RESCUES Manual for Commercial Fishing Industry Unveiled

 

Compilation of best practices for fishermen, families and communities

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

 

 

Over fifty people packed the standing room only Gloucester Coast Guard Station last Thursday for the unveiling of RESCUES, the long awaited first-ever comprehensive guidebook on dealing with a crisis in a fishing community.

 

“This is an exciting day, but it is also a sad day,” said Angela Sanfilippo, the President of both the Gloucester’s Wives Association and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, who also served as master of ceremonies. As a fisherman’s daughter, wife and mother, she has first hand experience of the pain and trauma suffered by families and communities when a fisherman is lost at sea.

 

She told the story of the night of the 1992 “perfect storm” when she and many others slept at the Gloucester Coast Guard Station. “The captain said, ‘We need to start training fishermen in how to save themselves,’” she recalled. That planted the seed that would eventually grow into the RESCUES manual.

Mayor and Sanfilippo

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken addresses the group as Angela Sanfilippo looks on.

 

The acronym stands for Responding to Emergencies at Sea and to Communities Under Extreme Stress.

 

“We all get numb to the dangers of the fishing industry, but there are widow’s walks and porches named for families who paced, hoping their men would come home,” said J.J. Bartlett, President of Fishing Partnership Support Services. He said that if public school teachers died at the same rate as fishermen on the job, over 400 teachers would die of work-related injuries each year.

 

“The idea is that, when a crisis occurs, folks in our fishing ports will be able to consult this manual and know right away how the Coast Guard and other authorities are responding, and where to turn for reliable help and support,” Barlett added.

 

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken spoke of her own family tragedies over fishing accidents and their aftermath. “You can take the fisherman out of the ocean but you can’t take the ocean out of the fisherman,” she said. “We’re fortunate in Gloucester because we have a team in place to put this kind of book together so now you know where to go” for help, she added, noting that although there is no safety book that will prevent loss of life at sea, “this book can help.”

 

The Mayor praised the Coast Guard. “They risk their lives for the sake of the fishermen,” she said. Captain Robert Lepere, commanding officer of the Gloucester Coast Guard Station for the past three years, returned the compliment. “I’ve been in the Coast Guard for 20 years, and never have I seen a community pull together like this,” he said. Captain Claudia C. Geltzer, commanding officer of the Boston Coast Guard Station and Captain of the Port of Boston, praised RESCUES as a very important milestone. “This manual will make any fisherman who reads it better prepared at sea,” she said. “In the heat of a crisis, we all revert back to our training.”

Hall-Arber and Sanfilippo

Madeline Hall-Arber

 

Madeline Hall-Arber, an anthropologist at the Sea Grant College program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ann Backus, of the Harvard University School of Public Health, were the principal investigators on the lengthy project that produced RESCUES. They interviewed fishing community leaders, Coast Guard personnel, fishing vessel safety trainers, clergy, social service agencies, fishermen and their families, business owners, insurance companies and attorneys. Kristina Pinto of the Fishing Partnership Support Services is the third co-author.

 

Hall-Arber described how she first became interested in undertaking the RESCUES project. “I met a fisherman who didn’t know how to swim. ‘Why prolong the agony?’” he asked. She remembered thinking it might be an interesting research project to find out what fishing industry standard best practices were before an accident, at sea and if disaster occurred. “People in the industry were astoundingly enthusiastic,” she said.

 

The RESCUES manual focuses on what interviewees shared as being critical to know before, during and after an incident. It contains a wealth of material, including contacts for services in Gloucester and New Bedford.

 

Its five main sections focus on essential information to help prepare individuals, groups and entire communities for a crisis affecting members of the commercial fishing industry, such as the sinking of a boat or the search for crew members lost overboard at sea.

I wanted people to be able to skim the manual, get useful information, and then go back,” Hall-Arber said.

 

For example, chapter 1, “Integrative Preparedness” (before leaving the dock) includes an easy-to-follow checklist of essential safety training and communication plans for the vessel owner, crew and families. “Emergency” explains what the Coast Guard does during an emergency and outlines communication chains of command. “The Aftermath” and “Longer-Term Outreach and Counseling” addresses situations after a loss is confirmed. Appendices incorporate maintenance checklists, Coast Guard contact information, community crisis support organizations and useful websites.

 

One of the surprising facts Hall-Arber learned was that many family members didn’t know which boat their loved one was on or what kind of fishing he might be doing that day. Backus, whose expertise is in occupational safety and health in the fishing industry, likewise discovered that vessel captains usually didn’t know about crewmembers’ medical histories or their contact information. She and Sanfilippo have since developed and distributed scores of refrigerator magnets for fishermen’s families to keep handy with information that the Coast Guard would need in an emergency. “Families should know where important documents are,” Backus said.

 

Paul Vitale, 43, a fisherman who has lived in Gloucester his whole life, thinks some of these common sense suggestions will be extremely helpful. “Lots of time people don’t know which boat they’ll be on. Not everyone owns their own boat,” he explained.

 

Fishermens wives Statue

 

Sanfilippo, who was instrumental in bringing to fruition the decades-long dream of Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association to create a Fishermen’s Wives Memorial, is equally determined to bring RESCUES beyond Boston, the South Shore and Cape Cod. “We will be bringing this up and down the entire coastline. Today we open that road,” she said to resounding applause.

 

 

 

Math Common Core : Friend or Foe?

 

Although Common Core State Standards were adopted in Massachusetts in 2010, the topic is still a lightening rod for impassioned critique and opinion. There is even an initiative, “End Common Core MA”, to place the increasingly controversial academic benchmarks on the 2016 state ballot, the first time voters would decide whether to keep the K-12 math and reading standards.

 

But for the parents of a young child who is learning math in a way that bears little resemblance to the way they were taught, there is a pressing issue that is more personal than political: how do I help my child with his math homework when I don’t understand it myself?

 

What exactly are math teachers teaching these children and how is it so different from how their parents were taught the same subject in the past?

 

In a nutshell, Common Core Standards for Mathematics emphasize the importance of building conceptual understanding before requiring students to memorize facts. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for parents is the fact that Common Core Standards have also replaced much of the language they learned to describe mathematical functions with new words. Instead of “reducing” fractions, students now “simplify.” Instead of “borrowing” or “carrying”, students now “regroup” or “trade.” Doing calculations in one’s head is encouraged; spitting out the right answer without being to explain how you got it is not.

 

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Pamela Halpern, Associate Professor at Salem State University in the Education Department, teaches math methods courses to students who will become elementary and middle school teachers. In the past, students learned in a directed, structured, “here’s what you do, here’s how you do it, here’s an example, now go do it” way. “We weren’t ever taught why we were doing what we were doing and what it meant,” Halpern said, adding, “Neither teacher nor student knew or cared what it meant as long as we got the right answer.”

 

While she is a proponent of Common Core Standards, she emphasizes to her classes that it is part of their ongoing responsibility to help parents understand how the standards translate into the day to day math work their children do at school.

 

“We in education do a disservice to parents and to ourselves by not letting parents in and educating them as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and then actually having them do some of the work that their children are doing in class. We need to explain why we’re teaching what we’re teaching,” she said.

 

These days, there is a lot more talking during math classes because Common Core emphasizes that students actually understand the problem and persevere in solving it. They are encouraged to be curious, to have a variety of ways to solve each problem, and to be able to justify their arguments and critique the reasoning of others. “Math is about more than calculating. There are so many different ways to solve a problem and think about it, and so when students share their thinking, it opens up new ways of thinking for all students,” Halpern said.

 

Arthur Unobskey, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Gloucester Public Schools, believes that Common Core math standards are a step in the right direction. “We need to teach differently in order to build an understanding of relationships that force students to connect different ideas they have learned, rather than just solve the problem. Our kids have not been able to compete with kids from other parts of the world because we don’t understand what is going on in a mathematics problem; we don’t understand how to apply our skills to new situations,” he said.

 

 

Unobskey admits it is an ongoing challenge to help parents understand the new ways math is being taught. Principals and teachers take time to explain the curriculum at school functions, such as Meet the Teacher nights, and teachers discuss it in newsletters, parent conferences and letters sent home. Marguerite Ruiz, Superintendent of Salem Public Schools, said that her district focuses its efforts at the school level through Math Nights and Open Houses. Salem has also invested in Math Coaches, teachers who have expertise and often certification in math, to plan these events and to serve as leaders and coaches of teachers at schools.

 

According to Halpern, this may not be enough. She tells her students that parent math nights are essential and should be held at least once every quarter. “Parents don’t know. I think if we clued them in, they’d be on board with the way we’re teaching things. We can’t expect them to know how to do it if they’ve never seen it before,” she said.

 

Bookcover

 

Christen Nine, a Gordon College alumna and high school math teacher, believes all parents want to and should feel confident in their ability to interact with elementary children’s homework. While there are plenty of resources for teachers, she felt they lacked the clear, practical examples that parents care about. To fill their need for a politically neutral, educationally practical guide, she recently published a book titled, “A Parent’s Survival Guide to Common Core Math: Grades K-5”.

 

“The goal of this project was to provide a resource that would bridge the gap between the older teaching methodologies and the newer ones. That gap is much easier to fill than parents might think, and just as a good math teacher aims to reduce math anxiety in their students to promote quality learning, this book aims to alleviate confusion and frustration related to Common Core Standards in order to build up parents’ confidence to be informed advocates in their child’s math education,” Nine said.

 

The Common Core Standards have fans among most educators and administrators. “Anything that increases the rigor of instruction for children I am always going to be in favor of,” said Ruiz, noting that the bigger challenge in her district is building the capacity of teachers to be able to teach to that level. “Teachers need to be really knowledgeable and thoughtful about their implementation of these standards,” she said.

 

Unobskey, who holds a doctorate in math education, is a strong advocate for Common Core standards. “As it is implemented more and more effectively, students will uncover connections that show how math describes the world, and they will become more motivated to learn, and less afraid of math. Ultimately, our nation’s lack of comfort with math, I believe, is what holds our children back,” he said.

 

So why are citizen groups like “End Common Core MA” trying to do away with something that professional educators support?

 

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Nine. “Maybe we didn’t do a good PR job for Common Core Standards.” She lamented the fact that “End Common Core MA” and groups like it either intentionally or unintentionally spread this misinformation. “It concerns me, as an educator, that decisions could be made from someone’s blog post or the most recent viral photo that’s going around Facebook,” she said.

 

For information about Common Core Standards, go to corestandards.org. To order Nine’s book, go to amazon.com.