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Friday, July 24, 2009

A Late Brunch Between Neighboring Worlds

Due to my new position as a freelance correspondent for the Belchertown Sentinel, the local newspaper, our landlord/ neighbor lent me this great book, "Make Hay While The Sun Shines: Farms, Forests and People of the North Quabbin", by Allen Young, a journalist who lives in the area and has been writing about the local residents of North-West Massachusetts since 1973. In his book he covers the "back to nature" movement that began in the early seventies, stemming from the traditional way of farming and living off the land that has been a common and popular mainstay of New England since we stumbled and tripped upon the shores of the region.

In the third chapter of the book he writes about the Diemand Egg Farm in Wendall, which is still producing eggs and can be bought in local stores here. The next time I went shopping I specifically sought out their eggs so we can try them at home, and as a fitting tribute to farmer and author alike, I made the Finnish Pancakes from the recipe provided at the end of the chapter. It is really rich and filling, but it is also really easy to make, so it just might become a regular brunch item here.

Finnish Pancakes

(from the Massachusetts Poultry Association)

Six large eggs
1 quart milk
1/4 lb. butter
1 cup flour
4-5 Tb. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Melt and brown the butter in a 12" x 16" pan.

Beat the eggs and milk together, then add the sugar, salt and flour, mixing it in until well blended and without any lumps. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and firmly set.

The "pancakes" will have the consistency of custard (or a flan) with a slight crust.

I didn't follow the recipe but still got fair results. Since we have some wonderful wild blueberries that are grown in our neighborhood, I added 1 cup of them into the batter. We are also going away for the weekend and we had a pint of heavy cream on hand, so I used that for half of the milk amount. I also added a couple drops of vanilla extract. The dish needed to bake for approximately 10 minutes more than the recipe recommended, probably because of the blueberries and the cream, and it came out with the consistency of bread pudding.

Bon app├ętit!

Life Skills program trains students with special needs to live life to its fullest.

GRANBY, MA. - The Granby Jr./ Sr. High School Life Skills Program has proven to be a great success since it was introduced five years ago.

The program has been instrumental in helping teens with special needs prepare for life after they graduate from school. In the classes that are available to them they learn how to take care of themselves, interact with others, how to deal with interpersonal issues that may arise and to speak confidently for themselves.
A vital part of this is the School to Work program, which partners students with local businesses to help them learn while on the job. Teens work about two hours a day, four to five days a week at various places such as Granby Grain, Big Y supermarket, Alphabet Soup Daycare and some work in the school cafeteria kitchen, and they can change jobs each semester so that they get a better feel for what they are best suited to do. The goal is to be a catalyst to their work in the school by giving them exposure and experience through different work environments. Between the two programs they will become educated for the vocational careers of their choice and be prepared for full time work when they get out of school.
The Granby Jr./ Sr. High is small. A little more than 500 students attend grades 7 through 12, and special education students make up a handful of that number. The proximity of all grades together and the inclusion of students with disabilities and special needs make the school unique, helping to foster a strong community that is prepared for life after graduation. Granby Jr./ Sr. High is one of a small number of local schools that feature the Life Skills and School to Work programs and curriculum, which was introduced only five years ago and has been a great success.
Christian Whittaker teaches class

The mission statement of the class states “Granby Junior Senior High School fosters academic achievement, personal responsibility and respect in order to develop conscientious and productive members of society”, while t
he sign in front of the school proclaims “Excellence Is Our Expectation”, and they are earnest about their ideals and standards.

The Life Skills classes are guided by Christian Whittaker and staff who lead the students through a series of daily lessons designed to engage and challenge, help them develop their strengths and skills, to set realistic goals and to work to attain them. Students from the school also help out with the program. Michael Sawicki, a Senior at Granby, assists in the classroom through a community service program that is offered through the school.

Michael Siano helps Zach with his presentation

“We want to expose them to a variety of possible routines so that they can approach each situation with their own initiative and independence”, says Whittaker. Many students may go on to live in group homes or in assisted living programs where they will be expected to take care of themselves and participate in group activities. They have their own personal areas here that they maintain and clean themselves, and each person is expected to contribute to the goals of the classes as well as toward their own. We work creatively to give them structure to their day, giving them multiple opportunities to participate in the class, and each student has an individual education plan that we help them develop and keep track of. We have a motto – “Don’t watch your life go by - be a part of it!”.

On the chalkboard is an outline of goals for the week which the students will use to chart their progress. It’s an intricate weaving of academics involving reading, writing and math as well as work study and life skills, and the each student is expected to demonstrate an applicable proficiency in each area. By the end of the week they will be able to make connections between what they have learned and how it relates to their personal world; to pose questions about the lessons and share with the class what they have discovered, and to contribute their new expertise with students in the classroom.

It works. The students are actively involved in making decisions toward their own futures, participating in classes that stimulate their interests and make them excited about the world of possibilities before them. They get to try different jobs to see what fits them best and then go on to work in their chosen careers.

The day begins early for these teens much as it does for any other adult. By late afternoon they have completed their school day, which may involve attending a biology class, learning graphic arts, or studying health or home economics. They learn how to organize their time and budget the minutes of their day, developing real time management skills necessary for success in their professional careers. By 2:00 pm they’re off to their jobs. Some work in a bakeries and cafeterias, others at the Big Y supermarket or at a local grain supply store. Chances are you’ve crossed paths with them and encountered their familiar smiling faces as they offered their assistance to you.

They recently made Sloppy Joes for an early lunch or, rather, being teens, as an appetizer to their regular meal. Everything from setting places with plates, napkins and plastic flatware, to cooking hamburger meat, opening a can of chili, warming it up and mixing it in with the cooked meat; toasting buns; serving themselves and others, and then cleaning up their area and washing their dishes. The teens join in the production easily, excitedly and with confidence, enjoying the meal that they made together. When they broke for their actual lunch, they joined the rest of the school in the cafeteria.

After lunch, teacher Michael Siano presented two students, Danielle and Zach, who shared their graphic design work to the class. The students are encouraged to do everything involved from conception to finished product including layout of graphics, organization of space and writing the text to accompany it.

Christian Whittaker then led the class in a workshop exercise to develop their skills in problem solving and working together. Placing a handful of Smarties candies in a clear plastic container, he passed it around for them to look at and guess how many were in the cup. Each student carefully looked over the cup of smarties and then passed on to their neighbor after determining what the correct amount of smarties it held, then they paired up to discuss their answers. Teachers Michael Siano, Laura Amazeen and Michael Sawicki assisted the students in asking questions about the process. The actual number being sixty, most of them guessed the amount to be around forty-six, and the winning number went to Kerr, who shared them with his classmates. In previous classes they have explored conflict resolution exercises and how to negotiate various situations through improvisatio

Dawn Cooke, School to Career Coordinator for Willie Ross School for the Deaf in Longmeadow, knows the ins and outs of the program. Her son, Corey, is a student at the school and is in the program, and he has learned valuable skills through the class as well through his experiences at work. Corey works bagging groceries at the local Big Y supermarket and loves the job he has there.

“The program is invaluable to parents and saves the community money by having students working together rather than in separate facilities”, Says Cooke. My son has learned to be self sufficient and has developed the necessary life skills that he needs to be a successful, productive individual. These are skills he can apply daily, and he has a greater opportunity to interact with others in school and at work.

“I also help drive students to their school and jobs. We had a snow alert one time and I was helping a student contact his employer to let them know he wouldn’t be in. Corey noticed this and went to the computer, found the information on the internet that he needed to contact his employer and then called to let them know that he wouldn’t be in to work, either. I was so impressed. He wouldn’t have been able to do this on his own without the help of the school program.”

© Elliott M. Burke

This feature article in the Belchertown Sentinel may be viewed as a PDF document at: