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Cambridge School of Weston to partner with Karuna School for peace and equity studies

February 24, 2014 02:22 PM
Karuna mindfulness.JPG
Lucinda Burk
A Karuna School class in motion.

When Lisa Prajna Hallstrom founded the Karuna School with her husband in 2008, she dreamed of raising funds to build a high school to house the school's unique peace studies curriculum. Then the economy crashed, and raising millions seemed out of reach. The school's board of directors decided Karuna would work to add peace and equity studies, social and emotional learning, and global service learning to the curriculum of already existing schools. This spring, the Karuna School will start a two-year pilot program at the Cambridge School of Weston (CSW). The partnership will create a school within a school: CSW students will be able to take classes from the Karuna curriculum. To learn more, we spoke with Hallstrom; Jane Moulding, head of school at the Cambridge School; and Johŕra Tucker, director of social justice and multicultural programming at CSW.

Through this partnership, students at The Cambridge School of Weston will be able to take classes in social and emotional learning from the Karuna School curriculum. What is social and emotional learning (SEL)?

Hallstrom: The learning that helps children acquire and apply the skills necessary to understand and manage their emotional life; to set positive goals, to feel empathy for others, to make responsible decisions. Mindfulness is only one of the tools we want to offer. [We want to promote a] peaceful inside [and] an outer peace and justice in the world.

Why is it important to teach high school students social and emotional skills like mindfulness meditation, which will be taught in the .b course that starts this spring?

Hallstrom: Children come to school with all sorts of needs. They have a whole life that's bigger than school. When Columbine happened, I was shocked that children could feel so alienated they would consider killing their peers. When the mindfulness movement started about 10 years ago, people started to introduce social and emotional mindfulness to children, and it really had an effect on their resilience and their ability to learn.

Moulding: This might be a powerful way to direct some energy to make sure we always hold on to those ideals of raising kids who understand conflict negotiation, mindfulness, [and other life skills].

How can mindfulness help today?s high school students, who are often under a lot of pressure to succeed?

Hallstrom: Number one, [mindfulness] strengthens empathy. It strengthens synaptic connections. When a student says, "I can't do math," that enforces a negative neural pathway. With mindfulness, students learn to strengthen the positive pathway instead. It increases learning and memory processes. It increases emotional regulation. Self-esteem increases. Teens are more stressed than any other age group. They're firing the alarm part of their brain, the amygdala, all the time. It can't distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat. We're helping them through this training how to turn that off so they can learn.

Moulding: It's an enormous part of our mission to help kids learn skills and ways of doing things rather than be obsessed by [mastering lessons]. We have an emphasis on the arts. They really de-stress kids. [When you're] singing, dancing, or painting, you're using different parts of the body than when you're sitting in an AP class. A huge part of thinking about this mindfulness and healthy bodies-healthy minds is graduating kids who aren't so stressed that they can't enjoy a beautiful piece of music or have a conversation with a friend who's struggling.

karuna class.JPG
Lucinda Burk
A Karuna School class on mindfulness.

This fall, CSW students will also be able to take a Karuna course on the history of nonviolent movements. CSW already offers around 300 unique courses; why add this one?

Tucker: We want more classes that talk about peace and equity. We're trying to make it more holistic while also thinking about where our students' interests lie. We are working on it, especially across disciplines.

Moulding: We already have two days in our curriculum [set aside for] diversity day and social justice day. [This] wasn't us thinking, "Oh, they could make something happen that we're not doing." [Karuna can] help build what we're already doing and make CSW known for those programs.

Beyond the Karuna classes CSW students will be able to take, the partnership might also produce a mindful parenting course. Why bring that to CSW?

Moulding: A huge part of the role for a good, small independent high school is life skills. Families are hungry [for those skills] in our complex, troubled world. In the news recently, [there's] sadly been a number of suicides in the Newton public schools. What happens when you read about that stuff? What do you do as a parent? A mindful parenting class] aligns with what we like to do here.

Hallstrom: I think there's awareness about the need to address the teens' stress levels. At the same time, parents are saying "What about me?" The parents want to have these skills as well. They want continuity at home.

CSW has plans for a new building on campus, and there might be space for the Karuna School there. What are your long-term goals for the partnership?

Moulding: It's a new health and fitness center [with a] meditation space [and] a yoga room. If this program develops the way we hope it will, we could see it housed in that building. The health and wellness piece is the most all-encompassing piece of what Prajna {Hallstrom} or anyone who followed her would offer.

Hallstrom: I think [CSW] is the perfect place for us. Students there have a deep sense for wanting to make a difference in the world. I think it's so wonderful that having their students acquire these SEL [tools] is a priority for them. We're extremely excited because they have the school and the facilities; we have the curriculum.

The interviews used in this article have been condensed and edited.

Maggie Quick can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

Weston middle schoolers All Shook Up this weekend

February 4, 2014 12:30 PM

Alex Friedman, Hannah Lebaron and Ben Sher sing and dance to "Jailhouse Rock.:

The Weston Middle School Drama Club will be presenting the musical “All Shook Up!,” starting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the school’s Amy Potter Center.

The musical is inspired by and features the songs of Elvis Presley, with the book by Joe Dipietro. It is presented through special arrangement with Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

The production will continue at 3 p.m. Friday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens.

Terry Mullany, as Dean, and Hyacinth Tauriac, as Lorraine, singing "Now or Never", and picturing their potential future together.

Eli Anton, as Chad, and VJ Rougeau, discuss what it means to be "cool."

Intern at Weston's Gifford School arrested for hiding phone camera in school bathroom

December 19, 2013 03:55 PM

A 24-year-old college intern working at The Gifford School in Weston was arrested this week for hiding a cell phone camera in a school bathroom, according to authorities.

Cambridge resident Stephano Stravoravdis was arraigned in Waltham District Court Monday on one count of setting up secret video, photo, or electronic surveillance of partial nudity, Weston police said.

Stravoravdis was arrested Monday morning after a school staff member found his cell phone hidden inside a paper bag with a hole in it in a bathroom around 10:15 a.m., according to Stravoravdis worked at Gifford as part of his graduate studies at a Boston-area college, but authorities and police declined to specify which one.

Police and school officials said no students were filmed, but neither gave any further details on who or what may have been caught on camera.

Michael Bassichis, the school’s principal, said the cell phone was found in a bathroom used mainly by teachers and staff. He said the door is always locked, and students need a staff member to let them in to use it.

“The bathroom is near the offices and is used almost exclusively by adults,” Bassichis said over the phone Thursday.

Police used surveillance video from a camera near the bathroom to determine who went into the bathroom that morning, Bassichis said. He said police told him no students were on the video.

Bassichis said he did not think Stravoravdis, who had been working with the school since the beginning of the semester, had hidden a camera any other times.

“We believe this is an isolated incident,” he said. “We don’t have proof that he has done it at any other times. We don’t believe it was ongoing, nor do the police.”

Weston police said in a statement they believe the incident was isolated. Police representatives did not comment any further on the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

Officials from the school sent letters home to parents this week notifying them of the situation, Bassichis said. The school is a private nonprofit for students aged 8 through 20 with behavioral or learning difficulties.

“We didn’t miss a heartbeat calling authorities, and [Stravoravdis] went willingly from the school to the police station,” Bassichis said.

Stravoravdis is on indefinite administrative leave from the school, he said.

State Sen. Barrett joins committees on health, adoption, early edication

December 12, 2013 12:40 PM

State Sen. Mike Barrett, a Lexington Democrat who also represents Waltham and other nearby communities, has been named to three committees specializing in health disparities, adoption costs, and early education access, according to a statement from his office.

State Sen. Mike Barrett
He was recently named to the Health Disparities Council, the Early Education and Care Commission, and a newly-created task force on the adoption process in Massachusetts. The Health Disparities Council, created in 2006, looks for solutions to health care inequalities. The council includes hospitals, insurance companies, community health centers, and the Massachusetts Medical Society, among others. Originally charged with examining racial and ethnic disparities, the council included people with disabilities earlier this year after Barrett pushed for it, according to his office. Representatives noted that he also serves as Senate chair on the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. His office, citing the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said that 13 percent of disabled Massachusetts residents report getting to a doctor is prohibitively expensive, compared to 6 percent of people without a disability. That gap is small relative to other states, but Barrett said in his statement that more can be done. When people with disabilities do get to the doctor’s office, Barrett said, they face further challenges: Earlier this year, a survey of more than 250 specialists in major American cities found that fewer than 10 percent of offices had disability-friendly equipment, such as height-adjustable examining tables, and most lacked specially-trained employees, the statement said.

“On the whole, people with disabilities smoke at a higher rate and have higher obesity numbers,” said Barrett, a healthcare IT specialist by profession, in his statement. “When you dig deeper, you’ll see this population also has a harder time seeing doctors due to high costs.”

Barrett has also been appointed to a newly-formed adoption task force which will recommend ways to reduce costs and delays in the adoption process. The task force, led by children and families department commissioner Olga Roche, will consult with chief justices of the probate and family and juvenile courts to come up with solutions.

Adoption expenses consist of home study and legal fees, among other costs, Barrett's office said.

Barrett will also serve on the recently-created Early Education and Care Commission, which will study early education's high costs and care services, and look at ways to expand access.

Citing the nonprofit Early Education for All, Barrett's office said 40 percent of pre-school aged children in Massachusetts are not enrolled in an early education program.

“Sixteen percent of kids who aren’t reading at a proficient level when they finish third grade end up not graduating from high school on time,” Barrett said. “We should be investing in their future from an early age.”

For more information, visit Barrett's legislative page.

Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownwaltham, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

Local students honored by Middlesex District Attorney for avoiding drugs and alcohol

December 2, 2013 04:55 PM

About 85 middle school students in Middlesex County were honored for their leadership, judgment, and decision-making -- especially when it came to avoiding drugs and alcohol -- at an annual peer leadership conference hosted by the Middlesex District Attorney's office.

The conference, which was also hosted by nonprofit Middlesex Partnerships for Youth and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Association, was held Monday at the Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford. Students from nine local schools who were chosen as role models by school officials were recognized at the event, according to a statement from the district attorney's office.

The nine school districts include Bedford, Dover-Sherborn, Groton-Dunstable, Littleton, Lowell, Reading, Somerville, Weston, and Wilmington.

The event included a keynote address by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, and a presentation by Interscholastic Association's "You Lead" program that supports and connects resources for young people choosing not to use drugs, drink alcohol or smoke tobacco.

“Our youth are under a tremendous amount of pressure whether it to be to fit in with their peers or to be academically or athletically successful,” Ryan said in the statement. “It is refreshing to see these youth who have made good choices in their lives and are committed to healthy living.

"This program is about supporting those who exhibit the confidence, maturity and strength to make positive decisions everyday and to help them continue to be a role model in their community.”

A similar event will be held next month for high school students, officials said.

For more information, visit the Middlesex District Attorney's website.

Panera in Waltham's Main Street Marketplace to open Nov. 27

November 20, 2013 04:25 PM

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Panera is scheduled to open Nov. 27 in Waltham's Main Street Marketplace plaza, located at 1030 Main St.

Local pastry and sandwich lovers, rejoice: the new Panera at the Main Street Marketplace plaza in Waltham is slated to open Nov. 27, according to company officials.

There will be a grand opening party on Dec. 4, where the first 200 customers who purchase something will receive a Panera travel mug with free refills for seven days, company representatives said.

Panera's opening is the last of the highly-anticipated fast food chains to begin service in the plaza: the new Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened in October, and Chipotle Mexican Grill opened in late September.

Panera previously hoped to include a drive-through in its initial plans, but city officials recommended dropping the plans, which the company did.

The Main Street Marketplace formerly hosted a Ford car dealership for over three decades before it closed down. Property owners started building about 10 new storefronts at the beginning of 2012.

Other stores in the plaza include iParty, Massage Envy, Aspen Dental, Doctors Express, and Supercuts.

Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownwaltham, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

Superior Court nominee from Weston comes under fire in hearing

November 13, 2013 05:55 PM

Attorney Joseph Berman, Gov. Deval Patrick’s nominee for a Superior Court judgeship, came under fire Wednesday for his membership in the Anti-Defamation League, $110,000 in campaign contributions, and his representation of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

At the start of the hearing, before his character witnesses finished testifying, Berman was criticized for belonging to the ADL. Berman is a board member of the New England chapter.

Councilor Marilyn Devaney called the ADL hypocritical because it refuses to recognize the Armenian genocide by the Turks. She said she has a bias against the ADL that she would be unable to put aside when considering the nominee.

Councilor Jennie Caissie said she objects to letters the organization writes to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee prior to judicial candidate hearings. Caissie called the letters “bona fide litmus tests” on issues ranging from abortion to the First Amendment. She said she is troubled by the positions of the ADL, and criticized Berman for not withdrawing from the group.

Caissie said she was concerned Berman would be an activist judge. “I have said many times I don’t want ideologues on the bench,” she said.

Berman said if confirmed “I will check my ideology at the door.” He said he has thought deeply about his ability to be an impartial judge, and he tried to assure her he was not an ideologue.

“I am not going on the bench as an ADL judge . . . I am not there to advance its agenda. I am there to be a judge, and that’s what I will do,” Berman said.

Berman, a Weston resident who is a partner at the Boston law firm Looney & Grossman, was questioned for more than four hours by the eight-member panel that vets judicial nominees. He graduated from Dartmouth College and received his law degree from The University of Michigan Law School. His practice focuses on commercial litigation, trying several cases in Superior Court each year.

Jeffrey Robbins, an attorney at the Boston law firm Mintz Levin and a member of the ADL, said that Devaney and Berman “are exactly in accord,” on the Armenian genocide, saying Berman led the effort of the New England chapter in demanding the national organization change its position.

Berman, 49, told councilors he was tempted to resign from the ADL, but changed his mind because the organization does great work in so many other areas. He thought one commission member resigning would not make a difference, and decided to stay and work for change from the inside.

A spokesman for the ADL could not be reached for comment. The ADL was founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry through information, education, legislation, and advocacy, according to the organization’s website.

Robbins said he hoped Berman would not be held accountable for decisions made by the national ADL. Caissie disagreed, saying people are defined by the groups they belong to, their friends, and their positions.

Councilor Robert Jubinville questioned why Berman did not leave the organization after mounting an insurrection. “It would have made a principled decision on your part,” Jubinville said.

Berman said it was a moral struggle and he ultimately decided the benefits of staying outweighed leaving.

Jubinville said Berman’s membership in the ADL raises concerns about his ideology, and how it might influence his decisions as a judge.

Berman said he would not be influenced, and added the ADL stands for protecting people against discrimination.

Jubinville argued the position papers of the ADL on judicial candidates point to an ideology, “and, you as a member take those, and champion those,” he said.

Berman said he agrees with most of the positions the group takes, except for the Armenian genocide, but it would not impact his judgeship. Berman said he would follow the law to the best he could interpret it.

“I can assure you councilor, I would decide cases based on the facts,” he said.

Berman described himself an idealist who decided to go to law school to change people’s lives. As a child, he said, he was inspired by the character Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “I thought maybe you can change the world, or maybe you can change just one life,” he said.

He said he is called to public service because he has been very lucky in his life and wants to give back. His goal as a judge would be to always be prepared, patient, and opened-minded, with an awareness of how a judge’s decisions impact people’s lives, he told councilors.

His thoughts about the importance of keeping the judicial branch independent led him to represent a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

Caissie questioned Berman about his decision to go to Guantanamo. Berman said it was one of the cases he is most proud of in his career. He represented one client at the camp, who refused to meet him. The client was later released as part of an executive order by President Obama.

“The issue was to me a constitutional issue and a civil rights issue, which was depriving someone of their liberty without due process,” Berman said. “There are people who ought to be there, probably for the rest of their lives. But they are entitled to due process.”

Berman said he believes in the judicial system, and if the United States is going to detain someone that person is entitled to due process.

“It’s what makes us better than the terrorists,” Berman said.

Berman’s hefty political contributions also came up. Berman acknowledged he has given approximately $110,000 in donations during the last decade, exclusively to Democrats. He has given money to Patrick, former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Treasurer Steve Grossman and Sen. Katherine Clark. In 2010, he gave $3,200 to the Democratic State Committee.

Jubinville asked him if he thought the public would have the perception that his large donations pushed him toward a judicial nomination. Berman said he understands some might raise eyebrows, but he said he would argue making contributions is almost counterproductive to any judicial nomination because it becomes part of the discussion.

Berman said he donates money because he believes democracy is not a spectator’s sport, adding that he does more than just give money. He said he has held campaign signs on street corners, gone door to door for candidates, and helped write campaign literature.

“We all do what we can do in our democracy. It is a First Amendment right,” Berman said.

“People make political donations. Some decide at some point in their life they want to become a judge,” he added.

Caissie charged that there was an uptick in his political donations after 2004 – the first time he applied for a judgeship on the district court bench. She asked how she could explain to constituents who are skeptical about the $100,000 in campaign contributions, and might think he “bought” the nomination.

She asked how much he has donated to charitable organizations this year. He did not know the answer.

Councilor Michael Albano applauded Berman for taking political positions and being actively involved. Albano said “of course” Berman has an ideology, and suggested it was naďve to think judges do not have political leanings. Albano said he was more interested in his sentencing philosophy.

Berman said he was not a fan of mandatory minimums because of infringements on judicial discretion.

Jubinville attempted to understand how Berman would treat defendants addicted to drugs. Jubinville said he sees judges who do not understand addiction, and when they put addicts in jail they are not helping the person.

Jubinville asked him a hypothetical about what he would do when a probation officer brings a defendant in who has failed a drug or alcohol test, and the probation officer wants the judge to incarcerate the person. Berman said he would hesitate to send the person to jail, unless he could be sure they were going to get treatment.

Jubinville asked if he thinks the person addicted to drugs has a choice or it is a medical problem. Berman said he thinks it is a little bit of both. People make choices and they have to be held accountable, Berman said.

Weston, Wellesley, Newton among 25 most expensive housing markets nationwide, report finds

November 6, 2013 02:48 PM

If you want to live in Wellesley, Newton or Weston, you better have big-time bucks, a real estate report found.

The three affluent Boston suburbs were ranked among the 25 most expensive communities to buy a home nationwide, according to a Coldwell Banker Real Estate report released today that compared four-bedroom, two-bathroom houses in 1,900 real estate markets across the US.

According to the report, Weston was the 9th most expensive market, with a $1.23 million average price for a four-bedroom home. Wellesley came in 16th with $1.08 million, and Newton earned the 25th spot with $912,745.

Malibu, Calif. was deemed the most expensive, with a four-bedroom house costing about $2.16 million. About a dozen other California communities were among the most expensive 25, according to the report.

By comparison, the majority of the 25 most affordable housing markets were scattered throughout the midwest, with Cleveland, Ohio dubbed the least expensive: the average four-bedroom house costs $63,729 there, the report finds.

New York is the only state that had markets ranked on both the most expensive and affordable lists: a home in Buffalo costs $101,631, while a comparable Great Neck house costs an average of $1.1 million, the study said.

For more information, visit Coldwell Banker's website.

Follow us on Twitter: @yourwellesley, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

Obama coming to Weston tonight to raise cash and enjoy Red Sox cookies

October 30, 2013 10:53 AM

President Obama is expected tonight to raise money at a reception and dinner in Weston, with about 60 high-powered, moneyed attendees planning to fill Democratic coffers.

The event is being hosted by longtime Democratic fundraiser Alan D. Solomont and his wife, Susan. Guests will be served Spanish-influenced fare in honor of Solomont’s post as US ambassador to Spain, which he completed in August. For dessert? Red Sox cookies.

Among those expected to attend are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Governor Deval Patrick; Ken Burns, the director of acclaimed documentaries; Representative Steve Israel, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Swanee Hunt, former US ambassador to Austria; and retired US Navy admiral James Stavridis.

Also expected are several members of Congress, including John Tierney, of Salem; Niki Tsongas, of Lowell; and David Cicilline, of Rhode Island. Former congressman Barney Frank is also planning to attend, according to a DCCC aide.

It’s the fifth fundraiser that Obama has held in the 2014 cycle for the DCCC. Ticket prices ranged from $16,200 per person to $64,800 per couple. The DCCC would not say how much Obama expected to raise in total.

Solomont is the former US ambassador to Spain, serving from January 2010 until August 2013. He will start in January as the dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts.

Solomont has for decades been a prominent Democratic fundraiser and his home has hosted the party’s luminaries. Bill and Hillary Clinton have partied at their home, as did Senator Edward M. Kennedy, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle.

When Obama walks into his house, he will be able to view a mixture of paintings and Grateful Dead memorabilia. He could also peruse Solomont’s collection of autographs, which includes a 1794 document signed by Samuel Adams, letters from Eleanor Roosevelt, a letter signed by President Harry Truman, and an autograph and photo of Jack Kerouac.

Or, if he’s so inclined, Solomont could also show the president the House Judiciary committee’s roll-call vote on President Nixon’s impeachment.

Obama will attend the fundraiser after he delivers a health care speech at historic Faneuil Hall. He is scheduled to head to the airport after the fundraiser, leaving about an hour before the first pitch is thrown at Fenway to start Game 6 of the World Series.

Asked at the end of a White House briefing on Tuesday whether Obama would be staying in Boston for the game, press secretary (and die-hard Red Sox fan) Jay Carney said, “No, ma’am.”

Matt Viser can be reached at This post first appeared on the Political Intelligence blog.

Obama to visit Faneuil Hall, Weston home to talk health care and raise money

October 28, 2013 04:53 PM

BOSTON (AP) — President Barack Obama plans to use Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall as a backdrop for a speech touting the federal health care law, and later headline a fundraiser at the Weston home of a top donor.

The White House says Obama will travel to Boston on Wednesday as his administration continues to deal with issues related to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Faneuil Hall is where former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney — Obama’s rival in the 2012 presidential election — signed the state’s landmark health care law in 2006, with top Democrats standing by his side.

White House adviser David Simas tells The Boston Globe it’s the perfect setting to show how Democrats and Republicans can work together.

Obama’s visit is planned on the same day Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before Congress on problems with the government’s health care website.

While in Boston, Obama will attend a fund-raiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for House campaigns around the country, the Globe reported. The fund-raiser, which will also include House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, will be at the Weston home of Alan Solomont, Obama’s former ambassador to Spain.

The Washington Post reported that the Weston event is one of at least nine fundraisers over the span of a month. According to the Post, tickets for the Weston event are as high as $64,800 a couple.

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