Tri-County schools graduates 10

All ten graduates at Tri-County Schools’ commencement last Wednesday shared one thing in common: they all had at least one moment when they thought they might not graduate.

“I was so close to dropping out so many times,” said Raven Fenlason, who stayed back a year due to the amount of school she skipped.

Holding her diploma after the ceremony, she’s giddy. Standing in the middle of the cafeteria that is serving as a reception hall, she’s twirling around trying to hug and talk to everyone who comes within five feet of her and thank any staff member who ventures within 10 feet.

“It’s just so surreal,” she said. “I spent so long thinking that I couldn’t do this.”

Next year, Fenalson will attended Greenfield Community College. Six more of her classmates will also be continuing their education next year.

“I am really, really excited to go to Greenfield Community College,” said Fenalson. “I never thought I would want to go to school.”

Tri-County Schools, located in Easthampton, is a school for students who have emotional or behavioral problems, according to school counselor Thomas Moore. Many of the students have been physically abused, emotionally abused, in the foster care system, or a combination of all three.

When Moore started working at Tri-County Schools three years ago, no one went to college.

“I would hear teachers say things like ‘I doubt these kids can go to college,’” said Moore.

That was when Moore, who was trained as a psychological counselor, not a college counselor, decided to change the dialogue by launching a college prep program for the students.

The year after he started the program, four out of seven graduates into college were admitted into college. But his success was short lived, as all of them ended up dropping out.

“It was a rude awakening,” said Moore. “I learned it is not enough to get them into school. That’s the easy part.”

Since then Moore has changed his approach. In order to get students interested in college, he drives them to different campuses to visit, tempting them with a day off from school. Students go twice their junior year, and as many times as it takes their senior year, he said.

“I would walk them around different campuses five, six, seven, even eight times trying to pre-teach the environment,” said Moore.

After so many students dropped out, Moore realized that the students were overwhelmed by the campuses and unable to find the resources that they needed. Therefore, he now emphasizes connecting them with the services they need, before they start classes.

Alex Fox, who will be attending Holyoke Community College in the fall, is going blind. According to Moore, Fox’s encroaching blindness made him “too scared” to consider going to college.

But, Moore did not give up. Together they visited HCC a total of eight times, before Fox decided he wanted to enroll after meeting with HCC’s Disability & Deaf Services about his blindness.

“A couple of years ago, I had no intention of going to college,” said Fox.

This was a theme reiterated throughout the hour long ceremony held in the Tri-County Schools gym where approximately 130 friends, family members, state officials and Tri-County staff members watched the graduates receive their diplomas.

Stephen Dion, the Tri-County Schools senior director, talked about the difference between failure and quitting during his speech directed at the seniors. Calling some of the seniors out by name, he briefly talked about some of their struggles and times they thought they would not graduate.

“You can fail and will continue to fail,” he said. “But if you continue to try, that’s what makes the difference.”

Fendalson agreed that trying was the most important thing.

According to Moore, when she first arrived at the school two years ago, she would sit at a desk at the end of a hallway and swear at the staff all day.

“I was really rude and disrespectful to everyone,” said Fendalson. “Then I got to know them, and I learned they are nice, caring and sweet people,”

In a speech during the ceremony, she apologized to the staff to a collective chuckle and encouraged students to give Tri-County Schools a chance.

Stephen Marion, who received the student of the year award, has high hopes for his post-high school education. Marion plans to attend HCC in the fall, and hopes to transfer to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in two years to study civil engineering.

“This school gave me the ropes to learn how to walk again,” said Marion.

Marison also received two scholarships totaling $1,300 from Mohawk, his home school district. According to Moore, Marison is the first Tri-County student to receive a scholarship from his home district.

Charles LeDuc, who will attend HCC  to study Criminal Justice Assurity and Security, received the student citizen award.

Out of the nine students from last year’s graduating class who went to community colleges, five of them are still enrolled, according to Moore. During the reception, Moore had a stack of business cards that he was handing out to parents and students, encouraging them to call him if they needed anything.

“If he changes his mind about not wanting to go to college, call me,” Moore said to one parent, who had come over to offer her thanks after the ceremony.

But Moore has a good feeling about this class’s chance of success.

“These kids should be good to go,” he said. “There is very little that can stand in their way.”

The following students graduated from Tri-County Schools on June 19: Lucius Burrell, Raven Fenlason, Alex Fox, Charles LeDuc, Stephen Marion, Stephen Maxwell, Yasmine Merced, Brandin Paradis, Joshua Suriel-Montero, and Thu VanTran.


What’s next after government withdraws funding for salmon restoration in Connecticut River?

The future of the Connecticut River Atlantic salmon population is muddy.

On Tuesday at a Connecticut River Atlantic Commission meeting, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services announced a decision to end their participation in the four-state effort to restore the once native fish species to the Connecticut River.

“We will no longer be propagating and raising salmon,” said Wendi Weber, Fish & Wildlife Region 5 director in an interview.

The FWS cited the low return rates of adult salmon to the river as the reason for exiting the program.  This year, only 50 of the approximately 6 million tiny fry and 75,000 to

90,000 larger salmon smolts stocked in 2010 throughout the Connecticut River returned from the Atlantic ocean.

The stocked fish cost the government about $2 million, according to Fish and Wildlife Regional Assistant Director for Fisheries Bill Archambault.

Approximately 1,000 fish would need to be returning annually to create a viable population.

However, the FWS decision does not necessarily mean the end of the salmon as the states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — could elect to continue with their independent efforts, according to Caleb Slater, the chair of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission’s Technical Committee.

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services saying they are not going to grow fish doesn’t mean the program is over,” said Slater.

The states could continue to raise and propagate salmon without the aid of federal services. Currently, only three state hatcheries Roger Reed State Salmon Hatchery in Palmer, Mass., the Kensington State Salmon Hatchery in Kensington, Conn. and  Roxbury Fish Culture Station in Vermont have the resources necessary to raise salmon for the Connecticut River.

For now, things are continuing as normal at the Roger Reed hatchery, according to Slater who oversees Massachusetts’s participation in the program. But, he does not know how long that will continue for.

“The bottom line is we don’t know what we are going to do,” said Slater.

The Kensington hatchery will continue to raise salmon, according to CRASC chair William Hyatt, who also represents Connecticut.

The primary goal of the facility will be to raise “broodstock” for the sport fishery in the Naugatuck and Shetucket rivers. Maintaining the program leaves hatchery with a surplus of approximately 400,000 eggs that could be used to keep a small portion of the program afloat.

“We know the problem is out in the sea, so it’s possible a small, relatively inexpensive effort might give us an idea of when it turns around,” said Hyatt.

Even with all three hatcheries continuing, the number of fry being in released in the spring would drop by at least 5 million fish, according to Hyatt.

“The states have relied heavily on the FWS for propagation, particularly Vermont and New Hampshire who never build up their own infrastructure,” said Ken Sprankle,  the Connecticut river coordinator for the FWS.

The technical committee, which is made up of biologists and geneticists, has been charged by the commission with to determine what should come next for the salmon restoration program, according to Sprankle.

“The technical committee has been charged with determining what the CRASC should do with resources that are left,” said Sprankle. “What do we have? What are some of the different options? What are the likely outcomes? And with the reduced capabilities, what does that mean for the fish genetically speaking?”

The technical committee is expected to present its findings to the commission in early October, at which point the CRASC will decide the future of the program.

“I’m hoping to continue,” said Hyatt. “But only if there is a good reason.”

However, Weber suspects the technical committee will advise the commission to give up on the salmon and refocus on other fish in the river as many of the problems facing the salmon — such as marine survival rates and large scale environmental changes — are outside of the commission’s control.

“Until the mystery of marine survival is solved, we are not going to see a recovery no matter what we do,” Weber said.

Salmon disappeared from the river in the 18th century when the construction of dams separated them from their spawning grounds.

In 1976, the government with the cooperation of the states set out to repopulate the Connecticut river using fish stock from northern rivers such as the Penobscot in Maine. Using the best science available, the scientist continued to perfect their strategy switching from smolts to fry, ending fishing for Atlantic salmon in the ocean, and using advance in genetics to better pair the fish.

In 1981, a record of 529 fish returned to the river. But after that something in the marine environment shifted, and return rates dropped to around 100 fish a year, according to Sprankle.

After 20 years of low returns with no foreseeable shift, the FWS decided it was time to cut bait.

“It was apparent to many of us that marine survival was beyond management control,” Sprankle said.

The FWS is now focusing on repurposing its biologists and three facilities, White River National Fish Hatchery in Vermont, Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in Vermont and the Richard Cronin National Fish Hatchery in Sunderland, Mass., that had been tied up in the program, according to Weber.

No one will lose their job due to the transition, Weber said.

White River Hatchery had been the top producer of salmon for the river, raising approximately 5 million fry annually, until Tropical Storm Irene closed the facility last August. When the facility reopens, it will raise trout as well as salmon for the Great Lakes.

The Eisenhower hatchery was already in the process of withdrawing.

“We already have transitioned and are transitioning,” Weber said.

The only government owned station that remains in flux is the Cronin station, located at 51 East Plumtree Road.

“Things are still up in the air,” said fishery biologist Darren Desmarais, who works at the Cronin station.

The station is currently holding onto 36 salmon that returned to the river this spring for the state of Connecticut, and approximately 20 salmon that returned to the river in spring 2011.

For these fish, it will be business as usual.

“As far as I know, we are going to spawn these fish in the fall, but that could change,” Desmarais said. At this point, where the eggs will be incubated and the fry will be raised has yet to be determined.

Study shows warmest spring on record

For Boston, Hartford and Worcester this spring was the warmest on record, according to Michael Rawlins the manager of the climate research center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For Amherst, it was the second warmest.

This is representative of a long term trend of increasingly warm spring temperatures that is consistent with an increase in greenhouse gases, according to Rawlins. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is climate change.

“But it is not that simple,” said Alan Werner, a geology professor at Mount Holyoke College. “It may be, but not necessarily.”

The new records are not staggeringly different from previous ones, edging out old records by tenths of a degree.

Boston recorded a mean temperature of 53.4 degrees Fahrenheit from March through May. A 0.2 degree difference from the the previous record set in 2010. Hartford averaged 54.3 degrees, tying the 2010 record and beating the 1991 record by 1.1 degree. Worcester exceeded its previous record of 51.0 degrees by 0.3.

Amherst’s mean temperature of 51.4 degrees was 0.7 less than the previous record set in 1991.

“The fact that this was a tenth or a few tenth degrees warmer is not tremendously impactful,” said Rawlins.

But, according to Rawlins, the trend of increasingly warm springs could be, who noted that if the average spring temperatures for the last 100 years are plotted on a graph the points would show a gradual increase in temperature.

“There has been a long term trend in spring temperatures over the past several decades that have impacts for crops, fish habitats, and so on,” said Rawlins. “Some of the impacts are beneficial, but there are also some potentially negative influences over time from global warming.”

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization of over 1,300 climate scientist from 195 nations, predicts that climate change could cause more heat waves in cities that already experience them, snow loss in the mountains and in a 5 to 20 percent increase in the yields of rain-fed agriculture.

The average meteorological temperature for spring is 48.9 degrees in Hartford, 48.1 degrees in Boston, 45.7 degrees in Worcester and 46.0 degrees in Amherst.

For Boston, Hartford and Worcester, this is the second year in a three year period that spring temperatures have broken records.

“It makes you sit up,” said Werner.

But, Werner, a paleoclimatologist who studies climate that predates the historical record, is quick to point out that warm temperatures don’t necessarily mean climate change and that cold temperatures don’t necessarily mean that climate change isn’t happening.

“It is important to understand that weather still happens despite climate change,” Werner said.

Scientists draw a distinction between weather and climate. Weather is the day to day unpredictability of what is happening outside. Climate is the long-term averages of these day to day events.

This past spring, several factors may have contributed to the warm weather.

The polar jet stream, a cold air current that usually flows through Canada and sinks into the northern U.S. for the winter, never sank this winter, causing the winter and spring to be unseasonable warm, according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass.

“Instead of air from Canada, this year the air came from the southern United States,” said Dunham.

The temperatures also could have been influenced by the La Nina, a weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean that can cause unpredictable weather in South America and primarily the southern United States, according to Rawlin. However, it could have influenced this spring.

Or, it could be a part of climate change.

Dunham attributes the warm spring to weather variability noting that “there are just some years that are warmer.”

But, Rawlins and Werner are not as quick to judge.

“It makes people crazy,” said Werner. “They want to know if this is climate change or weather, but it is not that easy.

“You have to be careful of over-interpreting the data, but on the other hand we are seeing a trend,” he said.

The Climate System Research Center predicts an equal chance of the next three months being below average, average or above average in the Northeast, according to Rawlins.

The predictions are based upon the surface temperature of the ocean, soil moisture and long term seasonal trends.

“These forecast have much less skill than a 3 or 5 day weather forecast,” he said.