Children need engaging outdoor learning opportunities

Dear Editor,

Now more than ever, with so many children learning remotely for some or all of the school day, it is crucial to provide them with engaging outdoor learning opportunities. To meet this challenge, the Friends of the Boston Schoolyards (FOTBS), a volunteer organization since 2018, serves as a clearinghouse for sharing information and resources with parents, teachers and community members regarding outdoor experiences for Boston public school children. FOTBS, working with a wide range of partner organizations, has developed practical resources that can be used at school, at home—indoors or outdoors—that support and encourage outdoor learning.

Every week, in response to COVID-19, we hear about schools across the country that are teaching students outdoors. Here in Boston, we are well placed to be one of those stories. With over 80 schoolyards redesigned for outdoor learning over the past 25 years and teachers prepared to use them, Boston can provide access to all our students.

As we strive to address important issues of equity, the Friends of the Boston Schoolyards believes that outdoor teaching and learning should a part of the daily routine for all Boston’s children. Once schools reopen, these spaces will be especially important, giving children the chance to fully flex their physical and cognitive muscles and enjoy the outdoor resources that exist right in their schools and neighborhoods.

Visit friendsofthebostonschoolyards.org for more information and please help spread the word about these important resources.

Mary Smoyer

President,  Board of Friends of the Boston Schoolyards

An historic moment

Dear Editor,

We celebrate this terrific historic moment for the City of Boston and its residents, that Kim Janey, an African American woman, is now Mayor. There’s a correction needed  for the misstatement that she is the “first Black person to become District 7 City Councilor” (front page March 26 JP Gazette article on Mayor Janey’s swearing-in ceremony; also published in the April 5 Mission Hill Gazette and the March 26 Sun).  For  nearly forty years District 7 has been represented by Black City Councilors.

 Ms. Janey as District 7 Councilor had followed in the footsteps of a long and effective line of African American representatives elected by the voters of District 7, which includes Roxbury neighborhoods, and parts of the Fenway, Mission Hill and the South End:  Councilor Bruce Bolling (City Council President in 1986-1987) was succeeded by Anthony Crayton and later Gareth Saunders, Chuck Turner and Tito Jackson.  These District 7 City Councilors represented their local constituents, worked for social justice, and in other years, ran for at-large seats as well as in mayoral races.

District 7 has only existed since 1982 when the boundaries were created after the 1981 referendum that added district councilors to the Council body that previously was only at large.  

Mayor Janey was the 6th Black City Councilor to represent District 7.

Kay Mathew

We need ranked choice voting in Boston

Dear Editor,

As this difficult winter winds down and we move into spring, we see burgeoning forth around us an impressive display — of candidates running for public office in Boston! The desire on the part of so many to serve their communities and change our city for the better is surely a testament to the vibrancy of our participatory democracy. However, one of the greatest ironies of our current system of voting is that the more candidates we have stepping forward, the greater the risk of splitting the vote, possibly resulting in a winner who is not supported by the majority of voters.

For this reason, we at JP Progressives (JPP) urge all candidates running this year for Boston mayor and city council seats to make a pledge to bring Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to Boston. Although there is not enough time to implement RCV for this year’s election, candidates should commit to supporting a home rule petition and charter change that would bring RCV to our city and make sure that the voice of the majority of voters is heard.

(As a brief reminder, RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no single candidate gets more than 50%, votes cast for the candidate with the least support get redistributed to the #2 choices marked on those ballots. This process repeats until somebody crosses the 50% threshold and is declared a winner. In short, RCV ensures that our elected officials are supported by the majority of voters and therefore have a meaningful mandate. Voters can straightforwardly cast their ballots for their preferred candidate without worrying about spoiler effects throwing the election to a candidate with opposing values. In addition, negative campaigning is reduced because candidates may need to depend on a rival’s supporters to back them as their #2 or 3 choice. Finally, with RCV we can do away with costly and time-consuming runoff elections.)

Boston voters strongly supported RCV in last year’s ballot question (by 61.7%) even though it was defeated at the state level. Perhaps this is because our city still remembers the lessons of the 2013 mayoral election; with a crowded field of 12 candidates, half of whom were people of color, the progressive vote was split, and the top two vote-getters advancing to the run-off (Marty Walsh and John Connolly) earned only 18.5% and 17.2% of the votes in the primary. The pitfalls of our plurality voting system have been made clear repeatedly at the state level, but were recently highlighted again with Jake Auchincloss’s victory last summer in the District 4 Democratic primary with only 22.4% of the vote, and the results of the 19th Suffolk Democratic primary a few weeks ago — Jeff Turco, an anti-abortion, Democrat won with 36.2% of the vote when progressive support was split between two candidates.

It’s time for us to finally learn from the past, and to catch up with the 21 cities and two states (Maine and Alaska) that are already using RCV, as well as the many cities and towns across the country that have recently voted to adopt RCV. We ask all mayoral and city council candidates to heed the voice of Boston voters who have already expressed their desire for voting reform – commit to calling for a charter change and a home rule petition to bring RCV to our city.

 Cindy Lu and Martha Karchere for the Jamaica Plain Progressives

Growing Resiliency In Your Garden

Dear Editor,

Longer days and the color coming back into our landscapes are encouraging signs to break our cabin fever induced by months of New England winter and social distancing. A new season of productive growth is on its way, and now is the time to get our hands in the dirt and grow native plants to encourage ecological diversity and greater pollinator populations in our communities.

Why native plants? The native flora and fauna of our region have coevolved with native bees and other pollinators, providing them with food and a beneficial environment to thrive in. Native bees make the tremendous contribution of pollinating the plants in 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat and is crucial that we protect their populations from further endangerment- a study published by the Ecological Society of America found that several species of fuzzy American bumblebees alone have declined from 65-100% in population in the last 20 years.

What can you do? Purchase and grow native plants (flowers, herbs, shrubs) for any size garden or terrace/balcony space you have, as well as build pollinator hotels- all activities that are family-friendly and allow for socializing at a distance. Here is a resource of the many native species you can choose from that will make a delightful addition to your greenspace: www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/Plants.

Participating in projects to conserve our urban wilds in the Greater Boston area, or planting native trees in local parks can also give back to both native bees and the community. The resiliency that we have practiced, as a city during this year of adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic, is exemplary of how we can improve our local ecosystems when we plant native species to save our native pollinators. More about how to start your bee-friendly garden can be

found at www.mass.gov/service-details/choosing-pollinator-friendly-native-plants-in-home-gardening-or-landscaping.

Cameron Chin

West Roxbury

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