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All the news that doesn't fit in print

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  • 07/13/13--01:00: Free Fire Safety

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    I've been sitting here noodling for some time over how to write a post about what
    I see as the undermining of education, public education in particular, without taking sides politically.

    All too often, once you declare belief or support for one solution or another espoused by a particular party or "faction" as the Founding Fathers used to call them, anyone on "the other side" stops listening to anything you have to say on the subject.

    As I twisted and turned the logic, trying to find a non-partisan path through the various issues to bring the reader to a conclusion that, as a nation, we need to invest in education if we are to have a future -- I realized that is the problem.

    There is no non-partisan path, or if there is, I can't find it.

    Nonetheless, I will give it a try here.

    What got me started on this was the news that (surprise!) Congress can't agree on a way to keep down interest rates on college loans.

    Full disclosure, I've got some skin in this game.

    My son enters high school next year and despite what some of you might think, a reporter's salary is not something which allows for either a lot of savings for a college fund, or for paying up front the ever-increasing, ridiculously obscene tuition at all but a few schools.

    So, there weren't many scenarios for funding his college education in which the words "student loan" were not present.

    Sadly, the more I looked into it, the darker the picture became.

    The latest news I could find Saturday was from July 11, when the Minnesota Daily reported that the Senate is going "back to the drawing board," to try to come up with some way to keep the rates from staying at the 6.8 percent rate they jumped to July 1 due to Congressional inaction.

    Previously, the rates had been at 3.4 percent, for subsidized loans from the government.

    These fixed-rate loans are aimed at undergraduates who attend schools that cost more than their families can pay, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    "If Congress doesn’t act soon, Congress’ Joint Economic Committee says it could cost an extra $2,600 per student for those taking subsidized Stafford loans this fall," the Minnesota Daily reported.

    The 6.8 percent rate has been the same for un-subsidized loans, which CNN says are used much more, since 2007.

    CNN also says:
    Student loan debt has skyrocketed in recent years, as have delinquencies, making it a pressing political and financial issue for millions of Americans. Many young graduates are deep in debt and without jobs.
    Student loan debt is second only to mortgages as the largest debt that
    consumers carry.
    For the class of 2013, much of the debt is in government loans with graduates owing an average of $26,000, according to a Fidelity survey of 750 college graduates.
    According to BuzzFeed, student loan debt in America has reached $1 trillion, $85 billion of which is past due.

    With the rise of rates, 10 million students nationwide will lose $1,000 per year from the higher rates, which would cover a semester of text books, or six months of a college meal plan.

    The fact that 60 percent of all college students take on some kind of loan debt, one has to ask why students, the future leaders of the nation, are facing an 8 percent interest rate when banks are only paying three-quarters of one percent, their reward, apparently, for trashing the nation's economy in 2009?

    But this debate about loans is a sideshow to the real problem -- college costs too much, at least for a country that hopes to stay in the lead in producing the nation's top scientists, economists, business experts and teachers.
    The increase has become even worse in the last 20 years.

    The cost of attending a four-year public institution has gone up by 5.2 percent each year in the last decade - far more than the inflation rate and costs for other basics, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    The rise has occurred as university administrative costs have steadily climbed and as cash-strapped states cut funding to public colleges. That has pushed more of the cost burden on students, Brookings Institution economist Barry Bosworth told Reuters in this June 27 article.

    Reuters also reported:
    Analysts say neither lower interest rates or repayment systems address the major problem: the lump sum of debt students leave school with and the toll it takes on their finances.
    So far, the federal government has had limited success in pressuring states to control the cost of public university tuition.
    Obama in January 2012 laid out a plan to withhold federal funds from public colleges that do not keep tuition costs in check. Despite his efforts, the average tuition cost at public colleges rose by a record 8.3 percent in 2012.
    As for private schools, those costs have jumped even higher, making the best schools accessible not to the best students, but to the best-funded students.

    In fact tuition has becoming so onerous that it is worrisome, even to the upper-middle class, as The Wall Street Journal reported in their series "The Price of Admission."

    Is this a recipe for future success in America?

    Or, if you're not of a philosophical bent, consider this: students who cannot afford college, will earn less money, pay less taxes and be more likely to end up requiring public assistance, or in jail -- both of which are more expensive then subsidizing college costs.

    Is this really what we want for the next generation?

    Can't we at least agree that the more of our children who go to college, the better off they and the nation will be 20 years from now?

    Another Congressional deadline for resolving the loan rate issue looms in August.

    But given that Congress failed to meet both the deadline that was to prevent the sequester from happening, and the July 1 student loan deadline, my hopes for agreement are not high -- especially not when it requires that Congress work during the summer, the time they are usually engaged in their primary jobs: raising campaign cash.

    And if they can't solve the sideshow, let's see a show of hands for how many can solve the larger issue of how much college costs...

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    Blogger's Note: This just in from our friends over at the Steel River Playhouse.

    All are welcome at Steel River's upcoming Job and Volunteer Fair, Sunday, July 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Monday, July 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

    Interested candidates will have the opportunity to learn about open positions, meet with Steel River’s leadership, and tour the facility.

    Paid and stipend positions include Education Coordinator, Music Coordinator, Tech Director, Concessions/Retail Manager, Stage and Music Directors, Production Designers (e.g., sets, costumes, lighting, sound, props, hair and makeup), Directors, and Stage Managers. 

    Instructors of music, voice, and acting are also encouraged to apply for future positions that are expected to become available.
    Adults and students from middle school age on up can explore a host of volunteer learning and social opportunities in virtually every area of the performing arts center. 

    High school and college students are also eligible to sign up for internship opportunities to satisfy their volunteer or external learning requirements. 

    Some examples of volunteer opportunities include:
    •  Technical theater (set construction and painting, costuming, lighting and sound operation, props, hair and make-up)
    • Stage management and backstage run crew
      Is lighting crew right for you?
    • Production Assistants
    • House management and ushers
    • Music support, especially piano accompaniment
    • Riser moves, maintenance and repairs
    • Administrative support (such as receptionist, phone support, filing, photocopying)
    • Software and data entry/utilization
    • Concession and retail sales
    • Box office
    • Education support/teacher aides
    • Event planning and hosting
    • Fundraising
    • Marketing and public relations (including social media)
    • Graphic design
    • Literary analysis and dramaturgy
    Candidates for paid and stipend positions may sign up for initial interview slots ahead of time by contacting or are welcome to request an interview slot on the day of their visit. 

    Additional interviews may be scheduled at other times for those who are not available during the Job and Volunteer Fair. Department representatives will also be on hand to meet with volunteer candidates to provide information and answer questions.

    Steel River also welcomes area performers to visit during the Job and Volunteer Fair to learn more about Steel River’s mission and facilities. 

    A variety of audition opportunities and instrumental openings are available for the upcoming season. Come learn about sharing your talent with the community and region.

    For more information, visit Steel River Playhouse is located at 245 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464.

    Steel River Playhouse, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) charitable education and performance facility, is a key component of the revitalization of historic downtown Pottstown. 

    Steel River seeks to strengthen community, inspire creative exploration, educate, and entertain, through the presentation of quality performing arts events and education for diverse audiences. 

    Each year, Steel River Playhouse produces more than 90 performances and hosts more than 10,000 people as audiences, students, artists, donors and volunteers from the region and beyond., 610-970-1199.

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  • 07/16/13--01:00: Summer Savings Saturday

  • Summer is time for savings in downtown Pottstown, especially this Saturday when the annual Sidewalk Sale takes to the streets from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    According to Main Street Manager Sheila Dugan, the day will include offers from more than 40 downtown merchants, as well as face painting, a visit from Rainbow the Clown, and collections of Pottstown School uniforms for sale.

    Demonstrations will be provided by CrossFit at 21 N. Hanover St. at 12:45, 2:45 and again at 4 p.m.

    Also providing demonstration at 307 E. High St. will be Red Cloud Kung Fu at 12, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

    Steel River Playhouse will stage short performances throughout the day at the theater and workshop at 245 E. High St.

    Music will be provided throughout by Sincere Entertainment, Dugan said.

    “The merchants are really excited about participating, because last year we had many hundreds of people showed up and we’re hoping this year will be even more successful,” said Dugan.

    “And we’re also going to have about a dozen vendors from non-profit on the streets as well,” Dugan said.

    Many of those non-profit organizations will be holding raffles, so the chances to win in addition to getting great bargains, are hard to beat, she said.

    the sidewalk sale is just the latest in a series of activities planned for the downtown and environs in the coming months.

    On Sept. 20, ArtFusion 19464 begins its exhibit “We Were Soldiers,” which runs through November; followed by the third annual Pet Fair on Sept. 21; the Carousel of Flavor on Sept. 22 and Airport Day at the Pottstown Municipal Airport on Sept. 28.

    October 12 brings the return of Riverfest and Buy Local initiatives and Small Business Day follow in November, to be capped off by the Hometown Holidays celebration in December.

    For more information about the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District authority visit

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    Cal Benfield holding the award presented by officials of MCIU and  Freedom Credit Union. 

    Blogger's Note:More good news out of the Pottstown School District

    Pottstown High School teacher Cal Benfield was recently recognized by the Freedom Credit Union and the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit as one of the top 23 finalists in the 7th Annual Voices of Inspiration Award for Teaching Excellence. 

    Established to recognize educators and support specialists who exceed expectations in meeting their students’ needs in both public and non-public Montgomery County schools, the Voices of Inspiration Award is a highly coveted recognition.

    This year more than 740 nominations for 325 educators were submitted by students, parents, co-workers, administrators, and school employees. 

    Nominations addressed the individual’s contributions throughout the year and their cumulative efforts over their career in education.

    Cal Benfield is an English teacher instructing the subjects of language/composition and literature to students in grades 9 – 12. 

    He most enjoys his freshmen and senior classes as he has the chance to witness students at both the beginning and end of their high school careers. 

    An educator for 16 years, Cal’s pursuit of teaching was inspired by his own high school English and math teachers and he works diligently to create an environment where excellence matters. 

    One of his colleagues praised Cal for his high expectations saying, “His ability to make students feel like they have just written an award winning essay no matter what their ability level is something I try to emulate on a daily basis.” 

    He also inspires his students by encouraging a family culture in the classroom to such a degree that one student said, “He is a teacher who treats his students like his own kids.”

    Cal has encouraged teamwork and togetherness beyond the school bell as the head boys’ basketball coach for the high school where his co-workers noted, “He is an excellent role model to his players.” 

    His commitment to excellence for his students in the classroom and in life is captured by the words, “It is only through self-respect that you can compel others to respect you.”

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  • 07/18/13--01:00: Smooth, Organic Gardening
  • I love this photo because of the faces of the kids as they watch a leafy green being added to their smoothie....
    Expected rain that never arrived pushed a planned work/play day at the Chestnut Street Community Garden
    back by one day, but it didn't pus out the fun.

    The Mosaic Community Land Trust, which owns and operates the garden (with a second one on the way at 615 Chestnut St.) recently posted some photos from two of the activities from the day, held Sunday, July 14.

    First up are some photos of smoothies made for the kids from some of the things grown in the garden.

    There are more on the web site, but I've picked my favorites.

    For those who don't know, the garden is located at at 423 Chestnut St.

    Yup, there's something leafy and 

    green in that thar smoothie.
    Once a dilapidated playground of dubious safety, it is now home to 30 garden plots growing everything from Swiss chard, to lettuce, carrots, brussel sprouts and tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes.

    In addition to growing their own food, the families and organizations that tend to the plots there are invited to participate in activities there, most of which focus on the garden, growing and healthy food.

    Several members, for example, have submitted recipes for using the things grown there.

    They include: pineapple salsa, summer tomato sauce and grilled tomatoes.

    For the adults at the work/play day, there was what was described as a lively discussion regarding the benefits of organic gardening.

    The group then took some old clothes and recycled them into use as plant holders.

    The land trust hopes the success of the first community garden will help spur interest in the second. In the long run, the land trust hopes to open five community gardens in five years, “and we’re open to suggestions for new sites from people in the community,” according to board president David Jackson.

    The land trust is also looking at trying to establish a more ambitious “urban agriculture” program, and possible an orchard.

    “That could generate some local economic activity and possibly, some jobs,” said Jackson.

    “We’d like to get to the point where we could supply a store and local restaurants,” he said, noting that one garden plot is operated by Grumpy’s Restaurant on High Street, which uses the food it grows in the food it serves.

    The current garden, and the new one, are made possible by two $30,000 grants from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, as well as donations from National Penn Bank and other private donors, Jackson said.

    “We focus on nutrition and eating healthy, and growing health foods,” Washington said of the garden’s philosophy, not to mention the exercise which comes with tending to a garden.

    “We supply the tools, we supply the seeds, we supply the water and the mulch, all they have to do is show up and do the gardening,” Washington said.

    The only cost is a $25 per year annual membership fee.

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  • 07/19/13--01:00: Give Yourself Some Credit

  • Blogger's Note: Now is a good time to sign up for free classes on cleaning up your credit, offered by Genesis Housing, which sent us this release.

    There has never been a better time to make the most of your money and to “clean-up” your credit. Learn the best ways to reduce your debts. Learn how to improve your credit scores. Make good decisions with your money. Learn what they never covered when you were in high school!

    Genesis Housing Corporation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit community development corporation, is bringing the FREE class series back to Pottstown on Tuesday evenings, July 30, Aug, 13 and Sept, 17 from 7 to 9 PM, at the Mosaic Community Land Trusts Offices, 10 South Hanover Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. The classes are offered every month in Norristown. This will be the second time this year to have the classes in Pottstown.

    The classes are designed to help to:
    • Understand Credit -- Information on credit scores, improving your scores, re-establishing credit, dealing with debt. Class participants can obtain a free credit report with scores from the three major credit reporting services (Tuesday, July 30).
    • Money Management – Information on preparing realistic budgets that are more than just monthly bills, prioritizing spending in tough times and understanding how current spending impacts your future financial options (Tuesday, Aug. 13).
    • Home Buying Basics -- Information the home buying process -- finding a realtor, home inspections, Agreements of Sale, mortgages and first-time homebuyer grant programs (Tuesday, September 17, 2013).
    Nikki Holcroft, an award winning and certified housing counselor, will teach the classes. Ms. Holcroft has more than twenty-five years experience working as a housing counselor, mortgage banker and community lender.

    Ms. Holcroft has worked with Genesis Housing Corporation since 2001 and
    teaches monthly classes on credit, money management and the home buying process. Ms. Holcroft also provides individual housing counseling sessions to help clients achieve their financial goals. Ms. Holcroft has worked with families to restructure their mortgages, avoid foreclosures and reduce their debts.

    Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling Genesis Housing Corporation at 610-275-4357 or online at

    The Pottstown classes are funded, in part, by National Penn Bank. Additional funding was provided by Montgomery County. National Penn Bank is a member FDIC. National Penn Bank and Genesis Housing Corporation are nonaffiliated entities.

    Genesis Housing Corporation’s housing counseling programs provide free classes and individual counseling helping over 7,000 clients. 

    Monthly classes focus on topics not taught in regular school including understanding credit, credit repair, money management, saving plans, grant programs and understanding the home buying process including selecting a realtor and finding the best mortgage.

    Since 1994, Genesis Housing Corporation has served Montgomery County as a 501(c)(3) non-profit community development corporation and is dedicated to the development of affordable housing and educating consumers on housing and financial issues. 

    Genesis Housing Corporation has been certified as a FannieMae Counseling Agency and is approved by PA Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for housing counseling. Genesis Housing Corporation is also an approved agency for many programs
    The latest renovation by Genesis at 433 Walnut St.
    including the Montgomery County First-time Home Buyers Program and the Norristown First-time Home Buyers Program.

    In addition, Genesis Housing Corporation has developed affordable housing by rehabilitating vacant homes and by building new homes for income eligible homebuyers. 

    Renovated homes are currently available in Norristown and Pottstown. Genesis Housing Corporation also renovates existing owner-occupied homes for eligible families for the Montgomery County Homeowner Rehab Program and the Pottstown Homeowner Rehab Program.

    Visit Genesis Housing on Facebook (www.facebook/GenesisHousing). For more information on Genesis Housing Corporation programs, call 610-275-4357 or visit the web site at

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    Blogger's Note:This week, we hand the reins of "This Saturday in Science" over to the very capable Diane Van Dyke and Alana Mauger who will tell us about science going on in our back yard over at MC3.

    Seventeen middle-school students from the Pottstown area immersed themselves in Montgomery County Community College’s Green STEM Camp during the week of June 24 at the West Campus in Pottstown.

    In its third year, the Green STEM summer camp is made possible by a $10,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, which is funded by TD Bank. The camp encourages urban youth from Pottstown to learn about science and explore high-demand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

    “To understand what it is like to be a scientist, you have to emulate the environment in which a scientist works from start to end, which is what we did during this week,” said Dr. Davi Gonzales, Biology associate professor and director of the camp.

    The students learned basic concepts of the scientific method, experimental design and data analysis, which they then applied to hands-on experiments throughout the week. Working in teams, they developed hypotheses, collected specimens, analyzed their collections in a laboratory and recorded their findings.

    For example, one group compared data from four water samples taken from different locations in the Schuylkill River and Manatawny Creek to determine the correlation between temperature and water oxygenation levels. Other groups studied the pH of common substances and their impact on the environment, and whether or not gender plays a role in the speed of someone’s reflexes. Side note – it doesn’t.

    Another group studied millipedes collected during the camp’s field day to determine if they preferred smooth or rough surfaces. Interestingly, the students concluded that their experiment didn’t meet the needs of the millipedes, which kept trying to escape from their new habitats.

    On the last day of camp, students presented their results to their families and instructors during a special dinner program.

    “What makes this program truly unique is that it was done at a community college with middle school students within five days,” Dr. Gonzales said. “Usually, these types of programs are done by research universities with much older students. It proves that you can teach college-level material to younger students. We were able to do this due to the tremendous talent of the faculty and staff involved.”

    The Green STEM program was a collaborative effort of MCCC’s STEM faculty, including Biology Associate Professor Dr. Davi Gonzales, Geology Professor Rob Kuhlman, Microbiology Instructor Dr. James Bretz, Assistant Chemistry Professor Dr. Janet Graden, Assistant Mathematics Professor Stephanie Isaac, and Biology Lecturer Cheryl Criscuolo. Program teaching assistants included Kaitlyn DeJohn, Charles Lewis and Juliane Smithson.

    The TD Charitable Foundation is funded by TD Bank N.A., which operates as TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, and is one of the 10 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. The Foundation's mission is to serve the individuals, families and businesses in all the communities where TD Bank operates, having made $88.6 million in charitable donations since its inception in 2002. The Foundation’s areas of focus are affordable housing, financial literacy and education, and the environment. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation, including an online grant application, is available at

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    Do we need stars? Find out why you should be concerned about light pollution. 

    Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m., the Pottstown-based Schuylkill River Heritage Area will host a free screening of the film The City Dark, a one-hour feature documentary about the loss of night. 

    Featuring stunning astrophotography and a cast of eclectic scientists, "The City Dark" is the definitive story of light pollution and the disappearing stars. 

    Tracking killer asteroids in Hawaii
    Featuring stunning astrophotography and a cast of eclectic scientists, "The City Dark" is the definitive story of light pollution and the disappearing stars. 

    After moving to New York City from rural Maine, filmmaker Ian Cheney asks a simple question - do we need the stars? - taking him from Brooklyn to Mauna Kea, Paris, and beyond. 

    Exploring the threat of killer asteroids in Hawaii, tracking hatching turtles along the Florida coast, and rescuing injured birds on Chicago streets, Cheney unravels the myriad implications of a globe glittering with lights - including increased breast cancer rates from exposure to light at night, and a generation of kids without a glimpse of the universe above. 

    Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; program begins at 7 in the Montgomery County Community College West Campus South Hall Community Room on College Drive. 

    This event is free! But space is limited, so download a ticket. ClickHere for Free Tickets

    The program will feature a brief introduction by Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Kurt Zwikl.

    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site Superintendent Edie Shean Hammond will discuss the ongoing effort to make Hopewell a Dark Sky Park. 

    Following the film, Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council President Stan Stubbe will speak and answer questions.

    The screening of The City Dark is being hosted by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area in partnership with Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council.

    Watch the Trailer here!

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    Photo by Leslie Stillings

    The Pottstown Regional Public Library's Youth Department brought the hip hop dance troupe IlStyle and Peace to Ringing Rocks Elementary School's Summer Playground last week.

    About 200 children in the Summer Playground program at Ringing Rocks Elementary School had a visit Thursday from IlStyle and Peace, courtesy of the Pottstown Regional Public Library's Youth

    The youth department travels our patron area bringing literacy and enlightening experiences to youth of all ages.

    "We want our young patrons to experience what is available to them through the library. More than books,
    the library provides an arena and tools for children to explore their world and prepare for a successful future. Visiting the summer playground brings an experience that links reading, fun, and education," said Leslie Stillings, the library's youth director 

    The hip hop dance group "IlStyle and Peace" brought a message that all dreams are possible for everyone -- which echoes one of the purposes of public libraries; free and equal access to materials and experiences that aids the citizen in their chosen pursuits.

    "It was so sweet – the children loved it so much that they approached the dancers with crayons asking for their autographs!" Stillings said of the performance.

    The program will be at Pottsgrove Summer Playground at 10:30 for the next two weeks as well.

    On Thursday July 25, it will present a program named: “Silly Joe Sings!”

    And on Thursday Aug. 1, “The Academy of Natural Sciences” will present: "Animals with Bad Reputations."

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  • 07/23/13--01:00: Keeping Your Identity Safe
  • Blogger's Note:The following is from the PA House Democratic communications office.

    State Rep. Mark Painter invites area residents to find out how they can protect their identity during Identity Theft Seminars on July 25.

    "I'm pleased to welcome the state Attorney General's Office who will discuss how people have fallen victim to identity theft and explain how people can protect themselves from it happening to them," said Painter, D-Montgomery.

    There will be two free sessions at noon and 2 p.m. July 25 at Painter’s Sanatoga office, 600 Heritage Drive, Suite 102, just off High Street in Sunnybrook Village next to Parma Pizza.

    Light refreshments will be served.

    To RSVP for either seminar, contact Painter's office at 610-326-9563.

    Painter said an incorrect time is listed in his mailed newsletter. The sessions are at noon and 2 p.m.

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  • 07/24/13--01:00: Planting a Winner
  • Beautification contest winners Anna Johnson, left, second place and Athena Singer, right, first place.
    The winners of the Mosaic Community Land Trust's planters and garden boxes contest have been chosen.

    They are Athena Singer, who won the $150 first prize for her window boxes at 353 Walnut St.; and Anna Johnson, who won the $75 second prize for her plantings at 515 Chestnut St.

    The land trust, which operates a community garden at 423 Chestnut St. and is preparing a second one two
    Singer's window boxes at 353 Walnut St., won first prize.
    blocks east, teamed up with the Pottstown Garden Club in sponsoring and judging the contest.

    The contest was the brainchild of Dick Heylmun, the owner of Pine Tree Hill Farm.

    The contest was the first of its kind for Pottstown's core neighborhood, but because there were only nine entries, the judges chose one of the three categories that had the most entries -- "front garden and planters combined" and hit the streets.

    Nancy Toothacher and Karin Albera, both from the garden club, accompanied land trust board member Gretchen Lea, a Penn State Master Gardner, and community gardens manager Laura Washington, on a hot afternoon to select the winners.

    Along the way, they passed a number of interesting gardens which they wished had entered the contest, but their owners said theirs was not yet perfected.

    Of those who entered, Singer and Johnson were selected as the winners.

    The awards and prize money were presented July 14 at the community garden, followed by a get together and refreshments.

    The land trust hopes to make the beautification contest an annual tradition.

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    Writing Award winners from Barth Elementary School.

    Blogger's Note:Once again, spinmiester John Armato has provided us with insights into the goings on in Pottstown schools, in this case, essays written by students about why they are "Proud to be from Pottstown. Look for Part 2 coming soon....)

    When Pottstown School District conducted its annual writing award contest sponsored by the local McDonald’s restaurants, the theme on which the students were asked to write, was reflective. 

    Students from kindergarten through eighth grade were asked to write about why they were “Proud to be from Pottstown.”

    Rupert Elementary Principal Matt Moyer, who serves as the coordinator of the annual event, said, “Our partnership with the McDonald’s restaurants has helped our students develop a greater understanding of writing techniques and has given them reason to do thoughtful thinking. This year’s topic allowed students the ability to show why they are proud of their home town.”

    Marcia Graham, speaking on behalf of herself and her husband Bruce who are the owner/operators of the local McDonald’s restaurants, said, “We are always energized by reading the student essays and are glad to
    Pottstown Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana, left, 
    and Marcia Graham, owner of the local McDonald's franchise.
    play a small role in helping to develop the skills that they will need to become successful adults. Their expressions of pride in our community reaffirm our belief that we are proud to be from Pottstown.”

    The following are the expressions of “Pottstown Pride” from students in kindergarten and first grade:
    • Angel Jones – Barth Grade 1 – I am proud to live in Pottstown because you can meet new friends. You can play at the playground and go to the water park. You can go to celebrations like parades and fairs. I am proud to be a student at Barth because you can be Barth’s Best. You can be “caught doing good.” At Barth we do pledges, read, learn about vowels and write. I am proud to be Me because I have a heart and brain. My heart lets me have feelings and my brain lets me learn and become smart. I also have a mom, a dad and a brother that I am proud of.
    • Regina Fleming – Edgewood Grade 1 – I am proud to live in Pottstown because I like the Pottstown Hospital. When I had bronchitis the doctors there helped me. I got better. The doctors are nice because they gave me warm socks and they let me play in the playroom.
    • Riley O’Brien – Franklin Kindergarten – I am proud of Pottstown because of school. Learning is fun. I also like the library. I like to take out books to read.
    • Denajah Bailey – Franklin Grade 1 – I am proud to be from Pottstown because of my friends, family, school and teachers. I love my teachers so much. Over break, I read and read and read to make them proud.
    • Aniah Smith – Lincoln Kindergarten – I am proud of my school because they keep us healthy and safe.
    • Ricardo Scott – Rupert Grade 1 – I am proud to be from Pottstown because I like this school because it is big and safe. I like my home because it is big and safe.

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  • 07/26/13--01:00: The Help Desk is Now Open
  • As planning for the Pottstown CARES clean-up event moves ahead, those hoping to help spruce up Pottstown's core neighborhood and generate some activism there are soliciting residents for projects they might undertake.

    The CARES project, standing for Community, Awareness, Responsibility, Empowerment, and Sustainability, has the three entities working on a community cleanup day scheduled for Oct. 25.

    "We are trying to build a list of “doable” spruce- up projects,  and the best way for us to do this is to generate a list of residents and their specific concerns/requests," according to Cathy Skitko, communications director at The Hill School which is partnering with Pottstown borough and school district on the project.

    Requests can be e-mailed to, or you can follow the link on the borough's web page to make requests or register concerns.

    The cleanup is scheduled to take place in the CORE redevelopment area, which includes High Street north to Beech Street, and Hanover Street east to Edgewood Street. Teams of personnel and students will gather to volunteer on the chosen day.

    "Examples of requests could range from 'I’m a senior citizen and sure would love for someone to touch up the paint on my fence' to 'please address the debris in the alley behind my home,' to 'there are a lot of big weeds growing on the corner at X and Y,'" Skitko wrote in an e-mail to The Mercury.

    "Also, this is a great way for residents to report pot holes and other, more major issues," Skitko wrote.

    "Please note that depending on the scope of the requests, we cannot guarantee that all projects can be completed on October 25  by the volunteers from The Hill School students, faculty, and staff, the Pottstown School District,  or the Borough staff, but this will be a great starting point for what we hope will be the first of many endeavors," Skitko wrote.
    The first public planning meeting for Pottstown CARES, was held
    in the Ricketts Community Center.

    "By coming forward with requests, residents will also let the borough and the volunteers know that they have permission to come onto the property on Oct. 25 to do the work.  Property owners will be asked to sign an appropriate waiver," according to Skitko.

    Diverging from the “normal” cleanup day idea, organizers of the CARES movement want to focus on educational, proactive measures to continue the cleanup in these areas past the one day.

    “We don’t want this to be just another cleanup day. We want this to be an educational experience,” Hill School Headmaster Zach Lehman said during the meeting.

    Lehman suggested a workshop for residents of the blocks involved to learn about home improvement. Workshop suggestions included gardening, recycling and sustainability, and proper pet safety.

    “We want to empower the citizens and we want to engage them,” said Assistant Borough Manager Erica Weekley. “We need to encourage them to do this on their own.”

    Meeting participants also liked the idea of a large gathering at the end of the day to provide more services for residents. The gathering could be held at the Ricketts Center and include services like a blood drive, health screenings, a rabies clinic, and voter registration assistance.

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    It's another thrilling installment of (drum roll):

    This Saturday in Space Science!

    This week has a space theme and we begin with a piece about a very earthly concern -- Gold.

    Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.
    The collision of two neutron stars can create rare elements like gold. Image released on July 17, 2013. 

    Space Bling

    So did you know that all the gold in the earth may come from the stars?

    Me neither.

    But thanks to Time magazine, I, and now you, know that scientists think all the gold in the universe may be
    formed by the collision of neutron stars.

    Yup, it all comes from space.
    It seems that back in the universe's early days, "there was nothing but hydrogen, helium and lithium. Heavier elements, on up to iron, were forged later by the heat and pressure deep inside stars. 'We are all star stuff,' as Carl Sagan loved to say, in his inimitably geeky way," time science writer Michael Lemonick wrote in his July 18 article.

    "Even stars can’t make elements as heavy as gold, however. For that, you need some sort of powerful shockwave, and until now it’s been unclear what could set it off. But a team of Harvard astronomers has come up a possible answer. The gold in our fillings and our jewelry and in Fort Knox may have been created during titanic collisions between neutron stars, the unimaginably dense husks left over after a massive star dies," Time reported.

    Evidence for this theory materialized last month when NASA’s orbiting Swift telescope initially spotted a burst of high-energy gamma rays that lasted just two-tenths of a second.
    Astronomers quickly trained the twin, Chile-based Magellan telescopes on the spot, and caught a glow of visible light, which let them gauge the distance to whatever had exploded at 3.9 billion light-years from Earth. When they aimed the Hubble at that piece of sky a week later, the light
    was still there, but it had faded until it shone only in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
    The light’s characteristics can best be explained, say Berger, by a burst of brand new atoms totaling more than 3,000 times the mass of the Earth. Some are radioactive, which causes the glow. Some are atoms of platinum and lead and other heavy elements. And some, totaling several times the mass of the Moon, are pure gold.
    "We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses - quite a lot of bling!" lead author Edo Berger, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a statement, published by "To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff."

    So next time, you get a golden necklace for Christmas, give proper props to those neutron stars.

    A scene from "Europa Report

    'Reality' Science Fiction 

    The new science fiction movie "Europa Report" is billed by some admirers as one of the most accurate depictions of human spaceflight ever put on film, and that realism is no accident.

    Screenwriters, expert consultants, actors and others worked to bring a sense of reality to "Europa Report," paying meticulous attention to the world they were creating in the spaceship and depicting on the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

    The movie follows the journey of a crew of astronauts sent on the first manned mission to Europa. It is shot documentary-style and features interviews with various people involved in the harrowing undertaking to seek out alien life in the solar system. You can watch the "Europa Report" trailer here.

    The filmmakers also added a few hidden gems for fans of space travel. The rocket launch shown at the beginning of the film was footage from the 2011 launch of NASA's Juno spacecraft, expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016.

    "Europa Report" is currently available in the iTunes store and is set for release in theaters on Aug. 2.

    The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT.

    Solar to the Max 

    Blogger's Note:Karen C. Fox wrote the following for the NASA web site:

    The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Coronal holes are dark, low density regions of the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. They contain little solar material, have lower temperatures, and therefore, appear much darker than their surroundings.

    Coronal holes are a typical feature on the sun, though they appear at different places and with more frequency at different times of the sun’s activity cycle. The activity cycle is currently ramping up toward what is known as solar maximum, currently predicted for late 2013. During this portion of the cycle, the number of coronal holes decreases. During solar max, the magnetic fields on the sun reverse and new coronal holes appear near the poles with the opposite magnetic alignment. The coronal holes then increase in size and number, extending further from the poles as the sun moves toward solar minimum again. At such times, coronal holes have appeared that are even larger than this one.

    The holes are important to our understanding of space weather, as they are the source of a high-speed wind of solar particles that streams off the sun some three times faster than the slower wind elsewhere. While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere.

    A Little Perspective (Very Little)

    We came across this image recently in NASA's Twitter feed.

    It shows how the earth looks from Saturn.

    (Hint: The "you are here" arrow shows where we are....)

    So next time you're whizzing past Saturn, this might help you find your way home.

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  • 07/28/13--01:00: Religion's Greatest Hits
  • So I have a confession to make.

    For a guy who is not religious, I am fascinated by religion.

    It's power to bring people together, and to divide them into warring factions is unparalleled in human history and if the week I had last week is any indication, the debate isn't going to get resolved any time soon.

    Of course, resolving a debate on religion is an oxymoron because despite the many things religion is, it is not something that can be debated to a finite end.

    It is, after all, about faith. And by its very nature, faith is not something that can or needs to be proven to be true. That is contrary to its nature, which is the belief in something for which there is no empirical proof.

    (Although, I should point out that I think arguably most religions have some kind of "proof," usually in the form is miracles, but that's a whole different subject I think.)

    Religion brings society many worthwhile things that often get overlooked by smug-faced, know-it-all agnostics such as myself.

    It sets the boundaries of behavior, what's basically right, basically wrong; It creates a structure within which

    Mother Thersa
    we can find a place and feel like we belong to something larger than ourselves.

    Religion also creates a place and framework for ritual, something I think we human beings need more than we realize, to give us that sense of continuity.

    Religion is also the source of countless good works, the kinds of things of which history makes little note; caring for the elderly, helping the poor and hospitals for the sick, taking in unwanted children.

    The overall impact of these millions upon millions of acts of kindness and love over the course of religion's history always should be weighed in its favor and, if you're being objective, may well put religion in the overall positive column when balanced against its many more notorious offspring.

    The Crusades was outright warfare of religious conflict
    One need not look too hard through the pages of history to find examples of religion dividing and hurting people: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Jihad, the split between Suni and Shia, the 100-Years War, the Holocaust, the Salem witch trials (in which, if family lore is to be believed, one of my distant ancestors was tried and convicted) the list goes on and on -- and so millions died because of religion.

    These conflicts are most often the result of perhaps the least admirable aspect of religion, righteousness; when faith leads to surety and then intolerance for those who don't agree with your truth, and then to one's "obligation" to spread the "truth" you are so sure is right to others, often whether they're willing to hear it or not.

    It's a kind of "my God's better than your God" mentality often pervades our history.

    On some level, it's easy to understand such zealotry.

    After all, I would imagine the the faithful are very excited about having found what, for them, is "the answer" and faith, giving them surety, they want to pass it on to others.

    The problem, of course, springs from those others resisting the "truth" being brought to them, which casts doubt, or derision, on the truthfulness of the message brought by the bringer.

    Well, we can't have that can we, not if we're going to be true to our beliefs?
    Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, for exiled from Boston for
    espousing different religious views. He was renown for living peacefully
    with the native Americans.

    Result? Conflict; conflict which is, ironically, often at odds with the very teachings of both sides of the conflict. Ah well, human beings. Can't live with 'em.....

    For a time, I think, it seemed that the founding of the United States held out hope for a break in this cycle of religious conflict.

    Although the first residents to the North American shores came in pursuit of America's true religion -- profit -- by the time the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, after shooting a few natives on Cape Cod, the tradition of seeking religious freedom in America had been born.

    (Of course, the Pilgrims in Boston had apparently failed to learn tolerance from their experience in England and exiled more than a few of their own members for coming up with their own religious interpretations. And so we gained Rhode Island. I'll leave it to you to decide if we come out ahead as a result of that....)

    But the religious freedom which marked America was primarily a freedom to practice Christianity how you wished, and the other religions, well, OK if they were quiet about it.

    It was from a desire to avoid Europe's religious wars that the founders sought to separate church and state.

    So here in America, we talk about the conflict between religion and politics whereas in many places, Iran for example, the two are one and the same.

    And it is from this tension between church and state that we arrived at the two stories last week that have me musing about religion.

    The first is hard to miss -- Montgomery County's decision to insert itself into the nation's same-sex marriage debate by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

    At issue is a Pennsylvania law, similar to its federal sibling which the Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional, which defines marriage to be between a man and a women.

    For the most part, the foundation of this law is a religious one, and the people who turned out at the courthouse Friday to protest it, did so largely on religious grounds.

    The second might have escaped your notice because of the first; it was a story about Pottsgrove principal Bill
    Ziegler's religious radio show.
    Mercury Photo by John Strickler
    Bill Ziegler

    I admire Ziegler not only for being true to his beliefs but also for not foisting them on the unwilling, and for a show that for crafting a show that, for the most part is designed to help Christians peacefully co-exist and thrive in public schools where religious practices can be fraught with Constitutional pitfalls.

    The First Amendment protects the rights of Ziegler and the protesters and I was pleased to see that not only did the protesters not harass the same-sex couples coming in the courthouse to get their marriage licenses, but that many of the couples expressed their support for the protesters right to voice their opinion.

    I think public opinion is shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, and so far, the change seems to be occurring with little to no violence, something about which I am infinitely grateful.

    I suspect its mostly a demographically driven change, the next generation sees it as no big deal.

    Perhaps its time we learned from our children.

    As for Bill Ziegler, I think that is the conversation of religion's proper space in the public sphere will be going on for a much longer time.

    As a non-religious person, I feel my frame of reference for understanding western civilization and its history has been handicapped by not being more familiar with the Bible.

    (I am still smacking myself, figuratively, for not taking a course in college called "The Bible as Literature" because it might had closed that gap, but let's face it, we don't always make smart choices as college students.)

    Like it or not, the Bible is THE major cornerstone of our society and people's fear of allowing its importance and contents to be taught in public schools for fear of the evangelizing that might happen, means schools will not be teaching about what is perhaps the single most important cultural touchstone of western civilization.

    And that's a shame.

    I wonder sometimes if we could ever walk that line, but my confidence is not high.

    Nonetheless, I will confess something else, I am enjoying the conversation.

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  • 07/29/13--01:00: The Rights Stuff
  • Molly Girard with Guidance Counselor and the Advisor 
    for the Gay Straight Alliance Jen Arnst
    With the news last week that the first same-sex couple to obtain marriage licenses in Pennsylvania hailed from and were issued licenses by Montgomery County, a national debate about marriage and equal rights for non-traditional couples has become a very local story.

    But Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi are not the only people on the front line of this issue.

    Molly Girard, who graduated in June from Owen J. Roberts High School, will be honored Aug. 8 at the National Libery Museum in Philadelphia as part of the the Young Heroes Award ceremony for her work pushing for more rights and understanding for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender citizens.

    The award honors young people who have championed liberty through civic engagement, conflict resolution, promoting diversity and school or community leadership.

    All winners receive recognition at an awards ceremony at the Museum; a certificate of recognition, medallion and gifts; and a plaque featuring their story in the Museum's Young Heroes Exhibit. 

    Here is why she is being honored:

    One of the most dedicated members of the Owen J. Roberts Gay Straight Alliance Club, Molly sits on the Executive Officer Board. 

    According to her nomination, she has been a huge motivating force behind their ability to reach out to faculty in other schools. After a discussion with staff addressing anti-lgbt language and bullying, Molly and her peers arranged to visit other buildings to help educate staff about LGBT issues and sensitivity to differences. 

    So far they've visited the middle school and all elementary schools in the district. 

    They coordinated scheduling the visits and planning the presentations and training her peers on running break out portions of the workshop. 

    Outside of school, Molly has promoted LGBTQ student equality and understanding and presented at the first annual Rainbow Connection Student Leadership Conference at West Chester University. She presented to student leaders from other high school GSA clubs there.

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    Step into the past at Pottsgrove Manor and enjoy an afternoon learning about colonial trades and pastimes.

    On August 4, 11, 18, and 25, 2013 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Pottsgrove Manor’s living history volunteers, dressed in colonial period clothing, will be living life the 18th-century way.

    Activities will include hearth cooking, needlework, quilting, tape weaving, gunsmithing, hornsmithing, and country dancing. 

     Visitors can watch, learn, and even join in fun! Activities will vary from week to week, so call ahead or check Pottsgrove Manor’s webpage at to find out what activities will be offered that day.

    A donation of $2 per person is suggested for this program. 
    Guests can also tour the museum’s current exhibit, “Forging a Lifestyle: Ironworking with the Potts’ Family,” during their visit.

    The exhibit can also be viewed during a guided tour of Pottsgrove Manor during regular museum hours now through Nov. 4, 2013. 

    Regular museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Tours are given on the hour. 

    The last tour of the day begins at 3 p.m. The site is closed Mondays and major holidays. 

    Groups of ten or more should pre-register by calling 610-326-4014.

    Pottstown Manor is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422.

    Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites Division of the Assets and Infrastructure Department. 

    For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit the website at Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at

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    Dr. Victor Wyatt, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, center, was among the presenters at Bethel AME's first-ever Youth Conference held over last weekend and taught students about the science of fats and oils.

    Over the weekend, Bethel African Methodist-Episcopal Church held it's first-ever Youth Conference featuring speakers and presenters not only on religious subjects, but also about science and social issues.

    A few examples included career planning, parent and youth challenges, the science of fats and oils and understanding your potential.

    In addition to Dr. Wyatt, the conference also welcomed Anthony Stevenson, a principal from the Radnor School District, Johnny Corson, 2011 graduate of The Hill School and a junior at Boston College, as well as Dwight Lamar, named best gospel and McDonald's Gospel Fest award winner, who was a guest solist.

    Also performing were the newly formed Youth Choir.

    "We were attempting to bring the youth off the streets for two days into various workshops, seminars, fun and games," said Bethel AME Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Vernon Ross. "We will even have workshops designed to help parents deal with the challenges of their youth." 

    He said the youth conference is just the latest of several church initiatives.

    "We have many food programs and we just started a youth choir and we are having health fairs on Sundays, the men are taking their ministry to the nursing homes, and people of all background, experiences, and color are joining the Church," Ross said. 

    "We gave out five scholarships to high school graduates last year and they are all in college doing great. We gave out two scholarships this year and they plan to start college this fall," Ross said. "We are starting alcohol and drug abuse ministry, retention ministry, and prison ministry."

    The church is also preparing a new capital campaign drive for the next phase of its new church project.

    An artist's rendering of the plans for a new Bethel AME Church.

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Marigold the opossum, bottom, looks for snacks during a visit Wednesday to the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

    During these warm summer days, you never know what you might find when you walk into the Pottstown
    Regional Public Library.

    Wednesday morning, it was a presented from the Academy of Natural Sciences who brought a friend named Marigold for the children to meet.

    The children were taught that the opossum is North America's only marsupial and that they have adapted well to cities like Philadelphia because.

    1) They are nocturnal and sleep during the day.

    2) There are lots of places to hide during the day.

    3)) It is slightly warmer in the city than outside the city.

    3) There are plenty of food sources, including garbage.

    This is just one of many summer programs the library runs both on and off-site.

    Earlier this month, we brought you this post of a program the library ran at a summer camp at Ringing Rocks Elementary School.

    At the building, the Science in the Summer program, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline recently wrapped up.

    Click here to see Mercury photos of the program.

    There are still programs running in August. You can click here for a link to the complete library list.

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