Biomedical program coming to Haverhill High

Haverhill High School has received a $50,000 grant that will be used to start a program in biomedical science.

The program from Project Lead The Way (PLTW) will better prepare students for career success, school officials said.

The program will be launched in the fall at Haverhill High for students in grades nine through 12 and will feature a series of modules, units, or courses, according to Principal Glenn Burns.

Burns said money from the grant will also support professional development for teachers and the purchase of materials and equipment to be used in the hands-on, problem-based courses.

He said the goal of the program is to provide students with real-world opportunities to make informed decisions on their own future.

"The PLTW Biomedical Science pathway will provide Haverhill High School’s extraordinary scholars the opportunity to engage in high quality coursework that will prepare them for the college or career of their choice in this highly competitive field," Burns said in a prepared statement.

He said there is an annual participation fee of $2,000, which the school pays to cover all PLTW courses taught at Haverhill High.

PLTW is a nonprofit organization that provides learning experiences for prekindergarten through grade 12 students and teachers through pathways in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

Haverhill High School joins more than 11,500 schools across the country offering PLTW programs to millions of students.

Burns said Haverhill High is one of 58 schools across the commonwealth to receive the grant, which is supported by the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker, the One8 Foundation and Mass STEM Hub.

“Engaging our students throughout their K-12 school years with hands-on lessons in science, engineering, computer science, technology and math will prepare them for success after high school and strengthen the Massachusetts workforce,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, co-chairman of the STEM Advisory Council, said.

“We are proud to partner with Haverhill High School to empower students to develop the in-demand knowledge and transportable skills to thrive in our evolving world,” said Vince Bertram, PLTW president and CEO. “Thank you to the Governor’s Office, the One8 Foundation, and Mass STEM Hub for making these grants possible and further investing in Massachusetts students."

— Mike LaBella


Police help kids with cancer fight

Monday morning of last week started with an unusual ride for 7-year-old Evan Portorreal and 11-year-old Bryan Estrella, who were chauffeured in style to the Haverhill Police Department by an officer in a cruiser, lights flashing.

Most days in the last year have been out of the norm for the two Haverhill boys, both of whom are battling pediatric cancer. Between repeated trips to Boston for treatment and the unpredictable ups and downs of chemotherapy, Evan, Bryan and their families were dealt a challenging hand in 2018 — both emotionally and financially.

The goal of Monday's event at the police station was to relieve some of that financial burden for the boys' families. Each family was presented with a $5,000 check from the Massachusetts nonprofit Cops for Kids with Cancer.

"It's a huge relief," said Madisyn Portorreal, Evan's mother. "As good as the insurance is, it just doesn't cover everything. And we don't get a lot of days at work, so when we have to take him in to (Dana Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic) or be home with him, it's not paid. So this will ... cover us being able to take the day off or take him to Jimmy, or be home with him when he's not feeling well."

Cops for Kids with Cancer began in 2002 when former Boston police Capt. John Dow, who was battling a cancer diagnosis of his own, noticed the number of sick children in the hospital around him. A few members of the Boston police held a golf tournament with some Irish police officers, donating the funds to a children's cancer hospital in Ireland, and then grew the nonprofit.

Today, Cops for Kids with Cancer donates $5,000 to eight families per month. The only requirements are that there is a need and that the family has a child battling cancer. To date, the organization has given more than $3 million to families in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.

Edward McNelley, a director of the nonprofit, said the group's board meetings are often filled with "big guys with wet eyes."

"Five thousand dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but to them it's the difference between making it or not making it, and protecting their child or not protecting their child," McNelley said of the families that benefit from the organization's work.

Daisy Estrella, Bryan's mother, has had to take a step back from her duties as a foster mother to focus on the needs of her son, whom she adopted when he was only a few months old. Scott Paganelli, Bryan's "big brother" through the Big Friends, Little Friends mentoring program, said Bryan, who is autistic, has had a "very challenging time with his treatment" due to autism-related anxieties.

"I couldn't work because I'm down at Dana Farber every day," Estrella said. "It's amazing what the Police Department is doing about helping two families. I appreciate (it) a lot. I bless everybody."

Following a brief ceremony at the police station, the boys were given trinkets from the officers: a stuffed bear in a custom police sweatshirt, a fidget spinner and the Haverhill department's police challenge coin. Outside, a half-dozen cruisers sat with their blue lights flashing.

"We're part of the community," Police Chief Alan DeNaro said after the ceremony. "When something happens in the community, when the community needs help, it directly impacts us.

"I think everybody knows somebody who's been touched by cancer, myself included, so anything we can do to help people when they're battling such a life-altering illness is important."

— Kiera Blessing


City receives money to fight gangs

Haverhill and Methuen will receive $185,000 through the state's Shannon Grant program to address regional youth gang violence.

An additional $29,709 will be distributed to UMass Lowell's satellite campus at Harbor Place in Haverhill, which is a Local Action Research Partner (LARP) with the program.

Grants through the Sen. Charles E. Shannon Jr. Community Safety Initiative help communities develop plans to prevent youth violence and gang problems.

Strategies funded by the grant include social intervention and opportunity provision programs, as well as gang task force personnel costs and police overtime.

Methuen police conduct hot-spot and directed patrols, based on crime statistics and complaints, in areas known for gang and drug activity.

Their main grant partner is the Methuen-Arlington Neighborhood Inc. (MAN Inc.), which uses its grant money to run various after-school programs as well as educational field trips, according to Methuen Police Capt. Kevin Mahoney, community outreach bureau commander.

"The funding is very useful to our department as it allows us to target areas of complaints of drugs and gangs," Mahoney said.

Haverhill's grant partners include the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill, the Mount Washington Alliance, the Haverhill YMCA, and the UTEC organization for street outreach.

Haverhill police use their grant money for efforts such as hot-spot patrols in the Mount Washington and Acre neighborhoods, where officers are on the lookout for gang activity and also work to develop relationships with young people who may be targets of gang recruitment.

"Each partner has a role to play, whether its an after-school program or simply keeping them engaged with activities such as basketball," said police Deputy Chief Anthony Haugh. "As part of the Shannon Grant, UMass Lowell gathers data to see if these programs have had a positive impact. We've noticed we've had more and more youth participating in these programs, which we know has had a positive effect in keeping kids out of situations that put them in the at-risk category."

The $7.1 million being distributed through this year’s Shannon Grant program is being administered by the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security

— Mike LaBella


City men charged with heroin possession

Police charged two Haverhill men with possession of heroin and prescription drugs following a motor vehicle stop.

Police charged Nicholas Leo, 31, of 17A Orchard Ave. with possession of a Class A drug (heroin) and possession of a Class E drug (alprazolam and Adderall) without a prescription.

Andre Bergeron, 34, of 57 Madison St. was charged with possession of a Class A drug (heroin, subsequent offense) and possession of a Class E drug (alprazolam and Adderall) without a prescription.

The men were charged after their car was stopped by Groveland police Feb. 9.

The two men were arraigned on the charges in Haverhill District Court. According to court officials, a judge set bail at $5,000 cash for Leo and scheduled a pretrial conference, via video, for March 6.

Bergeron was ordered held without bail and must attend a 28-day detox program. A status review was scheduled for March 13.

According to Groveland Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen, on Feb. 9 at 11:20 a.m. a Groveland police officer saw a vehicle that was traveling on School Street cross over the double yellow line three times.

The officer conducted a motor vehicle stop and noticed that the driver, identified as Leo, had a small blue container attached to his keys, Gillen said. The officer recognized the container as one that is normally used to transport drugs, Gillen said.

Leo and his passenger, Bergeron, were asked to get out of the vehicle. Following an on-scene investigation, police found seven grams of heroin inside the vehicle and on Bergeron's person, Gillen said.

The two men were arrested and taken to the Groveland Police Station, where they were held without bail pending their arraignment in Haverhill District Court.

— Mike LaBella


State rejects proposal for charter school in city

A proposal to open a Wildflower Montessori public charter school in Haverhill will not be moving forward at this time.

State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said he will not recommend approval of the Wildflower school for Haverhill.

The application, which was supposed to have been voted on this month, is dead for this cycle.

"This is a huge victory for the students who attend our public schools," Ted Kempinski, president of the Haverhill Education Association (the teachers union), said in a prepared statement. "Our schools desperately need more funding. What we don’t need is another charter school that will drain money from the public schools that educate all students."

The proposal called for creating a 240-seat Wildflower public charter school that the Haverhill Education Association says would have taken away more than $1.6 million a year from the city's public schools.

According to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, in a memo to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education dated Feb. 6, the commissioner wrote that his primary objection was that "the applicant group is at the beginning stages of developing the necessary knowledge and capacity to implement all aspects of the proposed school design, including governance and management."

Wildflower spokeswoman Katie Graham said her group is looking forward to discussing the review with state education officials and getting their feedback.

"This is a new model and our applicant group is at the beginning of its journey," Graham said. "Our founding team is a diverse and innovative group of professionals and parents who have strong ties to Haverhill and a deep commitment to improving educational outcomes for children.

"In the meantime, we are continuing to grow and continue to support our existing Wildflower schools in Haverhill," she said about Zinnia Montessori, an independent preschool located at Hillview Montessori in Ward Hill, and Marigold Montessori School, located at Trinity Episcopal Church on White Street.

Zinnia and Marigold are both Wildflower-model schools and are supported by the Wildflower Foundation.

"We have a third preschool, called Wisteria Montessori, that will be opening at 76 Merrimack St. this spring," Graham said.

The teachers union had been urging local teachers to email members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to vote against the proposal.

"We are glad that we have won this important victory for our public schools," Kempinski said. "Now we can focus on what will really make a difference for our students: more resources and support for our public schools, the very things we are seeking through the statewide Fund Our Future campaign.''

— Mike LaBella


Lawmakers want MBTA to scrap fare hikes

Lawmakers are pushing back against the MBTA’s proposal to hike fares by $32 million, saying the increases will hurt low-income riders and dampen ridership.

Merrimack Valley legislators are calling on the T to scrap its proposed 6.3 percent fare increase for the commuter rail, bus and subway system, planned to go into effect July 1.

"The constituents we represent … comprise incredibly diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and while some may be able to insulate themselves from this price increase, many more are dependent on the (commuter rail) to get to work each and every day and will need to make incredibly difficult sacrifices to get by," read a letter to the T’s fiscal control board from a half-dozen lawmakers.

They included state Reps. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence; Linda Campbell, D-Methuen; Tram Nguyen, D-Andover; Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence; and Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover; plus state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover.

Lawmakers say the fare hike will also negatively affect MBTA ridership.

Officials from the MBTA submitted the fare recommendations to the control board last week.

Under their plan, commuter rail prices would vary by region, but the maximum increase for a one-way fare would be 75 cents. The cost of a monthly commuter rail pass would increase from $5.50 to $27.75, depending on the region.

For example, a Zone 7 monthly pass from Haverhill to Boston's North Station would cost $360 a month under the proposed rates, an increase of $23.50.

A Zone 8 monthly pass from Newburyport to Boston would cost $388 a month, up $25. A Zone 3 monthly pass from Salem to Boston would increase by $16.75 to $261 a month.

Most CharlieCard holders would see local bus fares increase 10 cents to $1.80. Subway fares would rise 15 cents to $2.40, while the cost of a monthly pass would go up by $5.50 to $90, the T has said.

State law limits MBTA fare hikes to 7 percent over a two-year period. The last time they were raised was in 2016.

The T has scheduled public meetings next month to discuss the proposal ahead of a vote by the fiscal control board on March 11.

Gov. Charlie Baker has defended the proposed fare hike, saying the plan for incremental increases avoids hitting riders with steep increases such as the 23 percent average hike that occurred in 2012.

"The best thing the T can do to improve its performance and to get people to ride it is to do a better job of being reliable, dependable and predictable,” Baker said recently.

The MBTA plans to spend $8 billion over the next five years to upgrade tracks, signals and other infrastructure.

Other lawmakers from the region said they are worried about the impact of the fare hikes. State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, said she shares the concerns of her colleagues that the increases will "discourage riders, many of whom regularly receive sub-par service today, from using public transportation in the future."

"The commonwealth needs to keep commuters on public transportation and off roadways as much as possible to keep our economy vibrant and our air clean," she said.

State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said the fare hikes will hurt ridership "which will lead to more cars and congestion on our roadways contributing to our carbon footprint."

She said the move would also add to the financial burden of commuters who rely on the state's public transit system.

"With housing costs continuing to rise, people are being forced to live in areas that aren’t convenient to their job locations and have to commute greater distances to work," she said. "Working families don’t need another impediment and hardship, like this fare hike, on top of everything else."

— Christian M. Wade


A Valentine's Day message: Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate is high on the list of Valentine's Day gifts given by couples, by parents to their children, by grandparents to grandchildren and others who want to share what is truly an ancient treat.

And at this time of year, Northern Essex Community College professor Mike Cross visits area libraries, nursing homes and other venues to talk about the many health benefits of chocolate.

Cross knows what's really inside of chocolate, and because of it, he really loves it.

Chemicals such as tryptophan, phenylethylamine, anandamide and theobromine might sound like they come out of a laboratory, but in fact they occur naturally in cocoa beans, the basis of chocolate.

"The Latin name of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao, literally means food of the gods," he said. "Theobromine is a chemical cousin of caffeine, while tryptophan is found in other foods, such as turkey. Phenylethylamine and anandamide, the chemical responsible for runner's high, are naturally occurring neurotransmitters in our brains.

"Scientists have actually found that eating chocolate produces more endorphins than kissing does," he added. "That's either really good chocolate or really bad kissing and it's mostly due to the chemicals produced in our brain when we're attracted to somebody."

He said phenylethylamine, or PEA, is what's responsible for the jittery, excited feeling a person gets when first attracted to someone, while tryptophan is converted to serotonin in the brain.

"Serotonin is responsible for feelings of elation and ecstasy, giving you that warm glow," he said. "All of this comes from chocolate, one of the world's most revered sweets."

Cross was at a senior center in Andover on Feb. 6 to discuss the health benefits of chocolate and also at the Ipswich Public Library. He's given talks in Haverhill about chocolate in the past. 

The traditional chocolate bar has evolved in recent years to include gourmet brands of milk and dark chocolate of differing intensities that fill the shelves of supermarkets. the varieties include organic chocolate, stone-ground chocolate and free-trade chocolate. You'll find chocolate with ingredients such as chili, mint, lemon and ginger as well as sea salt and almonds, maple pecan and other flavors that tingle the palette.

"I usually begin my talks with the brief history of chocolate, going back to the Mayans and the Aztecs, as the earliest recorded use of chocolate goes back to about 1900 B.C. in Central and South America," he said. "In about A.D. 300, the Maya came along and were the first to associate chocolate and romance. They believed that cocoa pods symbolized life and fertility. Around the year 1200, the Aztecs demanded cocoa beans as taxation, as tribute from the people they conquered. Then Columbus and Cortes and others took chocolate back to Spain with them. They crushed the beans and would cold brew them to drink and add in things like chili powder, as they didn't have sugar.

"As soon as they realized they could leave out the chili powder and spicy flavors, and add in vanilla and sugar, chocolate became all the rage in Europe."

Why do we love chocolate? "First off, it's sweet, which triggers endorphins which make us feel good," he said. "We're genetically programmed to seek sweets for calories and energy. Our problem is, we often overindulge. But, there's something different about indulging in a big chocolate bar and eating a bowl of sugar.

"There are certain chemicals that may be responsible for why we crave chocolate, including PEA and other chemicals that are in chocolate and make us feel good," he said.

Chocolate also has many health benefits.

"It's not such a bad love affair as chocolate is very high in flavanols, which are a potent form of antioxidants that help prevent cancer," Cross said. "Black plums are about the highest, while chocolate is right behind. And flavanols have other health benefits, including helping to improve blood circulation.

"Eating dark chocolate regularly has been shown to reduce blood pressure, help reduce the risk of stroke, and helps prevent diabetes," he said. "But you can get all the same health benefits by mixing cocoa into foods such as yogurt."

There have been studies that show students who consume chocolate prior to an exam perform better, he said.

For milk chocolate, you'll get about one-third of the same benefits, he added.

As for white chocolate lovers, "you don't get any of the benefits you get with regular or dark chocolate."

Cross recommends consumers buy the best quality chocolate they can afford

"Avoid ingredients such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which some manufacturers use to replace more expensive cocoa butter," he said. "The dark side of dark chocolate is the fat content and calories. It's all about moderation as most studies recommend 20 grams a day, or about five Hershey kisses, for health purposes."

— Mike LaBella


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