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Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler, center, poses with students at Wahconah Regional High School's annual civility assembly on Thursday.
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Wahconah Regional High School Urges Change Through Togetherness

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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Principal Aaron Robb says the annual event was started in 1998 to address the frequency of fighting between students. See more photos here.
DALTON, Mass. — The message of togetherness echoed in the Wahconah Regional High School auditorium during a civility assembly on Thursday afternoon. 
 
"Overall, our hope for today is that we could shift our perspective and pause just for a moment to think about the impact of our words and actions on others," Principal Aaron M Robb said. 
 
The importance of togetherness and reflection was demonstrated through a presentation, performances, and speakers, including Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler.
 
"The work to create a community where every student feels a sense of belonging is never finished. This is work that must be continuously tended to, nurtured, talked about, closely monitored, and reflected upon. And equally, it's everyone's work," he said. 
 
The secretary echoed remarks of the other speakers who showcased the gathering as a "highlight what the school community is all about, what it believes, and what the school community values — resilience, integrity, self direction, and empathy." 
 
All of this is true but there is another reason, he said, and that is to make "a renewed commitment to the work. Friends, that work is not enough. ..
 
"We find ourselves living in a very interesting time right now. There are many forces that work against the very values that this community is attempting to live. The work is everyone's responsibility and the work is not done."
 
The assembly included student demonstrating through a skit how a hurtful act reinforced by your peers can have a painful impact on an individual. It concluded the assembly with a musical performance by Wahconah's Modern Band, which performed a song they felt reinforced the message, Tim McGraw's "Humble And Kind."
 
Wahconah established the annual assembly in 1998 to address the frequency of fights when it had almost 300 more students than it does now. 
 
The issues could not be blamed on social media back then because it didn't exist. School staff decided to do something about it, Robb said. 
 
"So, we gathered the whole school together just like we are today and we chose to face the problem and, over time, by pulling together and working on simple common acts of civility toward one another, that problem began to dissipate," he said. 
 
"Since that time, we've gathered annually to tackle many other issues and concerns that have developed over the years. We've explored topics such as substance abuse and mental health and the way we ought to treat folks with disabilities."
 
This year's assembly the school expanded on the message it had last year which was to "look inward in an effort to spark some self improvement," Robb said. 
 
During the assembly the students were challenged to look inwards so they can improve the lives of those in their community. 
 
"More specifically, we want to seek self-improvement by thinking about how our actions and our words might impact others around us and in our school and be cognizant of that in spite of our differences," the principal said. 
 
He stressed the importance of facing a problem together by discussing the legacy of academic, feminist and activist Loretta Ross
 
Ross has a "prolific career working to educate and promote acceptance across all parts of society," Robb said. "Having learned about her in recent years, I've come to marvel at the work she's accomplished in her life."
 
One of the things she has grown sick of over the years is "call out culture" what is now known as "cancel culture," he said. "No matter what you call it, she said that the act of calling people out was proving to be far too ineffective in her eyes."
 
The approach was meant to shine a light on societal problems but has had an adverse effect on people and society by invoking the fear of being targeted, he said 
 
"Thereby forcing people to avoid important and sensitive conversations that could otherwise foster important relationships," Robb said. "She believes that calling people out doesn't really foster true self-improvement, which is the only way to go about creating real change." 
 
Ross began studying something she worked against — white supremacy and felt the best thing to do was to talk to people. She started to attend Ku Klux Klan rallies and meetings to learn about them and have them learn more about her, especially her struggles, as a Black woman.
 
"She wanted to use this knowledge to call people in and educate them, not push them away by calling them out. Loretta Ross once said that calling in practices are so important. It's imperative to ensure that we don't grind each other up and harm each other out of our despair and drama," Robb said. 
 
This way of thinking is deeply rooted in the goal of the civility assembly that has been happening for more than 25 years, he said. 
 
Wahconah senior and "No Place for Hate" Vice President Bee Gillespie welcomed Tutwiler by sharing their dream for the school community.
 
"My hopes and dreams for our school community is that through student advocacy and no place for hate, we will continue to strive for an inclusive and safe environment. I am passionate about our school and the attitude of our students towards personal identity and belonging," Gillespie said. 
 
"... I want to implore every student to listen and act. We have a unique chance here to let our voices be heard at a state level." 
 
Dr. Martin Luther King reminded everyone that all the labor that lifts humanity has dignity, importance, and must be undertaken with painstaking excellence, Tutwiler said, adding that education plays an important role in uplifting humanity. 
 
"I understand and respect the fact that you were born into a world that was and continues to be imperfect. It's not your fault. Nonetheless, don't let the responsibility to be part of solution escape you. This is everyone's work," he said. 

Tags: civility,   Wahconah,   

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Pittsfield Kayak Kiosk Proposal Withdrawn After Pushback

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It is the "end of the road" for a kayak kiosk proposal after pushback from community members and the City Council.

Whenever Watersports has withdrawn its proposal for a kayak rental program at Onota Lake. Safety concerns arose around the company's self-serve model though it was stipulated that users sign liabilities away with a waiver as part of the process.  

"It's unfortunate. I had hoped the outcome would be different and I think (Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown) and you as well thought this was an opportunity to provide an additional level of services, recreation opportunity to folks at the park through a modern-app-based system," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said to the Parks Commission on Tuesday.

"It would have cost the city nothing to have this sited. We wouldn't be responsible for any maintenance but there would be maintenance to the units and to the boats, etc. Everyone was going to get life preservers and there are instructions through the app so we thought it was it was safe and secure and a good fit for the park."

In December, the commission granted a request for the pilot program and City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta had been reviewing and revising a proposed contract that had not yet been approved. Last week during City Council, residents Daniel Miraglia and Gene Nadeau submitted a petition requesting a legal opinion on the proposal from the solicitor.

Miraglia expressed concerns about the lack of a bidding process, safety hazards, and the impact on a local business that rents kayaks on the lake. Onota Boat Livery owner Caryn Wendling was upset to hear that an out-of-town company would be allowed to operate the kiosk on the same lake as her business and also cited safety concerns.

Councilors asked that Pagnotta look into items such as the commission's authority with entering into contracts and if a bidding process would be needed for this.

Later that week, a request to the Conservation Commission for determination for the kiosk at Burbank Park located within the buffer zone associated with the inland bank was withdrawn. According to the application, it was proposed to be located before the beach area coming from the main parking lot.

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