This is not your ordinary sandbox.

The students at South Street Elementary School have been in awe of the Augmented Reality Sandbox, which was officially introduced by Fitchburg Public Schools in November.

The sandbox -- a combination of a traditional sandbox, paired with a high-end gaming computer, digital projector and Xbox 360 Kinect camera -- work together to create an experience that allows students to manipulate and shape the sand and project a topographical overlay based on what they create.

The augmented reality (AR) sandbox allows users to create topography models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topography map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.

Read more here.

Students had a choice with fish brought last week to the High School's Doug Grutchfield Field House -- they could play with them or enjoy them for lunch.

On display were live local seafood catches on ice from Red's Best and fish recipes prepared by Sodexo for everyone to sample during "Red's Best Sea to School" event.

"Kids have different levels of interests and flavor profiles like adults do, but when you're younger you're so much more interested in things," said Jamey Lionette, director of Red's Best Sustainable Seafood Program. "That's why bringing it here, the kids are interested."

In early March, Fitchburg High School started piloting a program through Red's Best and Sodexo where fresh fish is caught -- mainly off the state's coast -- on Tuesday, delivered on Wednesday and served in the cafeteria on Friday.

"What they have, we buy," said David Semenza, the on-site Food Operations Manager for Sodexo at the Fitchburg Public Schools. "We get whatever the flaky white fish that was caught on Monday and delivered is. It's never frozen. It's right from the ocean to the boat to their trucks and to us."

Semenza says that putting fish on the menu on Fridays at the high school has been well received.

"The first two weeks we did it we sold out of fish," he said. "We're serving about 40 pounds of fish."

Red's Best is only available at Fitchburg High currently, but Sodexo is perfecting its recipes at the school and plan to roll it out in the middle schools as well, says Semenza.

Read more here.

Student Holding Giant Fresh Fish
Food Operations Manager Serving Samples
Food Operations Manager Serving Samples
Examples of Fresh Seafood

The Fitchburg High School cafeteria smelled delicious on Thursday evening.

Students participating in the annual "Future Chefs" competition are responsible for those wonderful scents.

Six students ranging from third to sixth grade in the district tested their cooking skills against one another in the "Future Chefs" culinary competition -- a nationwide recipe contest run by Sodexo.

This year's cooking theme was healthy Asian fusion.

When the cooking was finally completed and the judges got a chance to enjoy the delicious cuisines, Longsjo Middle School fifth-grader Jaeda Lashua was awarded the top prize for her honey chicken stir fry dish and was named Fitchburg's cooking champion.

"I feel happy," said Lashua, who earned a prize pack that included a wok, cutting mats, Fitbit, camera, and pots and pans. "I felt very good making it. I was nervous, but happy."

Read more here.

Future Chef Competitors with Mayor, Superintendent, and School Committee Member
Future Chef Competitor
Future Chef Winner

"Superintendent André Ravenelle knows the plastic bag full of rubber wristbands he passed out to students Thursday won't end school shootings.

Nevertheless, he said the red and gray bands with the words 'Red Raider Kindness' and 'Remember' send a message to students in response to the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

'There are mental health issues that people are dealing with and we all know no amount of kindness is going to cure them, because they need really serious intervention,' said Ravenelle. 'But if we're a community that pays attention to each other and somebody is showing that they're struggling, someone will reach out.'"

Read more here.

Graduation Rates Improve in Central Mass. City Districts

Fitchburg, too, has seen its four-year graduation rate inch upward, from 74.3 percent in 2012 to 74.4 percent in 2016 to 76.9 percent a year ago. The district’s dropout rate over that span shrank from 7 percent to 4.3 percent to 3.8 percent. The high school’s 2016-17 numbers were even better: an 87.2 percent four-year graduation rate and 1.2 percent dropout rate, a respective new high and low for the school.

“We’re very excited, validated – all the positive feelings” about the dropout rate in particular, which fell from 1.8 percent the year before and is even lower than the state average now, said Fitchburg High Principal Jeremy Roche. “That’s always our goal, It’s a big achievement for the kids and our school.”

Read more here and here.

An article in "THE Journal" titled "Making Virtual Reality a Reality in Today's Classrooms" prominently features the Fitchburg Public Schools and our ideas and methods for incorporating immersive education into our curriculum!

"Our district demographics are challenging," (FPS Assistant Superintendent Paula) Giaquinto explained. "We are an urban district in north central Massachusetts. Even though we are less than an hour from the ocean, many students have never been to the beach." These virtual field trips have brought Fitchburg students to the desert, the rainforest and the tundra to experience the Northern Lights.

Ms. Giaquinto recounts a story about a class who was viewing the YouTube movie Elephants on the Brink after reading parts of the novel A Long Walk to Water. "One child was so engrossed in the video experience that, when someone went by and brushed their shoulder, the child exclaimed 'the elephant touched me!' — these experiences are absolutely immersive."

Click here to read more of this exciting story!

Fitchburg Unified Track Team Group Photo
Fitchburg Unified Track Team Male Athletes
Fitchburg Unified Track Team Female Athlete
Fitchburg Unified Track Team Group Photo
Fitchburg Unified Track Team Female Athletes
Fitchburg Unified Track Team Male Athletes

What a fantastic day for the Fitchburg Unified Track Team.

The 31-member team gathered at the high school early this morning and were showered with cheers, high-fives and fist-pounds by teachers and fellow students as they made their way through the hallways and then to Fitchburg State University to compete in the Special Olympics – a hallmark event for so many in the community.

The athletes were beaming with pride during the official sendoff at the high school. The sendoff was organized by students from the Current Events Club.

There were plenty of friendly faces cheering on our Fitchburg athletes today at Fitchburg State’s Elliot Field.

The athletes competing were certainly inspiring.

It was such a heart-warming day for everyone involved.

We certainly have outstanding students in the school system.

POP-UP LIBRARIES cure boredom!

Next time families are stuck at the laundromat or waiting to be seated for dinner, they’ll likely have a box of books to read, thanks to School Committee member Sally Cragin and Assistant Superintendent Paula Giaquinto.

The two introduced the new POP-UP Library boxes at School Committee. The plastic bins will be placed in business around town – “mostly places the adults are busy with an adult task and the kids need something to do,” Giaquinto said. The mindset is that kids should have access to books wherever they are, especially when they have extra time on their hands.

Books will be marked with stickers and families will be asked to return them to the box before they leave. Volunteer “librarians” will oversee the maintenance and swapping of titles, with support from the district, which will supply the books. Restocking will occur every eight weeks.

Read more here.