May 26, 2007

Smoking leaves students fuming


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Marathon fourth-graders picket Friday with anti-smoking signs such as “No Smoking Zone,” across Main Street from Marathon High School. They put their anti-smoking, Bill of Rights and social responsibilities lessons into action protesting smoking by older students.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Marathon Elementary School may not be a breeding ground for young radicals, but it is giving birth to some civic-minded children.
That was demonstrated Friday by the students of fourth-grade teacher Kathy Matson, who wanted to take some grass roots action and get their message against cigarette smoking to the streets Friday morning.
“No more smoking! No more smoking!” about 19 students chanted as they marched back and forth along the sidewalk across Main Street from Marathon High School.
The intended targets of the protest had been high school students who are prone to enjoying an early morning cigarette in front of the First Methodist Church before the school day gets started. Unfortunately for the fourth-graders — but probably fortunately for the would-be pariahs — the benches in front of the church were free of any noxious tobacco fumes.
“I just spoke to one of the teachers at the high school and she told me that they’re usually absent on Fridays,” Matson said as she collected the backpacks from the stragglers in her class, handed them a picket sign, and sent them across the street under the care of the crossing guard.
The students’ parents dropped them off at the high school for the protest, which started at 7:45 a.m. and continued until well after the high school students had moved into the building.
“Enthusiastic” just barely describes their anti-smoking efforts.
“They had this idea, and I sort of hoped that it would go away … but everyone loves it,” Matson said with a laugh.
The students had completed a unit in science about the dangers of smoking, and are working on the Bill of Rights and citizens’ responsibilities in social studies class.
“The very first day, when we started talking about what the unit would be about — a lot of them walk by and see the kids smoking in front of the church — and they said ‘Why can’t we picket them? We’re sick of walking through their smoke,’” Matson said, adding that this was the last activity of the unit.
Other activities included examining the damage that smoking tobacco can cause to the lungs; learning about carbon monoxide; making posters; and even testing the levels of air pollution in the students’ own homes.
But now, the young activists were pounding the pavement and demanding change.
Juli Zelsnack said her daughter Stephanie, 10, takes her activism very seriously.
“She definitely has a problem with cigarette smoke. The smell really makes her sick,” Juli Zelsnack said about her daughter, who had been looking forward to protesting with her friends.
“They could stay here all day until you drag them back to the bus,” she said.
“They’re waiting for a honk. Every time there’s a honk, they do a big ‘Yay!’”
Even an otherwise shy Stephanie Zelsnack shouted her approval when the next car let loose with its horn.
They were loud when they got honks, but managed to get even louder when elementary school Principal Shelley Warnow promised to treat them to ice cream at lunchtime that day.
“It took a lot of courage to do this,” Warnow said of the students. After all, standing up to bigger kids is the true sign of courage for elementary students.
Not wanting the protest to draw to a close too early, Cera Henninger, 10, suggested that they move the action to nearby Lovell Field.
“When my sister picks me up, there are, like, 16 people smoking there,” Henninger said with a disgusted sneer.
They didn’t go over to Lovell Field, and instead picked up their backpacks from the stash in the bushes next to the high school. But before piling onto the school bus that came to collect them, they let off a few more of their chants.




Bids approved for student center planned at TC3

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A $2.3 million student center at Tompkins Cortland Community College will become a reality as the Board of Trustees Executive Committee approved the project Friday morning. Work could start within a month.
Both Cortland and Tompkins counties approved revisions to the college’s master plan to fund the center. The master plan funding thus increased from $33 million to $34.2 million.
TC3 President Carl Haynes said chargebacks from tuition charged to counties outside Cortland and Tompkins with students attending TC3 would pay for the additional cost, but the counties might need to bond for the funding in the short term.
The center would include two lounge areas — one a formal lounge and the other informal with activities and table games, a conference room, meditation room, vending room, a room for student clubs, student government office, and offices for the director and assistant director of campus activities with a reception area.
The nearly 10,000-square-foot building would be joined to the main campus building at the cafeteria’s southeast corner.
Ralph Shortell, director of campus activities, said the meditation room was added after realizing students needed a quiet area for religious reflection.
In a telephone conference with Robert Ross, dean of college services, Ross explained to the committee that the project’s original bids in April were close to $2.6 million. He said the work was trimmed back, for example, using less expensive finishes such as paint instead of paneling. He said a fireplace remains in the plan; the fireplace would be in the game room.
Shortell said the original idea was to renovate space within the building for the center, but a stand-alone building turned out more cost-effective.
“It was on the back burner and got moved up to the front of the stove,” said Shortell. He said the building would probably not be completed before February or March and until then space for student activities could be limited. Currently the gym and fireplace lounge are torn up to make room for a learning commons and digital media center; that work may not be completed until the winter break, he said.
The individual bids awarded Friday were: general trades to F.E. Jones, of Binghamton, for $1,549,000; plumbing to Kimble, of Elmira, for $166,780; heating ventilation and air-conditioning to Louis Picciano, of Vestal; and electrical to Nelcorp, of Endwell, at $245,105.


Homer to get Chinese teacher

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The school district is gearing up to make Mandarin Chinese part of its curriculum, in part by bringing a teacher from China to its schools for the next two or three school years.
Last week the district won a grant through the College Board — a New York City-based nonprofit whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity — to pay for the teacher’s full-time salary and most of his or her expenses, Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said Wednesday.
The district will be responsible for paying for the teacher’s housing, transportation and visa costs, but it is too early to know what that amount will total, Larison said. It also hasn’t been determined whether the teacher will be at Homer for two or three years, he said.
Larison said he, as well as high school Principal Fred Farah and some foreign language teachers, decided to apply for the grant a few months ago after thinking about where they want the school to be in 10 to 15 years.
He said with China’s huge population and growing importance economically, it makes sense for students to learn how to understand the Chinese and be familiar with their language.
“It certainly is an economical decision,” he said. “They are certainly big players.”
He said in the Chinese teacher’s first year, he or she will mainly teach about China’s history and culture, going into social studies classes in buildings across the district.
In the first year the teacher will also go into some foreign language classes from time to time to give_the students a taste of Mandarin Chinese.
“The Mandarin Chinese will start out small and grow in time,” he said. “I don’t know if our kids know whether they should say “I want to take Chinese’ because they have no exposure to it. So we are looking for ways to expose out foreign language students to Mandarin Chinese.”
The hope is the second year the teacher will be able to teach a Mandarin Chinese elective class, he said. The Chinese teacher would be accompanied by another teacher at all times in the classroom, as the teacher is only certified to teach in China and not in the United States.
Larison said it would be ideal for one of Homer’s regular foreign language teachers to take over teaching Mandarin Chinese once the teacher has left. He said  several teachers are interested in taking Chinese language lessons at SUNY Cortland over the next couple of years to be able to do that.
“So hopefully at the end of two years they will be certified,” Larison said.
Farah said foreign language teachers could also pick up some Chinese from interacting with the teacher from China.