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Monfredo: Worcester Public School Staff Kicks Off School Year With A Message

Sunday, August 28, 2016


There was an exciting and inspiring mood for Worcester Public School staff at the DCU Center in Worcester yesterday thanks to the resourcefulness of Superintendent Maureen Binienda.  The Worcester Public Schools final staff development hours before greeting students on Monday were spent at the DCU  listening to  inspirational speaker Elizabeth "Liz" Murray who is distinguished for having been accepted by Harvard University despite being homeless in her high school years.  She has had an Emmy-nominated movie based on her life entitled, “From Homeless to Harvard” and a number of books published.

According to Superintendent Binienda the following companies sponsored the event... UNUM, Digital Credit Union, DCU Center, Durham Bus Company, Worcester Police Department and the City of Worcester.

As one entered the auditorium you could here the buzz and the excitement from the audience and it did not stop until the 88 buses donated for the event by Durham School Services drove the staff members back to their respective schools.  As an educator all of my adult life, I have never seen so many educators and support staff so optimistic about the day’s event and the coming school year.

This was the first time that the over 3900 Worcester Public School employees, community partners and elected officials came together in one place to open up the school year.  The event was to celebrate the importance of education in the City of Worcester and to move forward in meeting the needs of our students. The electronic banners surrounding the building said it all.  “TOGETHER WE WILL MEET THE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS,” “LIFE TAKES ON THE MEANING YOUR GIVEN” AND YOU ARE BIGGER THAN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES.”

Superintendent Binienda acknowledged that her goal was for everyone to see how powerful a force we are when so many employees and community members all work together to make a difference in the life of a child.  She went on to say, “ I want the staff to make a commitment to reach every child in the Worcester Public Schools, to know  that everyone from the crossing guards, bus drivers and monitors, shop workers, cafeteria workers, instructional assistants, secretaries, custodians, teachers and administrators have an effect on every child they encounter.  Our relationship with the students should be positive and our job is to support and allow students to have high expectations.”  She then went on to say that we are one school system, one city coming together to provide the best education possible for our children.

Prior to the keynote address guest speakers included City Manager Edward Augustus, Chief of Police Steven Sargent, Senior Vice President of IDI Business Operations for Unum Steven Joseph, and the Director of School Safety Robert Pezzella.  All spoke about working together as partners.  In addition, the audience was “wowed” by the singing of the National Anthem by 10th grader Lianne Ferguson from South High School

Finally the guest speaker appeared and bringing in Elizabeth Murray .. a most articulate speaker and a motivator who from start to finish captured the hearts of her audience with her story. Murray’s parents were cocaine addicts who spent most of the family’s money on feeding their habit.  She explained to her audience that she and her sister were neglected and often lacked food and warm clothes. Her mother died of AIDS when she was 15. Then the family moved to a homeless shelter and she was eventually taken away to group homes and foster care.  Following her mother's death, Ms. Murray had what she referred as a 'What If?' moment that changed her life. The day she buried her mother, she sat with her friends and heard them complaining about things they had in their lives that she herself hadn't experienced. 

 As she explained to the audience, she vowed after her mother’s death that her life would be different.  She was resilient and refused to end up like her mother and decided that the best way to avoid that fate was to go back to school.  What if I can go back to school, she thought!  She did and was accepted into Humanities Preparatory Academy in Manhattan, an alternative school. A teacher named Perry at the school saw her grit and determination and mentored her. This teacher encouraged her to go the extra mile and told her to work hard and to be the best that she could be and not to make excuses. This teacher believed in her and saw that potential. The message to the audience was never leave any student behind and go the extra step to reach out to that student.  

Photo: twitter

Liz, despite being homeless, excelled in her high school courses in an accelerated two-year program, won a highly competitive New York Times Scholarship for needy students, and gained acceptance to Harvard University.  She is forever thankful in part to teacher named Perry who reached out and encouraged her.  After accepting the scholarship, the New York Times published the story of the scholarship winners. The article in the Times touched the hearts of the community for strangers showed up at her school with clothing, food and care packages.  Strangers even pooled their money to get Liz and her sister an apartment.  She stated I never slept on the streets ever again, thanks to folks that just wanted to lend a helping hand to someone in need.

  Liz, a most eloquent young woman and a passionate individual, mesmerized the audience with details about having to deal with seeing her parents shooting drugs into their veins and how her parents in need of drug money sold the children’s clothes and household furniture.  She told them about her commitment to go back to school, the difficulties she encountered, and the importance of persevering.

Her talk was outstanding and the audience left with a positive message about how all of us can make a difference in the lives of our students.  “Your job is not to solve the problem but to do your part in reaching out for no act of kindness is ever too small,” echoed Liz Murray. “Remember, education is the key to our students’ success.”


Related Slideshow: Experts Advice for Back to School Sanity

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Lisa Condit 

Director of Marketing and Operations at Hanover Theatre 

I have a 17-year old daughter entering her senior year in just a few short weeks. My first tip for remaining sane is to make sure I keep taking deep breaths, which happens whenever we laugh out loud…or go running before work. Both of these are essential tips, since I have to keep my sense of humor as well as perspective during the fall frenzy, especially as we sprint toward college tours and application deadlines. Equally important is to remember that this is my daughter’s future, not mine. That means she needs to be responsible for her own preparation, healthy decision making and prioritization for the year ahead. 

While I may be tempted to micromanage each task that needs to be done and chore that is avoided, that really wouldn’t prepare her for independent living or help her learn the consequences of a job well or poorly done.  But the most important thing to remember?  We all need to relax and enjoy the journey with our children.  Be sure to let them know that we believe they can do what needs to be done. They are only with us for a short time and I know I’ll be missing her desperately by this time next year. At the same time, I know that wherever she’s going, it will be the right fit for her, even if it isn’t the path I would choose.

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Maureen Binienda

Superintendent of Worcester Schools

Organize school supplies, change student daily routine so student will be used to school wake up and sleep schedule , complete and discuss summer readings with student, complete all dental , doctor appointments, but school shoes and clothing. 

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John Monfredo 

Worcester School Committee 

At home parents need to set up priorities at bedtime for sleep is at the center of a healthy lifestyle and in your child getting off to a good start at school. According to research it’s essential that parents keep a bedtime routine especially during school time. Another suggestion is an hour before bedtime put away all electronic devises to help them wind down  and use that time for reading before bed.

Parents need to develop good management practices at home for their children such as homework time and packing their backpacks before turning in and placing them at the outside door for this will take away the stress of the morning by being organized. Speaking of backpacks parents need to retrieve them as soon as their children come home and get those papers out … sign permission slips and add appointments on the family calendar. Routines can be a potent force in keeping everyone on the same track. Consider checklist for the simple tasks of who gets to use the bathroom first and what’s for breakfast.

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Abbie Goldberg Ph.D. 

Clark University, Assoc. Professor of Psychology 

On the one hand, getting back into a school routine can often be a welcome change, at least for parents, who often juggle work with unpredictable or constantly changing day care and camp schedules over the summer. On the other hand, it can be difficult for both parents and children to leave the summer behind and return to an often more structured as well as demanding schedule.

Doing everything you can to instill excitement about the school year, while also acknowledging the feelings that come along with any transition, is key. Also, doing what you can as a parent to keep sane as you transition back to school, whether it be stocking up on easy-to-pack lunch items, keeping plans at a minimum during the first few weeks back, and spending part of the weekend before the official start of school getting things in order.

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Robin Kall 

GoLocalWorcester Book Expert 

One  of the best pieces of advice I can give about getting ready and staying sane for the upcoming school year is “gradual transition.”

My mother did this with us and it works just as well today. It’s impossible to jump right into “school mode” after a summer void of schedules and late bedtimes. 

With a couple of weeks until school begins it’s a good idea to get the bedtimes going in the right direction and getting back into the routine of the day. This might include making sure the math packets are completed and how can I not mention the summer reading? The last thing you want is unhappy children cramming in the summer reading. School begins in two weeks. Now is the time.

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Kristin MacRae

GoLocalWorcester Organizing Expert 

During this back to school season, make life simple. Plan and prepare  anything you can ahead of time. Create morning and evening routines. 

Create organized spaces with simple, streamlined, functional systems  that everybody will follow. If your kids rooms aren't organized, this  would be a great time to declutter and organize their space! The less distractions they have around them, the easier it will be for them to  stay focused.

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Cristiana Quinn 

GoLocalWorcester College Admissions Expert 

Get a healthcare proxy signed before your son/daughter goes off to campus. This is critical for students over 18, otherwise you will not have access to medical info in the case of and emergency (due to healthcare privacy laws). You need to be able to speak with doctors and make decisions remotely and quickly if anything happens.

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American Psychological Association

Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home — backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money — will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches will help keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.

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Get the kids to bed. Kids need more sleep than most people realize. While children up to third grade may require up to 12 hours per night, even high schoolers still need a solid eight to 10 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Quickly address factors that may be resulting in sleep loss, such as managing a demanding schedule, feeling anxious, or using technology late at night. 

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Christine Pafumi Donovan of Care.com 

Fall into Routine Naturally 

I used to start putting The Boy to bed at his school bedtime about a week before school started. Just in case. Nowadays, he stays up until who knows when in the summer and he sleeps until 9:00 or so. Thank. God. When school starts I figure his body will get the hint when he starts bumping into walls and falling down stairs by lunchtime, then everything will work itself out and he'll be fine.


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