AYER -- Members of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District School Committee were treated to a Thanksgiving feast of music by Page Hilltop Elementary School pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at a recent meeting.
Pre-K teachers Melissa Ducharme, Gail Leombruno, Becky Comaner, and Brittany Hamel introduced eight of their students to sing a song about Thanksgiving.
Showcasing their knowledge of color recognition, students Colm Fallon, Alex and Abraham Feiring, Tony Mendez, Dalton Garner, Amelia Brickley, Elizabeth Chilicky and Riley Grant took turns holding up brightly colored feathers as they sang.
Kindergarten teachers Mary Wilson and Rebecca Goldthwaite then introduced Sophia Andrade and Brady Martone playing Pilgrims, and Hayden Fallon and Isabella St. John playing Native-Americans.
Hayden told the audience of proud parents and teachers that Native-Americans taught the new settlers that fire needs air. Brady explained that they taught the Pilgrims how to "make clothes colors out of berries."
Isabella and Sophia then expressed how much they had enjoyed dressing up and experiencing some of the customs of the Wampanoag and Pilgrims.
"We did lots of arts and crafts," said Sophia.
"We ate delicious food," added Isabella.
High school Spanish teachers Consuelo Walker and Gabriela Visco, with Ayer-Shirley Regional High School Principal Brian Haas, made a request that Spanish students in grades 9 through 12 be permitted
Walker made the case that the experience would tie in with what the students are learning about the culture of Mexico, and allow them to hear and practice their Spanish vocabulary, particularly "asking verbs."
We will finish our studies by going to the restaurant, and it has beautiful folk art," explained Walker. She said the restaurant has an extensive folk art collection and that the students would get to watch a 30-minute movie about how the pieces were made, both by hand by artisans and in factories.
The students would also learn how to make guacamole and salsa and enjoy an authentic Mexican meal.
The committee unanimously voted to support the field trip.
In his annual report to the committee, FLLAC Director Richard Murphy reminded its members that FLLAC stands for its original participating school districts, "Fitchburg, Leominster, Lancaster and Clinton."
Murphy explained that the collaborative now serves 11 school districts in North Central Massachusetts. The FLLAC board is made up of superintendents from the 11 member districts, including the recently added Quabbin Regional School District.
Last January, due to reports of abuses at a Merrimack Valley educational collaborative, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation aimed at preventing fraud and financial mismanagement at education collaboratives. Under the bill, collaboratives must now be managed by a board that includes one person appointed annually by each school committee, plus one member appointed by the education commissioner.
"They have asked for more school committee involvement and accountability," Murphy said. Collaboratives are also now required to file annual reports, and will be subjected to reviews every six years.
Murphy said FLLAC has been working on its annual report per the new regulations and will also be submitting an audit, which the collaborative does annually, anyway.
Over 85 percent of FLLAC's income derives from its programs for children on the autism spectrum and with developmental delays. Those educational programs and related services are for students between the ages of 4 and 22 in classrooms that are located in public school buildings.
Murphy said he is very appreciative of Ayer-Shirley's support. "You have done a very good job of accommodating our needs and space needs. That has taken a huge burden off my mind," he said.
The district currently provides six classrooms for the program, which saves the district money by providing services that are close to where students live. There are currently 17 students from Ayer-Shirley enrolled in the program.
Murphy, who lives in Ayer, congratulated the district on the approval by Ayer and Shirley voters to proceed with the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School building renovation. "I'm really pleased to see that the building is getting updated," he stated.
He added that summer space has now become available in Lunenburg in the former T.C. Passios Elementary School building, which offers students more room to play outdoors. "That has significantly decreased the number of acting-out behaviors," he said. "Now we can ask a student to sit under a tree to talk about something."
FLLAC also has the Caldwell Alternative High School/Middle School program in Fitchburg, which is a 45-day program for students with emotional behavioral concerns, limited academic success, and/or specific learning disabilities who need diagnostic placement.
I have been in special education for close to 30 years and we have very, very good programs, staff, and staff supervisors," said Murphy, citing an Autism Resource Center award recently bestowed upon Megan Carlson and her Clinton staff.
"We are proud we can keep most students local and in the least restrictive environment. Our students have been welcomed here," he said of Ayer-Shirley.
The program is also very cost-effective. I do an analysis every year and compare our program to that of other schools. Information about that will be in the annual report."
This past year, FLLAC has been emphasizing getting its students out into the community. The program has had students working at CellTreats at Phoenix Park, at Tiny's Restaurant and with the elderly.
Two years ago the program was able to buy two vans and it has recently added some coaching-type positions that will enable the collaborative to do job assessments next year.
We have been seeing more and more complicated students with psychiatric and significant behavioral issues and want to add additional supports concerning psychiatric and psychopharmacology assistance," Murphy said. "This is a trend the collaborative has seen across the state."
ASRSD Assistant Superintendent Mary Beth Hamel expressed appreciation for the FLLAC students who deliver the mail.
When they bring the mail over they get to ring the bell," said Murphy. "That's one of the perks."
Three times a week, FLLAC students are responsible for the mail runs between Ayer and Shirley. They also deliver the mail between their school, Page Hilltop, and the business office at the high school. Murphy said the students are also involved in a baking program, have a dog treat bakery, and provide the food for Ayer board meetings.