case: Keri Kresler and the Thomas O’Brien Academy of
Science and Technology.
the Educational Frontier
dwindling budget has jeopardized a local magnet school’s Space
Camp program, but supporters are working hard to keep students
aiming for the stars
it was among the standard responses for children asked what
they wanted to be when they grew up. Less popular than a career
as a fireman or policeman, perhaps, but generally more so
than that of a guidance counselor or archeologist (despite
Indiana Jones’ best efforts), the life of a professional space
traveler once inspired children to plan for a future among
the stars. Now, faced with a dwindling extracurricular budget
and hard decisions about which programs to prioritize, one
Albany magnet school is experimenting with some unique fund-raising
ideas for their aspiring astronauts.
the kids don’t have this opportunity, we may never know how
many budding scientists we really have here,” remarked Keri
Kresler, a member of the Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science
and Technology’s Parent Teacher Association.
For each of the last four years, TOAST has sent 36 fifth-
and sixth-grade students to Laval, Québec, to participate
in Space Camp Canada, one of several offshoots of the original
Space Camp, which was created in 1982 in Huntsville, Ala.
In order to make the cut, students are required to submit
an essay explaining why they’d like to attend Space Camp and
letters of recommendation from both an adult and a fellow
student to a committee of parents and teachers.
Those students selected for the three-day visit sleep in pod-style
bunks similar to those in the actual space shuttles, experience
zero-gravity life and receive a general taste of all things
scientific in the world of manned space flights. Upon their
return, the students are charged with creating a project capable
of sharing some of their Space Camp experiences with the rest
of their classmates.
don’t think there’s any greater lesson in science and technology
than Space Camp,” explained Carrie Ingleston, an assistant
teacher at TOAST. According to Ingleston, taking advantage
of the nearby camp seemed like a natural step for a school
focusing on science and technology.
While both the school (out of magnet-school funds) and the
PTA originally shared the cost of the trip—nearly $14,000
for 36 students and six chaperones—funding has grown scarce
in recent years. As is often the case among schools faced
with funding concerns, the belt around extracurricular activities
was one of the first to be tightened. Last year, the Space
Camp program was funded almost entirely by the PTA, but the
sum of all the group’s fund-raising efforts last year amounted
to slightly less than the cost of sending that year’s group
of students to Space Camp—leaving little money for other activities.
This year, the group decided to reevaluate the program’s role
at the school. With only 36 students able to attend Space
Camp, there was concern that the organization’s fund-raising
might be better directed toward activities that involve a
larger portion of the student body.
Instead, “we decided to try and raise double what we raised
last year,” said Kresler. Kresler—a former professional fund-raiser
for various agencies around the region—said they are attempting
to do their Space Camp fund-raising separately, alongside
what they’re doing for other programs, so as to not to take
away from any other events that rely on PTA funding. In doing
so, said Kresler, they’ve begun entertaining some uncommon
ap proaches to the art of wooing donors.
and candy aren’t the only ways to do this,” laughed Kresler,
running through the list of movie nights and other activities
the group has explored. Kresler recently ar ranged for a book
auction to be held this coming Tuesday (March 29) at De John’s,
a restaurant on Lark Street in downtown Albany—a dual celebration
of the school’s Space Camp aspirations and National Author’s
Month, she ex plained. The restaurant’s owner, John DeJohn,
donated space and food for the event, and Kresler solicited
autographed work from authors—both local and global—to auction
off at the event.
With nearly 70 percent of TOAST’s student body qualifying
for the free-lunch program, Kresler stressed that PTA members
want to make sure that no student gets turned away from Space
Camp because of money concerns (whether personal or for the
school as a whole). The group of 36 students is scheduled
to leave for Space Camp next month, even though less than
half of the trip’s cost is accounted for. The PTA will continue
its fund-raising through the remainder of the school year.
basically accepted that we’re not going to be able to raise
all of the money by April,” said Kresler, “but for a lot of
these children, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to
experience the things they’ve only read about—and that’s why
it’s so important for us.”
F in Economics
The University at Albany recently announced that
it would begin a couch-cushion search for funding,
thanks to budget shortfalls and low enrollment
rates. According to UAlbany officials, cuts totaling
more than $1 million need to be made during the
next school year. We’re not math majors here,
but with recent reports placing the SUNY chancellor’s
annual earnings at around $500,000 (including
housing and driver) and salaries dropping ever-so-slightly
as you work down the hierarchy, the students and
faculty affected by these cuts might want to look
under the leather, gold-plated couch before they
touch the Salvation Army furniture.
Willing to a Point
Italy will be pulling out of Iraq by September,
said prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. His country
is in an uproar over the shooting by U.S. forces
of the Italian intelligence officer who had rescued
an Italian journalist who had been held hostage.
Italy has the fourth largest contingent in Iraq
after the United States, Britain and South Korea.
The Netherlands, Ukraine, and Poland, with around
1,500 troops each, are also in the process of
reducing their presence in Iraq.
So Much for Vision
By tacking a provision to drill for oil in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge onto a budget
bill—thereby preventing a filibuster—Republicans
succeeded in passing a measure that Congress has
defeated several times in recent years. Though
opponents said as much oil could be saved through
conservation measures, George W. Bush insisted
it was a crucial way to reduce our reliance on
foreign imports. Of course, at current consumption
rates, the 10.4 billions barrels in the refuge
will last us less than one and a half years. Luckily
for Bush it won’t start producing until he’s out
of office anyway.
Clear Channel on Trial
A jury awarded an independent promoter $90 million
in damages after finding that Clear Channel had
acted unfairly and uncompetitively in trying to
win back the sponsorship of a motorcycle dirt-bike
race. The jury did not find Clear Channel guilty
of antitrust violations, but The New York Times
quoted Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media
Access Project, as saying that case has nonetheless
put “blood in the water.”
want clean dust: Bobbi Chase and her daughter Ananda.
chemicals in your household goods don’t stay there—they end
up in your dust
Chase is the associate director of the advocacy group Citizens’
Environmental Coalition. She and her husband don’t use pesticides
or toxic cleaners in their house, and they buy organic food.
They’re very aware of want-ing to create a healthy environment
for their 3-month-old daughter. But even the eco-conscious
Chase household dust has toxins in it.
A study released Tuesday by the national Coming Clean Coalition,
of which CEC is a partner, found that dust samples from seven
states, including New York, showed appreciable levels of six
classes of chemicals that are known to either be toxic or
carcinogenic, or to cause reproductive problems, and yet are
still legal and virtually unregulated.
For example, say the studies’ authors, brominated flame retardants,
which are used in computers, electronics, mattresses and couches,
damage the development of the nervous system. Phthalates,
used in vinyl (PVC) items like shower curtains and water pipes,
disrupt reproductive systems. And perfluorinated organics,
used in nonstick kitchen coatings and stain-proof fabrics
and carpets, are potentially carcinogenic and damage organ
90 percent of toxic chemicals that leave factories don’t go
out the smokestack or in the river,” said Kathy Curtis, CEC’s
director. “They leave in the products. And it would be one
thing if they were bound to the products, but they’re not.
They come off.”
The dust study was a way to dramatize that last startling
fact, and help create momentum for some change. “People have
to know there’s a problem before they can demand that they
deserve something better,” said Curtis. “Most people think
that government is protecting them and chemicals have been
tested for safety, and that’s just not the case.”
Is making people not just embarrassed about their dust bunnies,
but terrified of them, going to be productive? Curtis said
it will, because the report, Sick of Dust, which can
be read in full at the Web site www.safe-products.org, and
the surrounding campaign are focused on things people can
do. (She acknowledged that a precursor report put out last
year [“Et Tu, Computer?” FYI, June 24, 2004], which focused
on the toxic results of wipes of dust on computers, was less
helpful because it had no associated action items.) First,
there are shopping changes that can be made to lower the amount
of these chemicals in the home. An easy one, said Curtis,
is don’t buy things made of PVC. On a broader level, the Web
site ranks many major companies according to their commitment
and progress toward eliminating toxic chemicals in their products.
(Ikea gets high marks. Wal-Mart gets the worst rating.)
that’s only the first step. Because there is no requirement
to label household products, people cannot entirely “buy their
way out” on their own, said Curtis. The coalition is also
calling for more government regulation of toxic materials,
product labeling, and government nontoxic purchase agreements.
In December, Buffalo passed legislation phasing out the purchase
of products containing many persistent toxic chemicals. A
similar measure is pending in New York City; Curtis said she
hopes to see it go statewide, which could provide the economies
of scale to make the nontoxic alternatives, which do exist,
more available and affordable to the public.
Also, CEC and its partners are pushing to have the state actually
appoint members to a task force that was approved last year
to study the most common form of brominated flame retardants:
deca- brominated diphenyl ethers. Two less common forms were
phased out in the same legislation, and Curtis said that as
long as health and environmental advocates are given a fair
say along with industry on the task force, she expects deca-BDEs
to be phased out as well.
“You know, ‘jew.’ It means like ‘gyp.’ ”
young man in a yarmulke in the process of explaining
to someone why a friend’s use of the phrase “jewing
down” offended him.
in Republicans’ support of life- prolonging measures raises
questions about their motives in the Terri Schiavo case
much of the nation’s media in the past few weeks has focused
its attention on the fate of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman
who has spent the last 15 years in a vegetative state and
recently had her feeding tube removed by court order, recent
events in Texas may provide food for thought on both the motives
of federal officials and the real issues at stake in the Schiavo
In 1999, Texas became the first state to adopt a statute giving
medical-care facilities the right to terminate “medically
futile” treatments without the patient’s directive to do so
and against the wishes of patients’ family members or health-care
proxies. The Texas Futile Care Law, described by its authors
as a way to prevent the demands of terminal or vegetative
patients’ families from diverting equipment, funds and personnel
from patients who might benefit more from these services,
received broad support from both liberal and conservative
groups and was signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
Only recently, however, did the statute receive its first
set of tests.
Last week, staff at the Texas Children’s Hospital removed
the breathing tube from Sun Hudson, a six-month-old baby born
with a fatal form of dwarfism, after a hospital committee
declared further treatment inappropriate and Harris County
Probate Court Judge William C. McCulloch agreed with the committee’s
appraisal. The decision went against the wishes of Wanda Hudson,
Sun’s mother, who argued that her son’s body simply needed
time to adapt to the genetic condition. While the statute
provided Hudson with 10 days to find a facility that would
continue the treatment, she was unable to find a facility
willing to do so, and her son died shortly after the breathing
tube was removed.
Similarly, 68-year-old Spiro Nikolouzos nearly had his breathing
tube removed last month by staff at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital
in Houston, after a hospital committee ruled the treatment
futile. Although Nikolouzos’ family members were able to find
another facility to continue his treatment within the allotted
10 days, they argued that the hospital’s decision was simply
a product of Nikolouzos’ waning supply of Medicare funds,
and not the ethical judgment described by the facility.
While some cite differing medical conditions in the Hudson
and Nikolouzos cases and that of Schiavo (Schiavo can breathe
on her own, while the other two were unable to do so), comments
by some elected officials paint a confusing picture of the
government’s role in such scenarios.
been trying to kill Terri for four and a half years,” said
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on a recent episode
of ABC News’ Good Morning America. DeLay was referring
to the Florida judge who found that Schiavo, in addition to
being in a vegetative state that doctors unanimously doubt
she will ever emerge from, had also previously made clear
her desire not to be kept alive under such conditions.
And many of DeLay’s fellow Republicans, on both the state
and national levels of government, have taken a similar stance
against the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube—despite numerous
court rulings that affirm the right of Michael Schiavo, Terri’s
husband and legal guardian, to request that her life be ended.
The Republican-led Congress went so far as to quickly introduce—and
pass—legislation that would allow Schiavo’s case to be heard
in a federal court. (Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Charles
Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not attend the vote.)
White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated that President
Bush, who not only signed the 1999 Texas law that allowed
hospitals to end life-sustaining treatment, but also presided
over the execution of more than 150 prisoners (many of them
mentally disabled) during his time as governor of Texas, approved
the legislation from Congress because he “stands on the side
of defending life.”
The apparent contradictions in elected officials’ positions
regarding Terri Schiavo’s case and those of Sun Hudson and
Spiro Nikolouzos have created intense speculation about elected
officials’ true motivations. Recently, a set of talking points
circulated among Senate Republicans urging support for the
legislation that passed last week because the party’s “pro-life
base will be excited” and describing the Schiavo case as “a
great political issue.” The document has only fueled public
criticism of the current administration’s sudden interest
in Schiavo’s case.
States citizens, you better start speaking up,” advised Michael
Schiavo in a recent interview, “because someday these people
are going to trample into your personal private, private affairs,
Monday (March 21) the Albany Common Council voted
to designate the Park South neighborhood
[“What Would You Do?,” Newsfront, May 27, 2004]
as an Urban Renewal Zone, which allows the city
to use powers of eminent domain if it deems it
necessary (each use would require a separate authorization
by the council). The next step will be choosing
a developer. Albany Medical Center has been invited
to sit in on the choosing process. Why just them?
“They own two blocks of the nine-block area,”
said Albany planning commissioner Lori Harris.
“We need to be in concert with them.”