AHS Graduate’s Journey Through Lyme Disease

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Photo of Patrick Collins reading his book./ Photo Submitted

BY: Abigail DesVergnes

Attleboro resident Patrick Collins, 20, published a book this past week titled, Fighting for My Life: How I Found God and Beat Lyme Disease.

The UMASS Dartmouth freshman and 2016 Attleboro High School graduate wrote the book as a testimony to his journey with Lyme Disease, an illness that ravaged his body during middle school.

Collins wrote the manuscript by himself, hired two freelance editors, and published the book through LULU — an online self-publisher.

The idea of the book began with a series of diary entries that Collins made during middle school.

During this time, Collins suffered through fatigue, arthritis, chronic sinus infections, mood swings, and seizures. After 25 doctors’ visits, not even one could pinpoint what was wrong.

Doctor after doctor told the Collins family that it was “all in his head” and offered the young boy antidepressants.

Collins missed at least one to two days a week due to his illness, and ended up having to stay back in the eighth grade.

Confused and scared, Collins turned to his diary, writing entries like, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Am I going crazy?”

With a loss of hope, Collins’ parents decided to take him into a Lyme Disease clinic, which ironically was run by a family relative. “She was the only person who truly believed that my illness wasn’t something make believe. She knew that something was wrong,” Collins said.

After running a series of Lyme Disease tests, the results came back positive.

Flash backward about a year earlier, Collins remembered finding a small tick on the back of his neck. He didn’t think anything of it, peeled it off his skin, and disposed of it — not telling his parents.

“Who knew that such a small little creature could create such pain,” he said.

At its peak, the disease took a major toll on the young boy, spreading all over his body. It began to shut down his organs and caused him to have seven lesions to his brain — impairing his learning abilities.

“The most frustrating thing was that after all the doctor appointments, nobody knew what was wrong with me. In a sense, they treated me strictly as a patient and failed to see my real suffering as a human.”

From eighth grade to the beginning of his freshman year of high school, Collins was treated with antibiotics. “The recovery time was tough and very long. It really drained me — but I was lucky that through all the darkness, I was able to find the light.”

That “light” was Collins’ Catholic faith.

“When I felt down, I turned to my faith to guide me. I knew that I had more to live for, which gave me the drive to keep on fighting for my life.”

After two years and thousands of dollars later that “light” led Collins to an accomplished high school baseball career, excelling as an honor’s student, who even campaigned to ban plastic bags in Massachusetts.

The cover of Collins’ book is a person walking through a dark tunnel toward the light, a true symbol of the path he walked down to find his recovery.

“Through my book, I hope I can help as many people as I can. I hope that after reading this, people will be able to perceive suffering in a different way.”

Interested readers can purchase the book off of LULU for $12.99. For more purchasing information go to: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Patrickcollins

Memory of Attleboro High School’s Rebeckha Lynn Whitefield lives on through the dedicated work of foundation

 

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Photo Submitted – Rebeckha Lynn Whitefield

BY: Abigail DesVergnes

Sometimes the most devastating situations can be turned into something positive.

In 2008, Rebeckha Lynn Whitefield of Attleboro tragically lost her life in a car accident. The unexpected loss devastated many in the community but brought friends and family together – hopeful they could find a way to keep her memory living on.

Rebeckha’s father Michael Whitefield, whom many people around Attleboro refer to as “coach” and “Uncle Mike,” decided to start the Rebeckha Lynn Whitefield Foundation shortly after his daughter’s passing. His hope was to establish a foundation that would embody all that “Becky” was – someone who loved her community, had a passion for sports, and loved to give back.

Since its establishment, the non-profit foundation has provided support for youth organizations, programs and families of the Greater Attleboro area. In total, over $360,000 has been raised.

You name it. They’ve donated it. Anything from money to library books to scholarships and apparel.

Becky’s memory lives on today in many ways, especially during Sunday night foundation meetings at the Whitefield house. Over 25 people attend the meetings and work to raise money, organize, and plan events.

On one recent Sunday night, cars lined the side of the road leading to the home. Volunteers were greeted with an assortment of food and beverages before Michael Whitefield gave a rundown of the foundation’s goals for the week.

“Everyone that comes here is like family to me,” Whitefield said. “It’s a time where people who truly love one another gather together with hopes of making a difference.”

At the end of March and beginning of April, it gets “extra hectic,” he said, as members of the foundation finalize preparations for Rebeckha’s Blue Pride Ball.

Tickets for the ball are $60 and will be held on Saturday, April 8, at the Mansfield Holiday Inn.

“The ball is one of the biggest events that the organization hosts,” volunteer Emily Wilson, 24, of Attleboro said. “It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears from everyone to make sure it’s a success.”

This year, the foundation predicts that about 600 people will attend the ball. Volunteers are working several days a week to set up for the live and silent auctions, putting together specialty gift baskets, and doing anything they can to prepare for the large crowd.

Michelle Bray, 48, of Attleboro helped at Sunday’s meeting by putting together baskets. “Everyone that comes to the meetings can bring something to the table,” she said. “We all try to help out any way possible.”

The outpouring of love and commitment from the foundation’s volunteers helps keep everyone moving forward, even in hectic times.

And with the watchful eye of the foundations guardian angel, anything is possible.

Gathered at the foundation’s meetings are those who knew Becky best, and have turned to the foundation as a means of coping.

Wilson is a nine-year volunteer and remembers “as if it was yesterday” the first time she met Becky while playing field hockey for Attleboro High.

“She was such a fun and caring person – on and off the field. She continuously made me laugh and was always positive.”

Tammy Emmett is the owner of Countryside Farm in Attleboro and became teary-eyed remembering the days when Becky would ride horses there.

Emmett said that from the beginning, Becky felt like a daughter. “She was a truly good-hearted person who loved life and had a special bond with the horses.”

Attleboro resident and foundation volunteer Lori Henry, 47, said, “As a parent, the amount of unconditional love you have for your children in overwhelming. I realize every time I’m helping with the foundation that it could’ve been any one of us in this situation.”

“This was a foundation that started off as a means of coping but has blossomed into something far greater,” Attleboro resident Tricia Harvey said. “With the help of the community and all the people that have donated and worked endless hours for this foundation, we have helped out so many.”

“It’s all because of Becky – she truly left her mark on this community.”

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For more information on the foundation, tickets for the ball, and donation options, go to http://www.rebeckhalynnwhitefieldfoundation.com/ or like the Rebeckha Lynn Whitefield Foundation’s Facebook page.

Cursive writing

 

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Photo By: Abigail DesVergnes Cursive Alphabet

BY Abigail DesVergnes

Attleboro High School English teacher Joseph Gorman believes that cursive writing is not a necessity in today’s digital age, but he does say it is a useful skill to have.

“To be able to write legibly and clearly will always be important – making it look nice is an added benefit,” he says.

Over the years, however, Gorman has witnessed an increase in students who are unable to write in cursive, and although they seem to have a very basic understanding of it, their skill “isn’t very developed.”

“I don’t so much expect high school students to write in cursive, as I just assume they have been introduced to the skill and choose not to use it regularly,” he says.

But if you think cursive writing on its way out, headed for a fondly or not so fondly remembered place in history, you may just be wrong.

The Associated Press reported recently that, despite the relentless march of technology, cursive writing is looping back into style in schools across the country after a generation of students who know only keyboarding, texting and printing out their words longhand.

Alabama and Louisiana passed laws in 2016 mandating cursive proficiency in public schools, the latest of 14 states that require cursive. And last fall, the 1.1 million-student New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system, encouraged the teaching of cursive to students, generally in the third grade.

Penmanship proponents say writing words in an unbroken line of swooshing l’s and three-humped m’s is a faster, easier way of taking notes. Others say students should be able to understand documents written in cursive, such as, say, a letter from Grandma. And still more say it’s just a good life skill to have, especially when it comes to signing your name.

So how is cursive faring in this area? That depends on who you ask.

Attleboro High School senior Tyler Koppy is among those who avoid writing in cursive.

Koppy was taught it in third grade but has since forgotten almost everything about it; now he only knows how to write his name.

He said that if one of his teachers asked him to write an entire essay in cursive, he would not be able to do it.

“It would probably look very messy and a lot of letters would be wrong,” Koopy said.

Throughout his high school career he’s only had to use cursive during his SATs, where he had to write out a statement that he would follow the exam’s rules.

His writing ended up looking like a bunch of letters connected by random lines here and there, he said.

“I don’t feel like I’m at a disadvantage for not knowing how to write in cursive, and I don’t think it’s necessary to continue teaching cursive or requiring it in this digital age because everything is online,” he said.

In Massachusetts, schools are required to teach cursive in the third grade.

Elementary schools in the Attleboro Public School district use a program known as “Handwriting Without Tears” to teach regular writing and cursive to their students, according to Attleboro Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Laurie Regan.

According to Jeff Cateon, principal at Willett Elementary School in Attleboro, the program teaches the cursive alphabet by starting with the letters that are formed most similar to printed letters, such as “c.”

“This helps to ease the transition and build confidence,” he said. “We think it is important for students to be able to read and write in cursive. Students are excited to learn cursive writing and are proud of themselves when they master the alphabet. They view it as a grown up way to write.”

But Regan stressed that students must also become proficient at typing on their digital devices, according to Regan.

“It’s a delicate balance,” she said.

With only one year set aside to teach cursive, some students say they’ve forgotten their handwriting skills by high school, or sooner.

Brennan Middle School eighth grader Ben Lehane admits he doesn’t really remember how to do it. He doesn’t feel as if he’s at a disadvantage, though, noting that many of his classroom assignments have gone paperless.

Theresa Castro, a senior at Bishop Feehan High School and a former student at St. John Evangelist School in Attleboro, has a different take.

Castro credits her teachers in second and third grade who taught her cursive, adding that in fourth and fifth grade she was still required to write many of her papers in cursive at St. John’s.

She feels it’s still a useful skill to have, and is something she continues to use.

Kathleen Harrington, a second grade teacher at St. John’s, considers cursive a “necessity.”

By second grade, students at the school learn how to recognize and read words in cursive and are introduced to the basic strokes. By the end of the school year they are able to recognize and form all the letters of the alphabet, in upper and lower case, Harrington said.

In the upper grades, St.John’s students are required to write nearly all of their classwork in cursive, she said. Harrington teaches her students how to sit and hold their pencils properly, and uses whiteboards and dry erase markers so students can practice connecting their letters.

Not only does cursive handwriting provide a commutative benefit for the students but also helps with the students’ brain development, Harrington said.

“The connection between the hand and brain is very powerful in young children. When they are writing they are strengthening the synapses in the brain,” she said.

In third grade, St. John’s students learn how to fine-tune and refine their cursive writing, practicing cursive 20 minutes a day, teacher Paula Bedard said.

“I love to see how proud my students become as they master the technique,” she added.

“The longer you do anything, the better you get at it,” Bedard said. “But, if you don’t ever use cursive, you probably forget how the letters connect.”

Whether your argument is for or against teaching cursive in a digital age, it’s still something widely practiced in area elementary schools.

Gorman, the AHS English instructor, said he believes students who can read and write in cursive “have a slight advantage,” adding that all skills that “contribute to our mastery of the world” can only benefit students.

“Even if we are moving toward a more digital culture, the growth of skill sets will always result in some sort of advantage,” he said.

 

Tale of Two Undeclared Students

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Lexi Barboza, Freshman at Worcester State University Photo Submitted

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Natalia Wroblewski, AHS senior Photo submitted

By: Abigail DesVergnes

Sometimes life just goes by too fast. One day you’re learning how to walk, and the next you’re forced into making the most important decision of your life.

That decision comes during the senior year of high school, a time when students attempt to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Over 69.2 percent of high school graduates are enrolled in college according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 study, but a smaller percentage of those students go into college not declaring their major.

Attleboro High School graduate and Worcester State University freshman, Lexi Barboza, said that “choosing a major is a major decision.” Now in her second semester of college, Barboza hasn’t been able to decide what she wants to study.

She believes that this is a decision that has to primarily reflect her personal interests, leave her academically and economically successful, and more than anything, it has to be something she’s willing to commit the rest of her life to.

“I feel suffocated by all that I could be,” Barboza said. “There’s just so many different career paths that I have the option of choosing from.”

If there was one word Barboza could use to describe herself it would be “adaptable.” She finds herself adapting to all sorts of situations, whether she’s at school, waitressing at Bliss Dairy in Attleboro, or hanging out with friends.   

Her adaptable nature is one major contribution as to why she can’t choose her career path.“It’s tough, sometimes I feel like I’m all alone,” she said. “At school I’m surrounded by so many people that know what they want, but I don’t.”

She’s not alone.

AHS senior Natalia Wroblewski is in the same place that Barboza was a year ago — trying to figure out where she wants to go to college as an undeclared major.

“At first, searching for colleges and being undeclared was stressful,” said Wroblewski. “I didn’t know what I was looking for or what schools I wanted to go to.”

Although it’s stressful, she’s grateful for the opportunity to be open minded in her decisions, and is excited for the unknown.

Teenagers need to have an open-minded thought process according to Wroblewski, adding,“It’s crazy that seniors in high school have to make a decision that’ll affect the rest of their lives. We are so young.”

Wroblewski and Barboza envy those who know what they want at this age, and hope that they can find their place in this world in time.

“I think that life is a continual search to find who out we really are,” Barboza said.T

Google Classroom

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Screen shot of the Google Classroom website page

By: Abigail DesVergnes

Google has redefined “classroom,” allowing teachers to distribute and grade assignments with nary a scrap of paper.

The Internet giant released Google Classroom in the summer of 2014 as a digital learning platform for teachers and their students to complete assignments, participate in discussions, read articles, comment and post thoughts, grade, communicate with classmates…

And, the list goes on.

In many ways, it’s similar to Facebook, but with an educational twist.

Students are expected to check their “stream” — similar to a wall on Facebook — to see when upcoming assignments are due and make sure they’re turned in on time.

Attleboro High School science teacher Ms. Deanna Wells-Scott began using the program this school year, and ever since has assigned homework and classwork via Google Classroom.

Before, she would assign work in class, on paper, and pass out assignments to each student. Now, she’s gone almost completely paperless, scanning worksheets and assignments to the stream for students to complete and submit online.

“It creates less stuff to carry around,” Wells-Scott said. “The fact that it’s electronic makes it easier to grade wherever and whenever.”

With the app, she is able to grade assignments while attending her sons sporting events and even while waiting in long lines at stores.

AHS history and psychology teacher, Ms. Alexis Kobey says that the app is “extremely helpful.”

For students who are absent, Kobey uploads the work they missed in class so they can catch up on their studies at home.

“It’s great when I’m absent because if I missed something in school I can complete it right at home, that day,” AHS junor Emily Patton said.  

Kobey said he also likes that the app is something with which students are almost naturally familiar.

“They’re used to using technology to learn and collaborate,” Kobey added. “Making technology like this accessible to all students, undoubtedly helps them succeed.”

AHS senior James Scott agrees, and appreciates the digital transformation of the classroom.

“It’s a great way to teach students new and exciting material while being modern,” he said.

AHS graduate advocates for all gender restrooms

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By: Abigail DesVergnes

Wheaton College is converting to all-gender restrooms, even as the debate over transgender rights heats up across the country.

Wheaton student Emily Toma applauds the change, saying it will make “a lot of people feel more comfortable.”

Toma and many of her friends at Wheaton are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I am definitely proud of my school for taking steps to be as inclusive as possible for all its students, regardless of their gender,” she said.

Campus newspaper The Wheaton Wire reported that 62 single-use restrooms have been or will be converted in what students and administrators are calling the “all gender bathroom project.”

Many of the restrooms are single-use, multi-purpose, co-ed facilities.

The first step is changing signs on restrooms – switching from “co-ed” to “all gender.”

The term co-ed suggests the restrooms are for male and females only, while all-gender includes people with other gender identies – from transgender to non-binary.

The all-gender bathroom project began as a staff initiative, according to Rachael Pauze, the college’s director of Title IX compliance, who said she collaborated with the office of the dean of students.

“We solicited feedback from student groups, faculty and staff,” and “looked at which single-use bathrooms could accommodate all genders and proposed new signage,” she said.

Although many of the single-use restrooms already accomodated all genders, the change in signs has made it official.

An inventory of all restrooms on campus has been underway since the fall semester.

Overall, the reaction around campus has been positive, said Wheaton sophomore and Attleboro High School graduate Evan Laferriere, whose gender identity is non-binary, which means Laferriere identifies as neither masculine nor feminine.

“I’m glad the school has moved to use more preferred language,” Laferriere said. “It’s important to identify and solve social problems like trans bathroom rights.”

Pauze said the change has brought a sense of accesibility and accomodation to the Wheaton community, “regardless of their gender identity.”

Pauze is hopeful steps like the all-gender bathroom project will further demonstrate Wheaton’s commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community, and “create an inclusive environment here on campus.”

Toma said she feels it, already.

“I feel very lucky to go to a school that has actually been following through on promises to protect all its students and make them feel safe and comfortable,” she said.

The change at Wheaton is happening even as the Trump administration is backing off from previous protections for transgender high school students.

Nineteen state attorneys general, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, have signed onto a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a transgender teenager who wants to use the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school.

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed Thursday night, cites the “shared experience” among the states that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity creates no public safety, privacy or financial burdens.