shared officer.

Michael Klein Wassink, Senior Class President said that school spirit was down. He spoke to the need to pull students into tight knit circle so they could learn to take care of each other.

Mackenzie Wenzel, Student Body President, talked about the cultural problem students had with approaching counselors and administration if they had ideas or things to share. She said that she always felt welcome and heard but students needed to be encouraged to do the same.

Several other students made comments about school safety.

Natalie Hammond and Kim Fox, the principals of the two elementary schools spoke about reaching out to all students to make sure they get the support they need. They stressed that collaboration with parents was vital.

Redding Board of Ed member Laura Hoeing represented the Easton Redding Community Coalition Parent Committee. Hoeing explained their initiatives to educate the greater community

Mike D’Agostino thanked everyone for participating in the dialogue and coming out. He advised that this was only the first step and there would be more to come.