Category Archives: Mohawk

What’s happening at Mohawk Trail Regional Middle and High School…

Teaching the teachers: Pam Snow brings environmental education to life

Schoolyard ecology program coordinator Pam Snow works with a high school teacher during a tour of the Harvard Forest natural history trail.
Schoolyard ecology program coordinator Pam Snow works with a high school teacher during a tour of the Harvard Forest natural history trail.

Katie logoLOCAL MOM Pamela Snow works for Harvard Forest coordinating a program called Schoolyard Ecology. Established in 1907, Harvard Forest is Harvard University’s 3,500-acre laboratory and classroom. It’s been conducting long-term ecological research onsite since 1988. In December 2014, The BSE Flow’s Katie Martin caught up with Snow — and her daughter, Ursula — to talk about Snow’s work training science teachers in the Mohawk Trail School District and statewide, and what Ursula makes of her mother’s career.

KATIE: How did you get your start in this career?

PAM: I had been a park ranger for a long time and led tours and did educational programs and then decided to go back and get a master’s degree in education, and I taught in the classroom for a couple of years. l’ve combined the work I did as a park ranger and the work I did as a classroom teacher.

For about 10 years I’ve been working as a team with ecologists — scientists who focus on nature and are interested in how different organisms relate with one another. In my case, because I’m in a forest environment, I study certain kinds of trees, plants, and animals in the forest.

KATIE: Where do you work, mostly?

PAM: My main office is at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., but sometimes I work remotely, by computer, from my desk at the Bridge of Flowers Business Center, above McCusker’s Market.

KATIE: Do you teach kids?

PAM: A lot of kids are the classroom ecologists for me. They work at their schoolyard. So they go out and study trees or vernal pools in walking distance of their schools. We have locations all over Massachusetts and a little in New Hampshire and Vermont.

KATIE: Did you start this program?

PAM: I was hired to do this job and there wasn’t really a program in place, so I kind of started it with the ecologists I work with. And the data manager, he’s an important person on my team also.

KATIE [to Ursula]: What is it like for you, knowing your mom’s work.

URSULA: Sometimes I help her sort certain equipment into bags that she takes to workshops to take to teachers and kids so they can measure the trees. And I get to go to all the parties they have.

KATIE: Do you like plant life and trees and stuff?

URSULA: Yeah. But not as much as she does.

PAM: She hasn’t come on fieldwork with me.

URSULA: I want to go out and try it though!

KATIE [to Pam]: Did you want to do this as a kid?

PAM: I had no idea about any of this as a kid. I never had very good science classes in my school. We never did anything real: it was all in textbooks and on slideshows, and I never was inspired by that; I had no interest in science. And somehow, miraculously, I became a park ranger and I learned about trees and became very interested in that.

This is a really great job for me because I love nature now and I want to share that with other people and get them excited about it, and I want kids to be able to learn about science in a much more fun way and get outside and do real science.

KATIE: Did you inspire someone?

PAM: I certainly hope so. I train the teachers, and the teachers work with their students directly, and they they have said their students really get attached to the trees that they’re studying. They also say they’ve become the more popular teachers in the school because then the kids know that they’re the ones who take the kids out. [Laughs.] So then the kids say, Oh, you’re the teacher who takes kids out! I want to be in your class.

[Wayne Kermenski, at Mohawk, principal at Hawlemont Elementary School now, works with Pam’s program.]

Play and exploration make nature real for kids. Teachers verify this all the time: that the program helps kids connect with nature and value the natural world, and therefore end up wanting to protect the natural world. I want people in general to build a connection with the natural world.

For teachers it’s great because their kids want to do it, so it’s something that’s exciting and interesting for them, and they can still build up all the skills they need in science.

And it does relate to the science frameworks that are current in Massachusetts, based on the next-generation science standards from the federal government. So it fits what science teachers are supposed to be doing and covering. It’s better for the older kids [grades 4-6] in the elementary level.

KATIE: How much does it cost?

PAM: All we charge is $50 for the first year that the teacher enters the program. That gives the teacher all the materials they need and training and year-round support.  They can send data to us, and questions to us.

It’s a time issue more than anything. Teachers and administrators are under a lot of pressure right now to perform on the MCAS, and at the elementary level right now the big focus is on language arts and math.

And it is easier to teach from a book and do really set activities when you know what the answers are going to be. With real science we wouldn’t know the answer in advance or it wouldn’t be science. In real science we’re investigating something that we don’t know the answer to. In our project we think we know, we have a hypotheses — what we think we know — but we need the data to prove it. And the students learn how that works: when you have a question you don’t know everything about and then a lot of unexpected things can happen.

And then they can collect the data and track it over time. It’s like a relay: Students collect the data in one grade level, and then they move on to the next grade level, and another grade comes up and takes the baton, so to speak, and add the data to collect to that project over time.

That all adds to the data set: Is there a long-term pattern here or not? What is the data telling us? It’s sort of solving the answer to the question.

For more information on Harvard Forest, visit

How to make friends at a new school

Ask HarperDear Harper: I am in sixth grade this year and I am going to go to Mohawk [Middle School] next year. I don’t know who is going to be in my class and I want to be in class with all my same friends. Some people are probably going different places. This isn’t really a question but do you have advice for me? — Name withheld by request

Dear Name Withheld: When I first came to Jefferson Avenue Elementary School from a private school, I was really nervous myself because I only knew one person. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know more people and I’ve made a lot of friends. I did this just by being friendly and introducing myself to people I didn’t know and by starting to play with them at recess.

You probably won’t have all of the same friends in your class but there’s a high chance there will be someone you know. If you want to know a lot of kids, you should probably go up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself.   See if there is something you have in common. If you join a club you’re interested in, you can meet other kids who might be interested in the same thing.

I can understand why you might be sad to not see your friends anymore, but you can always try to find ways to hang out outside of school. You can email and call your friends or maybe set up a club outside of school for the people who aren’t in your new school.
There will probably be an orientation for new students where you get to learn where everything is in your school. I bet if you go to orientation you’ll feel more confident.  Remember that you’re not the only one who’s new to the school.

You’re not alone. There will be other kids who might be looking for friends. Be friendly! Be open! Show your best smile! Remember the saying “Fake it till you make it?” (If you don’t remember this saying, ask a grown up!) Sometimes the more confident you act, the more confident you’ll feel.

I’d love to hear if you have more questions after you go to your new school. Write again please!

Harper Brown is one of The BSE Flow’s advice columnists and its New York bureau chief. Got a question? Write Please include your contact information and name. We won’t print your name if you ask us not to.

Charlemont’s Holly May Brown is going places!

“Go Big or Go Home” hit national and international radio this summer. A national and international tour is introducing Holly May to the world.
“Go Big or Go Home” hit national and international radio this summer. A national and international tour is introducing Holly May to the world.

CHARLEMONT—Holly May Brown started playing music when she was 3 years old. The first song she wrote by herself was “Tonight,” a love song.

Now she’s 17, a senior at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, and is becoming a country and pop music star. We spoke with her at Brooke’s church, West County Baptist, in Charlemont, where she was playing a benefit concert.

Holly got her start performing around Shelburne Falls and Vermont, and will be playing in New Jersey and Tennessee. She is also going to be touring Europe for two weeks.

She has music videos for her songs, “I’ve Been on the Run” and “Go Big Or Go Home,” which has more than a million views on YouTube [adjust volume; link opens video].

She said she looks up to Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan, who also sing country music.

She added that she does have stage fright but is getting over it.
When we saw her, somebody told her, “We need to buy you a new wardrobe,” because her pants were all ripped.

Trivia for her fans: she plays field hockey and rides horses; her favorite color is baby blue; she used to play flute and clarinet; and she is not double-jointed.

“It has always been my dream to sing and perform,” Holly said, “ I can’t wait to see where it takes me.”

— By Brooke Looman and Joy Bohonowicz.

Heading into Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for?

WE CAUGHT UP with friends and neighbors around the village to ask a most timely question: Heading into Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? We love the replies!

Our thanks to Pamela Snow, Ursula Snow, Lori Grant, Nick Brown, Christopher Lenaerts, Janet Eaton, Stacy Kontrabecki (and Eóghan Withington), and Elaine Parmett.

Mary Lyon grants: from hammers to zoos

Myah Grant logoBUCKLAND—If you need drumsticks for your classroom, or a new reading desk, or you want to study birds and butterflies, or you want a whole zoo to visit the school, you should ask the Mary Lyon Foundation to help pay for it.

The Mary Lyon Foundation helps school staff and homeschool educators from Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Plainfield, Rowe, and Shelburne.

The Foundation’s committee meets twice a year to review applications for grants, and these fund projects and supplies.

Dr. Sue Samoriski is the Foundation’s executive director. She told me that anyone who works in the school — a teacher, a custodian, a superintendent, a paraprofessional — anyone employed in a school can write a mini-grant.

“We’ve just given out $3,000 worth of mini grants,” she said.
This year the Colrain School had the most mini-grants written, “and therefore many of them were funded,” she said.

Sue Samoriski
Susan Samoriski, co-executive director of the Mary Lyon Foundation

The Foundation gets its money through grants and donations. The 9th Annual Mary Lyon Foundation Community Spelling Bee just raised a lot of money that will go to the schools.

I asked her how she gets the money to the schools.

“In many different ways: The Colrain Central School has an account called The Colrain Vision of Excellence. When they want money for a project, or something like an assembly program for the whole school — something special — we have a committee composed of Colrain people, and I say, ‘Well, you’ve got a few thousand dollars; you decide and tell me how to write the check and tell me who it goes to.’”

She said Heath has Heath Horizons, “and that’s similar. Mohawk has an agricultural fund, which is funded by a bank every year. Hawlemont has an agricultural fund; it depends on the school.”

People donate to the Mary Lyon Foundation and even leave it money in their wills.

At BSE the bathrooms have been repainted. New sleds were added. A classroom has a new round reading desk. One year the Foundation paid for carpentry tools for the custodians.

Samoriski said the committee gives BSE a little more money every year because it has an office at the building and doesn’t pay rent.

“I say to the principal every year, ‘What would you like? Tell me what you’d like for the school.’”

— With Kara Bohonowicz