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Monday Musings: Working together to make a difference in the world

27 Feb
Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you'll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect at Western Hills Middle School.

Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you’ll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect team at Western Hills Middle School.

I know I say it often, but I truly love my job as a newspaper reporter. I love what I do every day, even on the busiest, toughest days. One of the reasons I love it is that as a reporter who focuses on school news for the Cranston Herald, I get to see some really amazing things being done in the schools. Another reason I love it is that I often get a glimpse into the educational goings-on for my own three children as I get to cover many of the big things they are involved in at school. Today’s post shares the news about a story which combines both of those perks.

My second daughter Liz has been involved in the after school extra-curricular STEM program at her middle school for both of the years she has been enrolled at the school. My youngest daughter has also joined this school year as a new sixth-grader. The club usually meets a couple of times a week and over the past four years or so that it’s been in existence the group has worked with app development, coding, drones, 3D printing, and more. The club has had a team of their students win the Verizon App Challenge “Best in State” title for several years in a row and the “Best in Region” title once as well. They have had a great reputation for winning this challenge, which provided money for the program and prizes for the kids, and over the years the club has grown to 100 or more members, with a second faculty advisor, John Worthington, recently stepping in to help out the founder, Michael Blackburn, because the numbers were so big.

This past fall, the students finished up the annual Verizon App Challenge and went right into a new challenge, the Lexus Eco Challenge. Multiple teams ranging from approximately four to six students had just two weeks to complete the Lexus Eco Challenge. This was a brand new challenge that the STEM club had never tried before and they were under the gun with just two weeks to complete the challenge before the deadline. The challenge asked the students to choose from a variety of environmental issues, such as pollution and poor air quality. They then had to work together as a team to find a possible innovative solution for the chosen problem, create a PowerPoint presentation, a prototype, a video and a Public Service Announcement (PSA) if they had extra time. You can read about all of the teams and their innovative ideas for the Lexus Eco Challenge in this article.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect. Here she is, stunned, shortly after receiving the news that their team had won.

On Friday, January 13th, Liz got an urgent request from a student at her school on behalf of Mr. Blackburn, to take a Facetime call at 3:15 pm, just minutes after she’d gotten off the school bus. It seemed odd, unusual, almost concerning, so she took the call and was given the news from Mr. Blackburn: her team, The Greenhouse Effect had won the Lexus Eco Challenge! She was stunned. We were thrilled for her. In winning, her team became one of just four middle schools and four high schools across the country to win. Each child was given a cash prize, splitting $7,000 between them. The school and the teachers were also given cash prizes. When the check arrived, along with it was a memo that said, “Thank you for making a difference in the world.” You can read about the winning team and their reactions to the news here. They are a special group of amazingly smart students.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

Now, the students are continuing their mission to make a difference in the world. The Greenhouse Effect team has taken on the next and final stage of the Lexus Eco Challenge. They are working to feed the world, and to save the world. Visiting their team recently, speaking to them, listening to them describing their project, their prototype and their end goal was humbling. I don’t think I was ever this smart as a child, this forward-thinking. I am proud to know these kids, and grateful for their teachers who go above and beyond, and then above and beyond that, every single day. You can read about their final challenge project here. I wish them all the best as a reporter, and I am proud to be able to help them spread the word about what they are doing and what they have already accomplished. I am also proud as a parent and thankful that I have the privilege to take an occasional peek into the world in which my kids spend much of their day.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project.

If you would, please also take a moment to check out The Greenhouse Effect on their blog and on a variety of social media platforms. Like them on Facebook. Read their blog. Part of their challenge involves spreading the word about their project and let everyone, everywhere know what they are doing. Please help them change the world, do your little part to help them out by visiting their sites:

Facebook

Blog

Twitter: @LexusEco,  Instagram: @The_Greenhouseeffect

Snapchat: Greenhouse_whms,  and on their YouTube channel.

Congratulations again, and best of luck to The Greenhouse Effect and to their amazing, wonderful teachers, Mr. Michael Blackburn and Mr. John Worthington.

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

 

*Thanks to The Greenhouse Effect for the use of their photos for this blog post!*

 

 

 

Fun Friday: To warm your heart and soul

10 Feb
We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we're warm and safe and all together.

We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we’re warm and safe and all together.

Today (Thursday, as I type this) was our first snow day of the school year, and tomorrow (Friday) will be our second. We had quite a storm today, with about a foot of snow falling throughout the day. It was cold and windy and snowy, but inside we had a lazy day for much of the day, and we were warm, safe and together, which is really what matters on a day like today.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some recipes with you for some nice, warm, delicious treats, since it’s so cold and snowy here. Even if it’s not snowy where you are, there’s nothing like something warm and delicious to warm your heart and soul in the winter months.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

Early in the day we had crepes, which is one of our favorite special breakfasts. They are labor intensive, so we don’t do them often, but they’re so delicious when we do. They can be made gluten free, so we make both kinds. My husband does the majority of the cooking for these, but today I did the hot bananas with the maple-brown sugar sauce and Elizabeth made the scrambled eggs, so he had some help. We put out many filling options for our crepes: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, Nutella or a Hershey’s chocolate spread, bananas, and today the maple-brown sugar bananas. Everyone can fill them as they wish.

The recipe we use is the same for both gluten free and not, but we use gluten free all-purpose flour for our gluten free crepes, specifically Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 All-Purpose Flour. This is the recipe we use:

Thanks to the New Betty Crocker Cookbook!

Thanks to the “New Betty Crocker Cookbook!”

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Tonight, my youngest daughter requested homemade chocolate pudding, which is a relatively new recipe for us, but I have posted it on the blog before. You can find it here. She’s had a sore throat and cough, and prefers the pudding to be warm, which would soothe her throat. I didn’t have a sore throat myself, but that pudding sounded good to me too, especially on a day like today, so I obliged. Another warm and soothing recipe that I make often in the winter months is homemade hot chocolate. Although I didn’t make it today, I will re-share it here anyway, since it’s been a long time since I originally posted it. It’s an absolute favorite for my family.

Finally, I had some great new articles in this week’s paper to share with you too, and they will warm your heart and soul also. You can find my latest feature from this week’s Providence Journal here, about Rachel’s Sugar Shop in Cranston. She’s got lots of great Valentine’s Day treats on deck, and she does amazing wedding, birthday and all kinds of occasion cakes, so stop by and see her if you’re local.

I have lots of stories in this week’s Cranston Herald, but this one about a family who immigrated to the United States is one of my favorites, especially with all that is in the news currently about immigration to America. I also loved doing this one about Janet Tanury, the owner of Botticelli’s, which is a local store whose tagline is “Generous clothing for the curvaceous woman.” Janet is working hard to make plus-size shopping a whole new experience for women of all ages, especially when it comes to formal wear, and her shop is wonderful, as is she. If you have a prom or formal event on the horizon, stop in and visit her in North Providence, RI or visit her website here. She’s hosting a special prom shopping event on President’s Day from 10-5pm.

You can view all of this week’s Cranston Herald stories by visiting their website, and there you will see all of my work for this week. It’s certainly been a busy one!

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It was a banner day!

30 Jan
My very first piece for the Providence Journal's Food section!

My very first piece for the Providence Journal’s Food section!

Last Wednesday was an exciting day for me, and I’m so happy to be able to share the excitement with you!

I have been working very hard over the past month or so on some great projects. Recently, I was asked to be a freelance contributor for our state newspaper, The Providence Journal. Specifically, I have been asked to write for their Food section. I have been a fan of this section for a long time now, and in past years both of my grandmothers’ recipes have been featured in it, as have my daughters’ accomplishments in various cooking competitions. The section contains great recipes, restaurant reviews and features, as well as tips and tricks for your kitchen cooking adventures, and I am so thrilled to be a part of it.

On Wednesday, my first piece, “Vive la France at Cranston’s Caffe Bon-Ami” appeared on the front page of the section. You can read the feature here. I’m so proud of this piece, and if you’re local, I highly encourage to pay a visit to Malcolm over at Caffe Bon-Ami, you’ll be glad you did! If you’re not within driving distance, be sure to check out his Facebook page!

This was such a fun project to work on!

This was such a fun project to work on!

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, I also recently agreed to take on a different sort of project for the Beacon Communications newspapers I have worked for, the Cranston Herald, the Johnston SunRise and the Warwick Beacon. I volunteered to take on this month’s special RhodyLife section, which was a bridal feature. I visited local bridal gown vendors, I spoke to brides, photographers, bakers, and explored local and widespread wedding trends. I interviewed a friend who had recently had a Harry Potter themed wedding, and their wedding story was featured in the section, front and center, so I was thrilled to see her smiling face, alongside her husband, when I opened up my paper Wednesday morning. You can read my three wedding articles here, here and here.

All in all, it was a banner day!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Wild West: The OK Corral, Grand Canyon and beyond

22 Jul
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From Texas to Arizona last week!

This week’s Cranston Herald article is online now! Click here to read about our Arizona adventures. Stay tuned for more adventures as we move along on our journey!

#crosscountryadventure2015: An early start and a taste of the south

8 Jul
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My friend Gina made us a gorgeous full sized map of the country so that we can mark all the places we've stayed on this trip.

Greetings to you from Louisiana this beautiful Wednesday! We are heading out of Louisiana and towards Texas today as we make our way west. We are now into week two of our adventure, and I’m so excited to share my recap of week one with you in this Cranston Herald article that is in today’s paper.

Have a wonderful week, and stay tuned for more blog posts in between this week’s article and next week’s about planning and preparing for our adventure!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news

6 Mar
I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I had planned a different post for today, but when I looked at my blog’s editorial calendar, I decided to switch that post for another day, and share with you some of the stories I have in this week’s newspaper. I’m very proud of my work this week, and I think the three stories tie in so well together, each telling a different piece of the same story, and I also think our story here is not so different from many of my blog readers’ stories all over.

As an education reporter, and as a former educator who lives with three current students and one current educational administrator, I get probably more of my dose of education news and perspective than many. I see educational trends and their impact from all sides. I’m in and out of classrooms from preschool through high school all week long and I sit in on meetings of all kinds both as a parent and as a reporter.

I truly love my job and I love getting to see these many sides to one story as well as to help decipher the education news and share it out to others.

Often however, I notice that many of the people making the decisions about education aren’t teachers, sometimes have never actually even taught in a classroom or run a school and oftentimes have never had children of their own.

I’ve attended forums and heard the guest speakers who have equated knowing what students are going through as students, because they have extended family who have kids, that they know what it’s like in the trenches of the classroom because they have friends who teach.

It’s always struck me as odd, and what they say they’re seeing is completely different from what I know that I’m seeing, hearing and living.

I decided recently that although our kids are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all these educational trends and decisions, it’s rare that we get to hear from them, and oftentimes when I listen to my own kids speaking of their frustrations and experiences, I wonder, “Is it just them? Is it just us?”

It’s not.

I spent the day on February 21 listening to kids talk about school for five hours. It was one of my most favorite interview days ever. I loved meeting the kids I didn’t know previously and I loved hearing their perspectives. I was glad to be able to give them a voice and in turn give a lot of the teachers and administrators a voice as well, because much of what the the teachers and administrators have been saying about the current trends in education are well reflected in the students’ opinions and experiences.

Now clearly, 11 kids does not make a scientific study about education, and I don’t pretend that it does, but it’s enough of a peek into the lives of our students to know that there is much work to be done in the world of education, and I don’t think much more of it can be done by the students.

This week our newspaper published my story, The Voices Behind the Numbers, and the response to it has been outstanding, and a relief to many adults who have wondered the same as we did: Is it just us?

Again, it is not.

Coincidentally, after I’d written and submitted that story, I met with the head of our district’s data team. She’s been in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting out all kinds of data for quite some time, but recently the big focus has been on chronic absenteeism and trying to determine what types of factors contribute to kids being out so much. A task force was assembled. I am on it representing the faith organizations in our city, but clearly I’m a parent and of course, a reporter, too, so I can give many perspectives in my role. Given the half year’s data explored thus far, the attendance task force has decided that student anxiety needs to be explored in depth, as an important contributing factor in chronic absenteeism, and our state’s department of health is on board to explore this important issue too.

I couldn’t agree more.

You can read that article here, and I do think it ties in well with our students’ perspectives from my own article. I also think that overall in our country there has been an increased concern with mental health, social and emotional wellness, and I think we need to consider that when we think about our students and the impact of the decisions being made when they trickle down to the classrooms.

And finally, I love good news in education, and I love a strong thematic unit that incorporates and encompasses good teaching and still hits all the standards. So often I am disappointed when I ask about some of my favorite classroom units and projects from past years, looking to cover them again in the new year, only to find out that they’ve been cut out of the teaching programs due to lack of time.

This article tells the story of a fabulous program for students that is taught in just one of our city’s 17 elementary schools’ fifth-grade classrooms. The classroom teacher has hung onto it for a decade, firmly believing that it’s an important foundation for his students’ learning, and I couldn’t agree more. I can guarantee you that the standards have been met by the end of this comprehensive math and writing unit, and I know that Mr. Gemma’s students will remember this learning forever and apply it to their real lives after they leave his classroom. I commend him for his continued efforts and congratulate him on this year’s latest success.

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Miss Meg’s Marinade

6 Aug
In honor of Meg's last week, a recipe from her to me.

In honor of Meg’s last week, a recipe from her to me.

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 19, 2013

Reposted today in honor of Miss Meg and her beau William and their recent wedding!!

“What’s for Dinner Wednesday” is my editor Meg’s brainchild. As my blog was in its infancy, it was Meg who asked me if I’d like to do a weekly post with my recipes for the Cranston Herald’s Facebook page.

Of course I said yes, and “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” was born.

This Friday is Meg’s last day at the Cranston Herald as she has gotten an exciting new job, working as the press secretary for our  Congressman, James Langevin.

We will miss her soooo much. So, so much. Meg is a wonderful editor, a wonderful boss. A great listener and someone who knows just what to say, how to say it, and when.

Did I mention that we’ll miss her?

Recently, Meg passed along a recipe to me for a new marinade. She found it on Allrecipes.com and said she thought we’d like it a lot and that it was easy. I said I’d try it soon, and just in time for her last “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” post, we did.

And yes, we liked it a lot.

So today, in honor of Miss Meg’s last day at work this week, I am sharing with you the recipe she shared with us.

Thank you Meg for all you’ve done and best of luck in your future! I know you will go far!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Miss Meg’s Honey Marinade

originally from Allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1″  cubes (I used chicken tenderloin and cut them into 1″ cubes.)

2 cloves garlic

5 small onions, cut into 2″ pieces

Skewers

You can add bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, or anything you’d like to your skewers!

Marinade first, skewer second.

Marinade first, skewer second. Ready to grill!

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, honey, soy sauce, and pepper. Before adding chicken, reserve a small amount of marinade to brush onto kabobs while cooking. Place the chicken, garlic, onions and peppers in the bowl, and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (the longer the better).
  2. Preheat the grill for high heat.
  3. Drain marinade from the chicken and vegetables, and discard marinade. Thread chicken and vegetables alternately onto the skewers.
  4. Lightly oil the grill grate. Place the skewers on the grill. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until chicken juices run clear. Turn and brush with reserved marinade frequently.