Thursday, May 31, 2012

Autism, literacy, farming: New blogs add to variety in the Community Media Lab

By Ed Stannard, Community Engagement Editor / Twitter: @edstannardnhr, @nhrvoices

It’s time to pay a visit to our Community Media Lab. You might be surprised at who you’ll find.

Do have a loved one with autism? Do you care about increasing literacy among our youth? Are you interested in sustainable farming? Our newest bloggers are passionate about those topics.

Shirley Blaier-Stein has a son with autism. She left her career as a lawyer to care for him, wrote a book called “Autism Mother,” and writes a blog called Autism Parents Community. We’re thrilled to add her blog to our media lab, offering those who love people with autism support and information.

It’s well known that literacy is vital to success in school and the job market. The Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven is a group of volunteers aiming to increase the ability of both children and adults to read. If you’ve considered volunteering to be a tutor, the Literacy Coalition is the place to call. And to stay abreast of what the organization is doing, bookmark Literacy, Every Day.

Melissa Waldron runs the blog Fertile Ground USA, whose motto is “Farming is a Transformative Act.” The site is chock full of information about the sustainable-agriculture movement, including urban farming.

Some of our other bloggers are promoting a cause. Actually, one, Christopher Zurcher promotes several causes in three different blogs he maintains: PeaceNews, the Progress Action Roundtable and Connecticut Environmental Headlines.

And Zurcher is not the only environmental blogger. Others on our site include Green Cities, Blue Waters from the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Yale Environment 360 by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as nature-oriented blogs such as Matthew Houskeeper’s Soundbounder and Nick Bonomo’s Shorebirder.

In politics, our bloggers read from left to right: Aldon Hynes’ Orient Lodge and Andrew Rose’s Political Insomniac, to name two.

Our bloggers’ coverage enhances the news and features the Register’s reporters bring you every day, and we’re always interested in adding local bloggers — or helping you start a blog — who have a passion to share.

Sports. The Arts. Even a blog about Charles Dickens movies. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find at

Let me or Angi Carter know if you’re interested in joining the Community Media Lab by emailing You can call me at 203-789-5743 and Angi at 203-789-5752. And check out OUR blog, Your Open Newsroom, and let us know what you think!

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Monday, May 21, 2012

New Haven schools, former board member respond to bullying

By Angela Carter, Community Engagement Editor
Facebook: Angi Carter, Community Media Lab

Let me first say what an honor it was to be invited to a special screening of the "Bully" documentary and a very moving discussion afterwards, facilitated by Brian K. Perkins, Ph.D., director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University's Teachers College Department of Organization and Leadership.

About 50 students, parents, teachers and administrators from several New Haven public schools participated in the event, held at Criterion Cinemas in New Haven, as well as Tom Ficklin, owner of The Ficklin Media Group, LLC and a blogger with the Register's Community Media Lab.

The film chronicles how the actions of bullies affected Tyler, a boy who hung himself at age 17; Alex, who is called "fish face" by his siblings and schoolmates; and Ja'Meya, a girl who fights back against bullies by secretly taking her mother's gun with her to school one day.

Dr. Perkins and several participants offer their perspective in the video below on the bullying epidemic, their impressions of the film and how they hope society will respond:


New Haven's school district has a  Safe School Climate Plan and assigns a coordinator in each school to handle bullying complaints. The district's bullying policy states, in part:

"The New Haven Public Schools requires students, staff and/or parents to report all cases of bullying immediately, to the school’s administrator, administrator’s designee, or director.
Discrimination and retaliation against an individual who reports or assists in the investigation of an act of bullying are prohibited. Teachers and other school staff who witness or receive reports of bullying are required to notify the appropriate administrator immediately. The notification must be made in writing."

Among the high school students at the screening were Sarah Farquharson, Maeve Cunningham and Arijan Ager, who all are members of the group ThinKING. The school-based organization works in partnership with the Connecticut Center for Non-violence to teach youths how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Farquharson said the group applies the methodologies of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"To watch with my students, what could be better," said Suzannah Holsenbech, an instructor for ThinKING.

If a child in your family is subjected to bullying, Connecticut law requires that a formal complaint be filed with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) within 180 days of the incident being reported.

Brian K. Perkins, Ph.D.

 Dr. Perkins is the former chairman and a professor of Education Law and Policy at Southern Connecticut State University and former member of the research faculty at Yale University School of Medicine.

He is the author of several published articles and book chapters and serves as the principal investigator and author of Where We Learn (2006), Where We Teach (2007) and What We Think (2008). His forthcoming manuscript, "Improving School Climate from the Inside Out" is under review and is scheduled for release early next year. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Grambling State University, a master's in public health from Yale School of Medicine and a doctorate in education from Columbia University's Teachers College.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

'Bully' film gets private screening and forum at Criterion Cinemas in New Haven

 Editor's Note: Brian K. Perkins, Ph.D., will facilitate a private screening and follow-up discussion of the documentary "Bully" at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday at Criterion Cinemas in New Haven. The Register's community engagement team and Community Media Lab Blogger Tom Ficklin will provide live updates via Twitter @nhrvoices and the Your Open Newsroom page on Facebook.

Keep reading for Dr. Perkins' review of "Bully" and to view the film's trailer:

Think back to your school experience. Whether it was 10 or 50 years ago, chances are that you
can remember the first and last name of at least one person that you considered a bully. The term
“bully” is as synonymous with school as is the term “teacher.” This film is certain to evoke a
whirlwind of emotions, including but not limited to anger, remorse, hope and despair. Within the
first five minutes of the opening credits I had started on a 90-minute emotional rollercoaster.
Described as a film purposed to serve as a catalyst for change — it has the potential to do serve as
an important start to a long overdue conversation. Hirsch does an incredible job of giving the
viewer an insider’s look at the school experience of several families affected by chronic bullying.
Some spoke on film as the survivors of children that committed suicide and others who were
survivors of suicide attempts and still others shared their experience as survivors of horrific
school experiences. Throughout the movie, I pondered, “Is this a hidden camera?” Only later
did I learn that all of this was filmed on a small portable camera in plain sight. I was amazed at
how openly bullying occurred throughout the film.

The three groups previously mentioned served as the themes throughout the movie with the
filmmaker sending us on junkets between the stories. In fact, the movies begins with a heartbroken
father telling the story of his son, who took is life at age 17 after being the victim of
bullying for his entire school experience. Tyler, a high-school ROTC cadet, had his entire life
ahead of him, but according to his father found little to no support from the school community
and gave up. Thereafter story after story presented the depressing theme of communities that
failed to protect these children.

Most disturbing to me, likely associated with my role as a university professor responsible for
the training and professional development of principals and urban superintendents, was the
ineffective leadership displayed by a number of school personnel including principals, assistant
principals and superintendents. Well-intentioned, but ill-prepared leaders responded to
complaints and pleas from parents with ineffective strategies to end bullying. In one scene, the
principal criticized one child for his reluctance to shake the hand of the bully after repeated
infractions. “You’re no better than he is.” she exclaimed. “He tried to apologize…” To which
the student responded, “He’s only going to do it again.”

Intentionally not structured as a single story, this film allows you to experience the pain and
trauma of the students affected and effected by bullying. If nothing else, you will walk away
acknowledging that the problem is universal and timeless. This film can truly serve as a
“catalyst for change.” I strongly recommend this film to students, teachers, parents,
administrators and communities. The Bully Project has a comprehensive viewing guide that can
assist with the conversation that should follow. The film alone won’t lead to change. The
conversation and actions that ensue are the new education imperative.

Dr. Perkins is director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University's  Teachers College Department of Organization and Leadership. He is the former chairman and professor of Education Law and Policy at Southern Connecticut State University and former member of the research faculty at Yale University School of Medicine.

He is the author of several published articles and book chapters and serves as the principal investigator and author of Where We Learn (2006), Where We Teach (2007) and What We Think (2008). His forthcoming manuscript, "Improving School Climate from the Inside Out" is under review and is scheduled for release early next year. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Grambling State University, a master's in public health from Yale School of Medicine and a doctorate in education from Columbia University's Teachers College.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day inspires readers to express their love and admiration

Happy Mother's Day! This year, we decided to celebrate the holiday by asking our readers to answer this question: What is the most important lesson your mother taught you and how have you applied it to your life?

We got more than 15 responses, many of them moving. Read Ann DeMatteo's story for more on our first-place winner LaShante James.

James' $250 gift certificate was donated by Joiya Day Spa in Hamden. We are grateful for their generosity and also for the $50 gift certificates by Leon's Restaurant on Long Wharf in New Haven, The Mochi Store in New Haven and Charli's Cupcake Factory in West Haven. Please "like" them on Facebook and pay them a visit!

Here is James' essay and those of the three runners-up and four honorable mentions.

Friday, May 11, 2012

At zoning hearing, Downtown Crossing developer and New Haveners talk jobs

By Angi Carter, Community Engagement Editor
Facebook: Angi Carter, Community Media Lab

(Update: The aldermanic Joint Finance/Legislation Committee on June 14 approved Downtown Crossing's proposed zoning map and text changes and the project's development agreement. The plan now goes to the full Board of Aldermen later this summer.)

There was only light discussion Thursday about developer Carter Winstanley's request for a zone change to create a bioscience hub at 100 College St. or the particulars of the  development agreement language.

The prospect of creating jobs dominated people's testimony during two public hearings on the proposed  $100 million "Downtown Crossing" project, to be built if approved by New Haven's Board of Aldermen, which doubles as the city's Zoning Commission.

The aldermanic chamber at City Hall was packed with New Haven residents and students, business leaders, city officials, labor organizers, environmental activists, historic preservationists and professionals who help the unemployed and underemployed.

New Haveners are hopeful that the development could bring new jobs, but they have reservations about whether they would fill them or be eclipsed by suburbanites who would commute into the city and possibly compound traffic patterns. Highway exit modifications off of Interstate 91 into downtown were not city planning officials.

"We're here talking about the zoning, but let's get real, we're here to talk about giving somebody a chance," said George Cunningham, a general contractor who owns a painting company.

Jobs and the state of the economy have also been the top issues identified by voters for the 2012 election, since the Register and its sister Connecticut papers, The Register Citizen, Middletown Press and Litchfield County Times started polling in December. As part of our new Citizens' Agenda project, we are assigning reporters to cover the priority topics chosen by voters in the 5th Congressional District and U.S. Senate races for open seats.

Winstanley, who has commuted to New Haven for 13 years from Massachusetts, where his commercial development company Winstanley Enterprises LLC and his family are based, told the Register Thursday there would be three "buckets" of jobs: construction, full-time positions created by tenant companies at the building and "follow-on"  or "multiplier" jobs such as HVAC technicians, security officers or sandwich shops, for example.

"It's all of the people employed around indistries like this," Winstanley said of the multiplier positions. "These are hard to quantify. They could be the police force. They could be almost anything."

Winstanley described the project's hiring goals and challenges during a recent meeting of the Dixwell Corridor Community Partners organization:

Winstanley Enterprises is partnering with colleges and universities such as Gateway Community College and job assistance and training programs such as Workforce Alliance and the city Commission on Equal Opportunites to identify contractors and workers who are "qualified" or "capable" and might need more training or assistance with matters such as bonding, insurance or lines of credit.

"This is about jobs for the future," said James Rawlings, a pharmacist and president of the Greater New Haven branch of the NAACP. "It's up to us as a community to prepare our young people for these careers."

James Rawlings (left at podium) and Maurice Williams of the NAACP address New Haven aldermen.
Industry in New Haven and around New England is strong in biotechnology, medicine and public health, Rawlings said, and students must be given the foundation to compete in those fields.

The Occupy movement and the labor community around the world held actions on May Day to bring attention the needs of workers and the unemployed seeking jobs. In New Haven, that was followed up last Sunday by gathering at The People's Center to discuss solidarity, New Haven's Jobs Pipeline and the 2012 Elections.

Recent panel discussion among (from left to right) Steve Thornton, a labor organizer at Waterbury Hospital; David Roy and Nollysha Canteen of the Jobs Pipeline coordinating committee; and moderator Sherman Malone.
Paula Panzarella, a resident of New Haven's West River neighborhood who is active in socio-economic and environmental advocacy, testified about her concerns over traffic management and pollution and asked the aldermen not to focus on matters of air quality and public health in their efforts to boost the city's workforce.

Business and nonprofit leaders including builder and property manager Lynn Fusco, William Placke, president of Start Community Bank, George Clark, head of the Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association, and William Ginsberg, executive director of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said the project would bring new tax revenue and contribute to long-term economic growth.

The public hearings were continued to clarify a matter related to noticing, but members of the New Haven Urban Design League said they would return when the hearings are rescheduled to present concerns around parking requirements, active uses and safe walkability, buffer zones and open space.

Contact Angela Carter at 203-789-5752 or

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