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Easthampton High School students dig into area history for June 24 ‘Local Lens’ event

  • Andrew Stratton, head of food services for the Easthampton schools, shows off the new deli station in the Cafe Commons area of the new city high school building.

Topics spanned the region’s past, from the 1874 Mill River flood to Easthampton veterans of World War II to anti-war activism of the 1960s.

Students will present their work to the public at the ninth annual “A Local Lens” event set for Monday from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Brown, who created the event to help students gain experience in conducting and presenting original research, said their projects also will be submitted to local historical societies.

Ryan Rodriguez, an EHS sophomore, said he’d always been interested in World War II, “but now, a lot of the veterans are getting really old and this seemed to be the time to do a project on this.”

He and his teammates Kevin Oudenhove and Dominik Laszczkowski — also sophomores — spent hours in Forbes Library in Northampton poring over newspaper archives. They also interviewed local veterans.

At a nearby table, fellow 10th graders Olivia Ferguson and Christiana Gardner were writing up their findings on the Mill River flood, which killed 139 people and destroyed many local businesses.

“The flood caused a lot of change,” Ferguson said. “After that, people moved from water power to steam power.”

“Dams were pretty hastily built at that time,” Gardner added. “After the flood, that’s when people said, ‘We should start changing things.’ ”

In researching the 1960s, EHS sophomore Brian Atwater interviewed peace activist Frances Crowe of Northampton, among other local sources.

While work on the project has been challenging, “It’s also a lot of fun,” Atwater said. “We’re making our own questions and have to go and find our own answers. It’s nice to see it come together in our own words.”

Other projects on the bill for the Local Lens event cover the Great Depression, the civil rights movement at Smith College, the history of gay pride in Northampton, the Loudville lead mine, Northampton State Hospital and the history of the Easthampton schools.

For details, contact Brown at 529-1585, ext. 2504.

•••

Fresh approach to lunch

At lunchtime, the Cafe Commons section of the new Easthampton High School building feels more like a college student union than a high school cafeteria.

Students linger at tables arrayed in the large open space near the school’s front entrance or vie for coveted seats on stools near the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“I can’t get over how civilized it is,” said Superintendent Nancy Follansbee, who was my lunch date on a recent Thursday, noting the relative quiet in the big open room.

The menu is also more sophisticated than a typical school lunch. Besides the main item (chicken Parmesan on this particular day), new grab-and-go food stations offer wraps and sandwiches that can be pressed into paninis. There are also salads and fresh fruits available.

Andrew Stratton, food services director for the Easthampton schools — who joined us for lunch — said meal counts are up by about 50 students per day to 275 since the move to the new building. That’s a trend he hopes will continue.

Stratton has been surveying students about menu items and the overall Cafe Commons setup. He said what students want most out of their $3 school lunch is “fresh-looking food.” Chartwells, the company that runs the School Department’s meals service, is working to provide more produce from area farms through a food-buying cooperative in Franklin County, Stratton said.

Follansbee gave a thumbs up to the baked fries.

EHS Principal Vito Perrone — who stopped by our table — said his favorite Cafe Commons offerings are the salads. “And I’m also a taco guy,” he added.

•••

Teacher postpones retirement

White Brook Middle school math teacher Bob Parent, the district’s most senior educator, will be holding onto that honor for a while longer. Parent has rescinded the notification of retirement he submitted to the School Department earlier this year.

Part of the reason he decided to stay on is the economy, said Parent, 63. But that’s not the whole explanation.

“I enjoy teaching and I enjoy the collegiality of my fellow teachers,” said Parent, who has been at White Brook since before the middle school was built on Park Street and classes were held in what is now Center/Pepin School.

“This is my 41st year and next year will be my 42nd,” he added. “I’m looking forward to it.”

•••

Maple School field day

Maple School Principal Tim Luce is betting that three times will be the charm for the elementary school’s annual Field Day, which has been cancelled twice this month due to rain. The event is now set for Wednesday during school hours in Nonotuck Park. Parent volunteers will staff stations for relay races, volleyball, a water park and other events. For details, call the school’s main office, 529-1550.

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