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Hello, Lexington!

Good morning and welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup. 

Patriots’ Day returned with all its historical fanfare last weekend and culminated in the 5:30 a.m. Battle of Lexington reenactment on a beautiful, if chilly, Monday. We’ve included a few photos below, and you’ll hear about the recipients of the big Patriots’ Day awards celebrating contributions to the community as well.

Looking ahead to other Lexington traditions, Discovery Day is around the corner; it’s scheduled for May 28 over Memorial Day Weekend. LexObserver is looking for a volunteer to organize our Discovery Day booth. If interested, please reach out to nicco@lexobserver.org, and thank you so much.

Now, here’s this week’s news.

 

IN THIS ISSUE:

  • Minuteman Cane, Outstanding Youth, White Tricorne Hat Awards celebrate Lexington community contributors of all ages at in-person Patriots’ Day celebration.
  • Who are the staff of Lextended, and how are they thinking about moving forward?
  • COVID-19 Weekly Update: Cases rise slightly in town.
  • Community Announcements: City Nature Challenge starts next week; Bike Month, other active transportation events upcoming; Commission on Disability looking for input about impacts of COVID-19; Pilgrim Church, UCC to host two Earth Week documentaries tomorrow.


Minuteman Cane, Outstanding Youth, White Tricorne Hat Awards celebrate Lexington community contributors of all ages at in-person Patriots’ Day celebration

Minuteman Cane Award goes to Leona Martin; Madelyn Lucente, Skylar Spencer receive Outstanding Youth Awards; Jim Shaw receives White Tricorne Hat

  • After Monday morning’s dramatic reenactment, residents gathered on the Battle Green again for Patriots’ Day Ceremonies at 8:15 a.m., once the sun had fully risen. 

  • Acknowledgement of Ukraine: Select Board Chair Jill Hai read a proclamation recognizing “the struggle and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people…in our observance of Patriots’ Day in April of the year 2022” to kick off the ceremonies. The proclamation recognizes that Lexington residents “have a special duty imposed on us as the living heritage of this place we inhabit, and in which the great step taken in the struggle for human dignity and independence long ago has not been forgotten.” (You can read about one Ukrainian-American of Lexington here.)

  • Minuteman Cane Award goes to Leona Martin: To be eligible for the Minuteman Cane Award, candidates must meet four criteria: be a resident of Lexington for 15 years or more; be at least 80 years old; be actively involved in the community, and be “an inspiration to others and exhibit a creative approach to life through a choice of second career, hobby or volunteerism.” This year, longtime civil rights and affordable housing advocate Leona Martin received this honor. Martin has lived in Lexington for an incredible 57 years, and is “among the few people of color who are long-time Lexington residents,” as her award recognizes. She has “played a vital and active role in promoting civil rights and multiculturalism in our town over many decades.” Martin served as Publicity Chairman for the Lexington Civil Rights Committee and the METCO program back in the 1960s, and was a founding member of the Lexington Human Rights Committee. Her accomplishments also include serving as the “first and only” Black member elected as Commissioner for the Lexington Housing Authority – a position she held for a quarter century. “It has been an honor to serve the community,” Martin said. “I’ve learned the value of knowing, helping and living peacefully with your neighbors.” In reflecting on what this moment meant to her, Martin commented that “this is an ironic occasion because of my family history.” Why the irony? Because Martin is “a descendent of Black loyalists on both sides of my family.” Martin dedicated the award to those forebears. While “my ancestors were often lost…I can truthfully say that this Black loyalists’ descendent has found, and has lived safely and mostly joyfully in the Town of Lexington.” 

  • Outstanding Youth Awards for Madelyn Lucente, Skylar Spencer: The Outstanding Youth Award recognizes graduating seniors who have committed themselves “to community service both in Lexington and our surrounding communities” while highlighting academic excellence and leadership skills. This year, two young women received the honor: Madelyn Lucente and Skylar Spencer. “Both recipients are excellent students, dedicated volunteers, strong role models and they display outstanding leadership skills,” per the award. Prior to announcing the winners, Select Board Member Suzie Barry held a moment of silence for award founder Pat Flynn, who passed away earlier this year at age 97.

  • Lucente has served on the Lexington Youth Commission for the past four years, and currently serves as its president. In addition to being student representative for Lexington’s Strategic Equity Advisory Team (SEAT), Lucente sings in several school groups and musical productions, and performed “God Bless America” to conclude the morning’s ceremonies. “To me community service isn’t just something to put on an application for college or just another graduation requirement, Community service, and the ability to give back to the town that raised me, is something that makes me who I am,” Lucente said in her comments. Community service is a family tradition; Doug Lucente currently serves as Vice Chair of the Select Board, and received the award himself 30 years ago.

  • Spencer is an accomplished student and athlete, playing on the girls basketball and softball teams and participating in the LHS Best Buddies Program and Special Olympics. She is also an active member of the Lexington Youth Commission and created the “highly successful Flamingo Project” during the pandemic last year; she “singlehandedly created the entire processing and scheduling of flamingo displays and was the key volunteer for transporting and completing the flamboyance of flamingos throughout the town for the entire month May.” For Spencer, community service means “I get the opportunity to be a part of the town magic I was so mesmerized by as a little girl.” 

  • White Tricorne Hat goes to Jim Shaw: The distinctive White Tricorne Hat Award is presented by the Lexington Lions Club to an outstanding citizen of the year who is: a current Lexington resident, not a major elected office holder, not a previous winner of the award, has demonstrated dedication to outstanding leadership and “has advanced the American way of life in Lexington by giving unselfishly of his or her time and talents over the years, beyond the normal bounds of his or her normal occupation.” This year’s award went to Jim Shaw, chair of the LexMedia Board of Directors and publisher of the Lexington Timesmagazine (previously known as the Colonial Times). Shaw has also chaired and served on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce, was a Town Meeting Member for over 30 years in four different precincts and coached Little League and football. “He’s usually behind the camera lens – well, not this year,” the presenter said. “I’m humbled,” Shaw said. He dedicated the award to his father, Dick Shaw, a longtime member of the Lions Club. “He instilled deep values about giving back into the community, and I kind of picked it up from there,” Shaw said. “These awards…they signify how important it is to give things back in time, energy and resources to the community. Communities only run successfully because of the people that prop them up.” 

  • Logo for the 250th Anniversary of the Battle of Lexington unveiled: After receiving over 40 entries in the Lex250 logo contest for high school students who live and go to school in town, the winner and two runner-ups were unveiled on Patriots’ Day. The second runner-up was Nina Abroff; the first runner up was Tasneem Ghadiali; and the winner was Arya De Francesco. The three finalists received congratulatory checks of $250, $500 and $1,000, respectively. You can see the winning design in the bottom right corner photo above this section.         

Who are the staff of Lextended, and how are they thinking about moving forward?

Three Lextended staff describe the work they do now, challenges of COVID, how current program staff may move forward

The Lexington School Committee is scheduled to vote on the recommendation for a new after school rent and programming contract at their meeting next Tuesday after postponing the vote during their April 11 meeting.

 LexObserver spoke with three full-time Lextended staff about making things work during COVID, their time in the Lexington community, their reactions to the recommendation and review process, and some of their considerations for moving forward. Kidsborough Owner and Program Administrator Christeen Rohwer was on vacation this week and could not respond to questions about the recommended program by press time. 

Inside Lextended

Ellen Grinder has worked at Lexington after school programs at Harrington Elementary School for 29 years. Before working for Lextended itself, she worked in the Harrington-specific after school program. Shortly after beginning to work for Lextended Day, she was promoted from Assistant Site Director to Site Director; she’s held that position for about a decade now. 

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to be responsible for children and their care for their entire elementary age experience,” Grinder said. After school staff are among the few educators who stick with students throughout their K-5 education, like school specialists and admin teams. Lextended is so embedded in the community that “we know of siblings before they’re born sometimes,” Grinder added.

Scott Sanchez has worked for a few different elementary schools through Lextended over the past four years. Now, he’s a Site Director at Estabrook, and feels the same deep-rooted bond to students Grinder described.

“The philosophy from the time that I started, and it goes right through now, was to just build a community,” Sanchez said. He compared the environment of Lextended to experiences from a different time, when students might hang out in neighborhoods after classes a few decades ago rather than attending after school programs; “it’s almost like, after school, we try to recreate that feeling of that neighborhood – but it’s inside the building, and it’s a little more structured,” he explained. At the same time, they “continue the work” of the educators during the school day except “maybe [it’s] a little less stressful, and it’s a little more fun, because the kids have more choice.” 

As site director, Grinder does a bit of everything, she explained: administrative meetings, taking care of attendance and scheduling, hiring, helping ensure compliance with state regulations, and supporting staff and students alike. A huge part of her role is “setting up the rest of the staff for successful interactions with all of the children,” she said. During attendance “I’ll do a wellness check on all of the children,” though they don’t realize that’s what she’s doing; “we want to make sure that they show up to us in good spirits, and looking like they had a good day.” Lextended staff coordinate and communicate pretty closely with their students’ teachers; “Sometimes the classroom teachers or aides will walk down with anyone who’s had a hard time and just give us a heads-up,” she added, stressing that they have a wonderful relationship with Harrington and all personnel. This close relationship allows them to “keep an extra eye on anyone who may either have visited the nurse during the school day, or maybe had a rough time with some social situations during the day.”

Students typically have a number of different activity options, from PE and sports, to art, to drama and musical theater, to community service. Grinder especially enjoys teaching dance. Throughout the program, they play classical versions of contemporary music: “We have some pretty killer playlists,” Grinder said.

Navigating the pandemic 

COVID has impacted Grinder’s students, and their needs. This year, “emotional and social support, and lots of active movement” have been more crucial than ever, she said. “You’re getting a lot of anxiety from these poor children; they really lost a lot of social opportunities. So, these programs are really important…You’re helping the children become social again.” 

Managing COVID requirements and risk during the first part of this school year necessitated a push and pull between encouraging children to socialize and “physically separating the children” to keep them safe. “We spent at least half of the year asking children to not behave like children are supposed to behave,” Grinder said. Contact tracing was a heavy lift too, Grinder added, especially while offering multiple different programming options. Day-to-day life in the program is just now beginning to feel “a lot more like it used to.”

There’ve been other changes, too. For instance, Grinder thinks students’ attention spans seem to have shrunk during the pandemic: “We’re finding just about 15 to 20 minutes is pretty much all that most of these children can handle [for a given activity]; their attention does not last much longer than that.” She, and other staff, have adjusted their scheduling accordingly. “They need to have a lot of flexibility right now,” Grinder said. “And they need encouragement – and a lot of them need assistance with being social.” 

To help the students socialize requires a nuanced touch; rather than just having a teacher go play with a student, “a teacher has to discreetly set them up with a peer and then kind of stay close enough by to ensure that they’re having some proper social interaction, that they can successfully take it from there.” In other words, there’s “tons of choreography over the course of the day that has nothing to do with dance.”

Sanchez, too, has fielded challenges of COVID throughout his time at Lextended. But once they got through the beginning of this school year, “it’s been a nice evolution,” he said. “It was rewarding, because you did see these kids coming back to school, and a lot of apprehension and hesitation – and just seeing a lot of them thrive as the year went on” in making friends, he added. He compared the program to “a big family-type atmosphere – where not everybody has all the answers, but we try to do what’s best and come up with the answers.” 

Physical activity has been great for many students, Sanchez added, concurring with Grinder. “It’s almost like social fitness,” he said, “where they’re not really thinking about it. They’re just going in there playing fun games that they like to play.”

That’s a longtime specialty for Andrew Tuminelli, who has worked for Lextended since 2017. He has a degree in exercise science, and previously worked in the program as a physical education specialist, rotating between different Lexington elementary schools. “It was really cool, because I got to see how every program worked,” he said. Though Lextended is one program, “each [school building] program will have its own little niches and whatnot, which is kind of cool.” Now, he’s Assistant Site Director at Bridge.

Lextended is Andrew Tuminelli’s full-time job, as it is for Grinder and Sanchez, but it isn’t his only job; he’s a DJ on the side. His schedule this year has been packed with weddings – packed, as in, he has over 40 slated for this year. You might not think DJing weddings has anything in common with co-running an after school elementary program. But during the pandemic, both have required failure-is-not-an-option problem solving, Tuminelli explained. “Where my DJing and my school job kind of coincide,” he said, “is that it’s our job to make things work. The show must always go on; kids are going to always need that care, just like people are always going to get married and need a DJ for their wedding.” And despite the challenges of constant adaptation, “what’s great about both industries is we find a way to make it work no matter what.” 

Learning that Lextended was not recommended to continue: “Definitely shocking”

Perhaps especially after the challenges of providing care during COVID, in a moment when some sense of normalcy is just beginning to return, all three Lextended staff members said they were blindsided to hear that the review committee recommended a contract with a new program.

“It was probably the furthest thing from any of our minds that that was not going to continue, because we had worked so hard, in conjunction with the schools… to make it a program that kids wanted to be in,” Sanchez said. “From my perspective, the two programs I worked at this year were running extremely well. Kids were happy; staff were happy.” 

Grinder wants parents to know that she, and the Lextended community, are grateful to those who have spoken up in appreciation of Lextended. “It really means a lot that they’re demonstrating their support for our program and our organization,” she said. They have been printing out emails from parents and posting them in the office so all staff can see them, she added.

Sanchez attended the April 11 School Committee meeting where a LexSEPTA/SEPAC representative read a statement on behalf of special education families supporting the change to Kidsborough. He disagreed with the characterization that Lextended could not sufficiently support students with special needs. While acknowledging that there are outliers, as did Executive Director Heather Hartshorn previously, Sanchez also knows of many children on individualized education plans (IEPs) and in other special education programs who attend Lextended, he said. “And a lot of these kids thrive in our programs, and they get that social aspect…We go above and beyond to do that.” During the same School Committee meeting, a parent had noted that her own child with special needs had been “very well served K-5” by Lextended.

Making their program a positive experience for students with widely varying needs “almost feels like…an invisible part of our job that nobody knows about,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez expressed concern about a possible disconnect between presentations during the program selection process, and the reality of the work on the ground. For him, the work on the ground comes first, and he wonders whether presentations can fully capture that dedication. “I guess when you’re just so focused on being with the kids and serving the families,you’re not really thinking too much in the future,” he reflected. “[You’re not thinking] will this program still exist? What do we need to do to sell ourselves? Because I feel like we were selling ourselves to the parents every single day.”

Tuminelli agreed: “Seeing how the programs actually run as opposed to just that presentation” felt important to him.

Will staff stay, and can they? “I think it’s about 50-50”

At the end of the day, it’s the staff who make Lextended what it is, Sanchez said: “Your program could be Lextended Day, Kidsborough, it doesn’t really matter the name attached to it. It’s the people that are working there.” 

Kidsborough has passed on a job link to Lextended employees, LexObserver previously reported. But do staff want to stay?

“From the people that I’ve spoken with, I think it’s about 50-50” who might consider trying to stay in Lexington through Kidsborough, Sanchez estimated. Beyond the convenience and familiarity, “they would still want to work with the same kids and families,” he explained.

Maintaining relationships with students and families in the community is special, Tuminelli agreed. Though he doesn’t have a comment on whether or not he will apply to Kidsborough personally, he expects some colleagues will: “Some people are just so invested [in] the Lextended community, I’m sure some people will take advantage of that, just to continue that – because one of the best parts of working with these kids is watching them grow up,” he said. 

Whatever his own decision, Tuminelli treasures this piece of his job: “Some of the kids now who I’ve had in fifth grade, last time I saw them, they were in third grade before this year, and it’s just great to see the changes.” 

Financial responsibilities will have to come first for Sanchez. “I can’t say that everyone will be able to, or everyone wants to take the risk and wait and find out if it’ll work for them financially,” he said. “There are people with families such as myself; I need to make sure that first and foremost, I am employed.”

A couple of his colleagues may not have the option of working for Kidsborough as a for-profit company because they need to remain employed at a nonprofit to qualify for student loan forgiveness, Sanchez added – an observation Hartshorn made as well. “We have a couple of people like that that probably wouldn’t be able to apply to Kidsborough because it would affect their status with their loan,” he said.

Grinder has nothing against Kidsborough; “it’s just a massive undertaking for anyone to come in and just go and replace something that’s been there for 40 years,” she summarized.

“It’s something you can’t really recreate overnight,” Sanchez agreed. “No doubt, life will go on. And those relationships will be formed with other people, and they’ll have to be reestablished. We only ultimately want what’s best for the kids.”

COVID-19 Weekly Update 

Cases rise slightly in town

  • This week, Lexington had 93 new recorded COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, up from 70 the previous week. 
     
  • This week was spring break, so no COVID cases to report from Lexington Public Schools.

Community Announcements 

  • City Nature Challenge next weekend (from Alex Dohan, Conservation Commission): Looking for an excuse to get out and about? April 29-May 2 is the City Nature Challenge, and Lexington is an official participant this year! You can find out more here. This very cool project encourages people to go outside and record as many nature observations as they can over the course of a weekend. It’s an international “competition” to see which cities can list the greatest number of observations, but it is also just a fun way to practice being more observant in your own neighborhood.

  • Bike Month, other active transportation events coming up (from Susan Barrett, Transportation Manager): Starting next weekend and throughout May, the Town of Lexington’s Transportation Department will be hosting several events to celebrate Bike Month, from a Bike Skills Clinic to a Bike-In Breakfast to even a “Blessing of the Bicycles.” The month will also include walking events and other active transportation events beyond cycling. You can learn more and find out when each event is happening here.

  • Commission on Disability asks for community input about impacts of COVID-19 (from Victoria Buckley, CoD Chair): The Commission on Disability and Human Rights Committee are collaborating with the Town of Lexington to collect input from community members with disabilities about the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on their day-to-day lives. “We want input from persons with disabilities, their caregivers as well as service providers (including but not limited to therapists, PCAs, government workers, transportation workers or others who provided any service during the pandemic to Lexington residents with disabilities),” per the webpage for the project. Buckley hopes to receive responses as soon as possible, with the hope of eventually compiling a report to the Select Board to increase awareness about challenges and brainstorm ways to provide more support. You can choose from a number of ways to participate here.

  • Pilgrim Congregational Church hosting two Earth Week documentaries (from Lisa Boehm): Pilgrim Church, UCC is hosting two Earth Week documentaries tomorrow, April 24 at 12 noon. The presentation of Youth V. Gov and the locally made film, Save Tomorrow by Lynne Cherry featuring LHS students will be held via Zoom only. A perfect opportunity to enjoy some lunch while viewing thought-provoking films and participating in intermittent conversation. The event will last about 1.5 hours, but feel free to spend as much time as you would like. To receive the Zoom link, please RSVP to welcome@pilgrimcongregational.org. This is an exciting opportunity to see youth in action as they inform and advocate for climate change.

That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up and DONATE too! Reach out to sophie@lexobserver.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages. Thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend!

With gratitude,
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi
LexObserver Team



Corrections: The original version of the Saturday, April 23 LexObserver weekly roundup contained a an error in the following sentence: “While acknowledging that there are outliers, as did Executive Director Heather Hartshorn previously, Sanchez also knows of many children on individualized education plans (IEPs) and in other special education programs who attend Kidsborough” actually was referring to children on IEPs and in other special education programs who attend Lextended, where Sanchez and Hartshorn both work. LexObserver also mistakenly referred to the “Minuteman Cane” as the “Silver Cane” award. LexObserver regrets the errors.

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