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Holyoke YMCA takes its sweet time to ensure families of a safe environment.

2014/11/16 in Absurd, HPD, Mailbag, Press, Shame, Whistleblower, YMCA, Youth

This just in.  Trigger warning, links contained herein contain graphic depictions of rape and sexual abuse.

 

November 16, 2014

Dear YMCA Members:

There is an article in the December issue of Outside magazine that mention allegations of sexual abuse; the allegations have been made by a former YMCA Vikings Swim Team member against the team’s former head coach.

To be sure, these are disturbing allegations. We take our responsibility to children and their families very seriously at the Greater Holyoke YMCA. Under the circumstances, we feel it is appropriate to affirm our commitment to keeping kids safe.

The YMCA was notified of this allegation in December 2011. We immediately placed the employee on leave and filed the required report with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Greater Holyoke YMCA terminated the coach’s employment in July 2012 as a result of these allegations.

We have a series of measures in place to protect our families. Some examples of our standards and practices include:

  • conducting criminal background checks and reference checks on all staff prior to hiring;
  • conducting criminal background checks on all volunteers;
  • requiring all staff and volunteers to complete training on recognizing and preventing abuse;
  • prohibiting staff and volunteers from being alone with a child where they cannot be observed by others;
  • restricting staff contact with children outside of YMCA programs;
  • educating parents on how to recognize and prevent abuse; and
  • reporting any allegations or suspicions of abuse to law enforcement.

At the Greater Holyoke YMCA, the safety and well-being of children in our care always has been and always will be a top priority. We remain committed to our child safety practices. Our YMCA engages over 1500 children each year, and we work hard every day to make sure they’re happy, healthy, and safe.

As always, thank you for being a part of our YMCA family. We greatly appreciate your participation and support. Please contact me if you have questions.

Sincerely,

Kathy Viens

CEO

=======================================

Allegations. Allegations. Allegations. Allegations. Allegations.

No matter how many times you write “allegations”, I am NOT going to stop believing sexual abuse and assault survivors. There is NO doubt in my mind that Anna’s story is true. I am sickened that you did not reach out to the community when the incident happened.  Usually these types of assaults are not singular or isolated – there could be more victims out there who may have come forward if the YMCA was open and willing to even have such a conversation.  Instead you decide to take nearly THREE FULL YEARS to finally issue a statement only after local media coverage has pressured you to do so?

This was not sent to the media or published on their FB page – only sent to paying members as far as we can tell. Members can bring guests.  Children can come from two households.  Obviously, the YMCA is still trying to minimize damage here by not making a public statement.

We are sincerely disappointed and disgusted.

 

CBS 3 Springfield – WSHM

The Future of Holyoke Schools

2014/02/22 in Activism, Economics, Education, Holyoke, HPS, School Committee, Youth

The Holyoke Public School District has been in the news quite a bit lately: data walls, high-stakes testing, Level 5 status, dropout rates.  A lot of questions are left unanswered however.  And the controversy over data walls seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.  Where does all of the data for the data walls come from?  Currently, students in Holyoke lose about 20 school days per year due to varying forms of data collection.

The district has contracted with the Achievement Network to administer the ANet tests in Math and English.  There are up to four tests per year for English Language Arts (ELA) and up to four tests per year for Math.  The testing takes place in grades 2 thru 8 and requires about 3 ½ hours to administer schoolwide.  While the idea of creating tests aligned to the standards that are being taught in schools is a good one, it is unclear why such tests must cut in to the instructional time that is so valuable to the staff.  Currently, the tests are given on paper, each student getting their own printed packet.  Teachers helping to organize these testing days are out of the classroom for days before, during, and after the administration of the test.  What is the cost to the district to complete all of this testing in its eight K-8 schools?  How many instructional hours are lost throughout the year?  How much does the district pay Achievement Network?  How much paper do these tests require throughout the year?  What is the cost of placing substitute teachers in classrooms to cover for teachers that are organizing these testing days?

Another source of data is the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA.  These tests are administered twice a year for ELA and twice a year for Math.  These tests are administered on the computer to students in grades 3 thru 8.  The time required varies for each student, with testing lasting up to two hours for some students.  During this testing window, there may be no computer labs available for the general population to use in any of their classes and additional instructional time is lost.  What does the district pay to contract with NWEA to give these tests?  How many instructional hours are lost for this test?

But wait, we’re not done yet.  Students are also given the Benchmark Assessment System in grades K thru 8.  This is a test of reading fluency and reading ability that requires the English teacher or another educator to spend approximately half an hour with each student individually assessing their reading ability.  Some teachers may have as many as 120 students that need to “benchmark” twice a year.  How many instructional hours does that add up to if there are over 3,600 students in grades K thru 8 in the Holyoke Schools? Currently, most students are given the BAS only two or three times per year, but the Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative (HELI) is now suggesting as part of its literacy plan that students in grades K-3 be given the BAS at least once per month (see page 53)!  How much money did the district spend on the kits that are used to assess student reading ability?

Most people in the state are aware by now of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).  This is another set of tests given to students in grades 3 thru 8, as well as grade 10 for Math and ELA.  In addition, 5th, 8th, and 10th graders take a Science MCAS test, and students in grades 4, 7, and 10 take a Long Composition test.  Again, the big question is how many instructional hours are lost due to the testing windows, set forth by the state, for these tests?  How much money does the state spend every year on the testing materials, including the plastic rulers and Reference Sheets for the tests?  How much money is spent on grading the Open Response questions statewide?  What are the costs incurred to ship all of these “sensitive” materials to and from the schools?

Recently, Massachusetts also adopted the ACCESS test for English Language Learners (ELLs).  This test is administered only once a year, but in districts with large populations of ELL students, the testing can be very disruptive to the regular school day.  Parts of the test must be administered individually, and students are often taken out of their regular classes to take these tests.  In addition, the ELLs may not receive the instructional support from their ELL instructors that they would normally receive during the “testing window.”  If students are pulled from their regular classes, who is responsible for filling in the gaps of material they may have missed?

Lastly, every district in the state must now create District Determined Measures, or DDMs, in each subject area and grade level.  For districts receiving Race to the Top money, such as Holyoke, all DDMs that are planned to be used the following school year must be submitted to the state by this June.  DDMs can be as simple as pre and post tests for units or as complex as student portfolios.  While the DDMs should not significantly impact instructional time, they are yet one more assessment tool that students must endure.  It is not yet clear if these DDMs will eventually replace all of the other assessments (besides MCAS).

This amazing amount of data collection seems only to result in frustration on the part of students and teachers.  How much money could Holyoke use to improve its facilities, increase access to technology for students and teachers, and fill vacancies with qualified individuals if all of the money spent on data collection was saved?  How many more enriching activities could students experience, like field trips, if the money were being funneled into these so-called not-for-profit corporations?  As it stands now, more than 10% of the school year in our city is devoted to testing, testing, testing.  Don’t our students deserve better?

One product of all of the low test scores of our students is an overemphasis on English Language Arts and Math.  The logic stands that if students are not performing up to their expected grade level, they must need more time devoted to ELA and Math, right?  Unfortunately, we are sending a clear, albeit subconscious, message to our youth that Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, Physical Education, and play are not as important as ELA and Math.  If these other subjects were as important as ELA and Math, we would spend more time teaching those subjects and we’d certainly spend more time testing you in these subjects!  Currently, students in the K-8 schools in Holyoke receive at least 90 minutes per day of instruction in both ELA and Math.  In contrast, they receive just 45 minutes per day in both Science and Social Studies.  In some schools, students receive 90 minute blocks of Science and Social Studies every other day.  In other schools, students have Science for 90 minutes per day for half of the year and Social Studies 90 minutes per day for the other half of the year.  Not only is this not fair to the students at the K-8 grade levels, it is inconsistent with the scheduling at the high school levels.  Students in grades 9 thru 12 have classes that last about 50 minutes each.  Are we truly preparing our students for high school with such a large emphasis on ELA and Math?  Have the scores students achieve increased since the district implemented the longer ELA and Math blocks?

Where does all of this testing and overemphasis on Math and English lead us?  It seems to have earned the district Level 5 status for Dean Technical and Morgan Schools.  It also seems to have earned us a dropout rate much higher than the state average.  (2.2% statewide, 26.8% in Holyoke, according to Rep. Aaron Vega at the 2/3/14 School Committee Meeting, and statistics found HERE).  This should not be so surprising to the public; what do the students have to look forward to?  All of the creative classes have been taken away and been replaced with additional testing and test preparation.

What does the district do now?  Can we become a voice of leadership in battling the increasing pile of tests?  Can we urge our School Committee to take some of the money in the budget to provide the things that educators, parents, and students want and need to be successful?  Can we work to prevent more schools from entering state receivership?  Should we as parents join together and boycott these tests?

Why do we tolerate this when in other countries they have greater success with fewer resources and less standardized testing?  Take Finland as a perfect example.  Speaking to tolerance, why do we sit idle as the system continually gets worse when in Spain there are strikes and parents marching in the streets when cuts threaten to raise class size from an average of 21 students!

There there is Common Core – embraced by liberals, called a socialist agenda (see paragraph titled “The Real Agenda”) by conservatives and a corporate takeover of education by leftists.  It most certainly is the latter.  To quote Chris Hedges ~  ”…the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education – and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening.”  I find it absurd that the conservatives are blasting Obama on this claiming that it is “socialist” when clearly the push in this country by both major parties is to privatize everything – healthcare has been via ACA; social security has had several attempts made; national security is now big enough to be its own branch of government with thousands of private contractors running the show: for-profit prisons in a “free” country that locks away a greater numbers of people both in number and by per capita than any nation in history; military/defense by ending conflicts like Iraq only to replace troops with tax financed private security forces; and now a mission to destroy public school with more charter schools and these numerous testing initiatives.  The public trust continues to be chipped away for the benefit of capital.   Of course we should be upset and act on all of these attacks, but when our children are on the front lines we must fight tooth an nail – so where is the outrage?  Why is it mostly only the teachers that we hear speaking out?

Additional factoids:

In 2006, the dropout rate in Holyoke was 35%; in 2007, it was 27.7%; in 2008, it was 32.9%; in 2009, it was 34.3%; 2010: 28.4%; 2011: 26.9%; 2012: 25%; 2013: 26.8%

Since the beginning of Feb., 53 “anticipated openings” for teachers for the next school year have been posted on the district’s website.  Many of those positions need to be filled now, as teachers have retired mid-year.

 

We Are Holyoke

2012/01/31 in Activism, Alex Morse, Elections, H.U.S.H., Mayor, Rob Deza, Youth

Once again Rob Deza and I’m Nobody Productions has created another work that captures the Holyoke spirit.  …and what great source material, Alex’s speech was wonderful.

Public Enemy #1

2012/01/08 in Activism, Admin, Alex Morse, Art, Elections, H.U.S.H., Holyoke, Lies, Mayor, Mike Plaisance, The Republican, Youth

 

I have never volunteered or donated to a candidate with the exception of two and there are a number of reasons for that. First, I am an anarchist at heart…  I don’t desire the hierarchy that representative government requires – I don’t see politicians as leaders.  Second, I think that the bar is set way too low as to what is qualified and elected by our voters.  The results are actually quite absurd in my mind…  on the local and recent we have Murphy, Vacon and Bresnahan?  What the fuck are people thinking?  Not just the voters, what motivates these freaks to actually put their hat in the race?  It really boggles my mind.  If we actually had real leaders then maybe I could reconcile the first problem in local elections.  Third, there is the buyer’s remorse.  The system is the system and I participate even though it is against my better judgments I suppose.  I voted for Vega…  I voted for Deval.  I have since self-flagellated a million times for these crimes I have committed.  Of course, I admit that it is true that I have had reservations about a few people and have been rewarded.  But mostly I am cynical and disappointed when it comes to politics.  That all said, I did support and volunteer for two candidates:  Robert Reich when he ran in the Democratic (puke) Primary to potentially oppose Mitt Romney.  His failure sent me deeper into the politics-hole.  Recently I donated time, money and support to our newly elected Mayor Morse.  Why?  I thought that he embodied and supported what represented success to my city – our city – and I see him as a leader, honest, qualified and committed.  I believe in him as do many.

 

Now we exist in a bacchanalian revelry for what seems to be a victory with two big fundraising parties this week.  Yes, Morse is a win but he’s not the only thing that will bring us out of the darkness.  As a 22 year non-native resident of Holyoke I can attest to the fact that in the past five-ten years the -potential- of Holyoke has been its calling card.  Much has changed – old Holyoke is in its death throws, a thriving arts district has developed, the canal has been recognized as an asset, Victory Theater is a reality, state leadership has helped with the data center project and now Morse arrives at the right time to be the facilitator and architect of Holyoke’s renaissance.  It is not just him… as there a number of concepts that one would credit as prerequisites to the success of a city – especially with a small city like ours. With the exception of a few of the obvious offerings that municipal government is expected to provide I will name a few positives that I find extremely important, and I am sure that you, the reader, will agree with most of these: Good schools and libraries – especially the presence of a college or community college in city limits, like HCC; after-school and summer activities for kids and teens – organized by schools, non-profits or community based actions like KPAO! and the Unrestrained Youth Group; arts and culture – especially venues that foster homegrown talent and creativity; successful local small businesses that cater to the public; employment within city limits – ideally not looking towards big-box corporate part time / wage labor; public transportation within and to and from our downtown; neighbors helping neighbors; leadership that engages the population; ethnic, gender, religious diversity and acceptance; community policing; civic pride… etc.

 

That all said…  there is one very powerful and influential force that is almost wholly absent from our sphere:  Media and Journalism.  Outside of blogs and weekly papers there really is not that much coverage as the only local daily paper that focuses on Holyoke stoops to tabloid nonsense and local broadcast TV while similar is increasingly irrelevant in the internet age.  Holyoke has long been the whipping boy in the news and I do find it odd how this works…  sure, there is plenty to report about with crime, casinos, fiascoes and bad politics…  but when there is nothing else to report what do you do?  You make stupid vapid nonsense into controversy.  The Republican has nothing to offer but coupons for Dunkin’ Donuts and tabloid journalism.  It really is a shame…  it has a glorious history with Tom Wolfe, Charles Dow and Edward Bellamy (anyone that has not read Looking Backward should).  Check out this headline and story from The Republican’s best and brightest reporter, the beef-witted Mike Plaisance:  Holyoke’s new Mayor Alex Morse generates excitement, but how long before backlash arrives? When? It arrived when you wrote this bullshit “story”.

 

I would go as far as saying that The Republican is anti-Holyoke.

Unrestrained Youth Group

2011/10/16 in Activism, Holyoke, Mailbag, Press, Youth

Creating A Safe Space For Teens in Holyoke

Rob & Leidy Deza are a couple that took the decision to return back to Holyoke, and not just to live in this city but also to be active members of the community in efforts to change society by creating a possitive influence that is genuine and real. They are doing so via their efforts in organizing what has been called the Unrestrained Youth Group.

Today the [UYG] has reached a number of 32 active youth who meet at 7pm every Friday in different homes thoughtout the Holyoke community to discuss strong issues of interest to all the youth and they themselves decide on the topic of each week.

You might know Rob Deza from his photography work in Holyoke.  His wife Leidy is a UMass graduate in Neuroscience who works at Baystate Hospital.

If you are a teen or know someone that might be interested in [UYG] please contact Rob and Leidy Deza.

email: robdezaphoto@gmail.com

Or call: Rob Deza  413-847-0611 Leidy Deza   413-397-3027