Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Enrollment Opens for YWCA Education Programs

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by YWCA TriCounty Area.

Enrollment is open for YWCA Tri-County Area’s pre-kindergarten and school age programs for children ages 6 months to 6th grade at its Early Education Center, 315 King St.

Experienced early childhood education staff provide age-appropriate academic instruction, social and emotional enhancement, nutrition and fitness education, music education, and developmental assessment. Children also receive annual vision, hearing, and dental screenings. 

Children receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch, plus a snack. Hours of operation are from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Open slots are available in the following classrooms:
  • Pre-K Counts is a full-day, state-funded, pre-kindergarten program for children whose family incomes are 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Pre-K Counts is free to qualified families, and children receive a free lunch and snack daily. Classes are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Pre-K Counts offers a curriculum focused on academic, social/emotional, and physical development. Small class sizes, one-on-one time with teachers, and regular progress reports help prepare children for a smooth transition and success in kindergarten. Pre-K Counts operates during the academic year, and opens Aug. 31.
  • Preschool classrooms prepare children ages 3-5 for kindergarten, following the Pre-K Counts curriculum.
  • Early Head Start offers free educational classrooms for children ages 1-3. Early Head Start is free to qualified families and includes family-centered services designed to promote the development of the children, and to enable parents to fulfill their roles as their children’s first teachers.
  • Infant/toddler classrooms for children 6 months through 3 years establish positive learning habits for young children so they may develop to their fullest potential, while enabling parents to maintain employment. Qualified families may receive services free of charge through the Pa. Early Learning Resource Center District 17.
  • Before- and after-school care for children K-6 provides children with a safe place before and after school until their parents return home from work. Children participate in recreational activities, STEAM enrichment, and fitness instruction.
YW’s Early Education Center is a Keystone STARS 4 early education center, licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. YW accepts Pa. Early Learning Resource Center tuition subsidy for qualified families.

YW is following state COVID-19 guidelines in maintaining its facilities and operating its classrooms. A health and safety handbook outlining procedures is available to all parents and guardians.

For information about early childhood education programming at YWCA Tri-County Area, contact Kathleen Seeley, senior director of early education, at 610-323-1888 ext. 209, or KSeeley@ywcatricountyarea.org

YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YW is a leader in advocacy for women and girls, works to eliminate racism, and lives its mission through affordable early childhood education, adult literacy, and a host of programs to support the health and vitality of women, girls, and families.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Free Ride on PART Buses Ends, Fares Start May 1

Well folks, the free ridge is over.

In another sign that we may be getting toward the end of the pandemic, the borough has announced that riding on the Pottstown Area Rapid Transit system will soon no longer be free.

Starting May 1, PART riders will have to once again pay for the privilege.

However, the pandemic is not ALL gone. After all, masks are still required of all riders.

It's been a little more than a year since the borough suspended fares on the buses in an effort to ease the financial burdens of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Local Papers Struggle to Fend Off Hedge Fund

News came Saturday that Hansj√∂rg Wyss, the mysterious Swiss billionaire who had expressed interest in joining the effort to buy the Tribune newspaper chain to keep it our of the clutches of the vulture Alden Global Capital hedge fund, has pulled out.

Wyss had joined Maryland billionaire Stewart Bainum in his effort to buy the chain by offering a better price than Alden, now known across the nation as "the destroyer of newspapers."

Anyone who has watched what Alden has done to The Mercury, knows what that looks like.

The news is a blow to those who have been desperately working to keep the chain from this savage  fate. But it also shows the downside of depending on super rich people to save local journalism.

The profits Alden reaps by cutting news staff
are not reinvested back into those papers,
but siphoned off to help them buy, and wreck
other companies around the world.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as pleased as anybody that Bainum is trying to save Tribune. But let's all acknowledge that any solution to the long-simmering problems faced by local news that depends on making rich folks happy will always be subject to what makes them happy.

In Wyss's case, according to a report in The New York Times, he had sought to transform the Chicago Tribune into a national newspaper on par with the Times and Washington Post, and his interest waned when a look at the books indicated that would likely be more expensive than even a billionaire was willing to stomach.

Me? I say what's wrong with saving The Chicago Tribune (and The Morning Call in Allentown and the dozens of other great papers Tribune owns) to make it a better paper for the nation's third largest city?

That seems as noble as cause, perhaps more so, than stroking your ego by saying you "made the Tribune a national paper." But maybe that's why I'm not a billionaire. I don't think like one, apparently.

I'm just a guy working every day in his attic to bring the Pottstown area as much local news as I can gather in a 10-hour day.

I suspect it is this singular image, magnified by Dan Barry's luminous profile in The New York Times last July, which has made me the go-to guy for explaining to people why they don't want Alden to buy their local paper.

Barry told me "like it or not, you're now the poster boy for what is happening to local news." 

I was tapped once again to dance my cautionary tale of Alden ownership for the April 7 "Save Our Papers Virtual Summit."

Organized through The Newspaper Guild, of which I have been a proud member since 1997, the idea is to reach out to the communities Tribune serves and get them involved in the conversation (and the fight).

In truth, the damage Alden wreaks on newsrooms is becoming so evident that I'm hardly needed anymore.

On April 12, the journalism-focused Poynter Institute took a look at what has happened to Tribune since Alden acquired 32 percent share of Tribune in 2019. 

The Poynter report is based on the April 7 summit, the video from which, you've no doubt noticed, is posted at the top of this blog post.

Here's the quick (copy and paste) run-down:

  • The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania: Newsroom down 22%. No reporter based in the county seat of Easton. No editor dedicated to sports, business, politics or state news.
  • The Baltimore Sun: Newsroom down 10%. No investigative reporters. No sports editor for more than a year. Of the eight reporters who shared a Pulitzer Prize last year for exposing corruption that led to the resignation of the mayor, only three are left.
  • Chicago Tribune: Newsroom down 32%. No reporters dedicated to covering the South Side or West Side of the city. No reporter based in Springfield, the state capital. Discontinued the weekly Spanish-language Hoy in a city that is now a third Latinx.
  • Chicago suburban papers: Newsroom down 32%. No reporters based in nearby Elgin or Waukegan. Only four reporters based in six populous core suburbs. One reporter covering the arts.
  • The Hartford Courant: Newsroom down 30%. One editor for politics, business and breaking news. No features or opinion editors. No reporters based in surrounding towns, which together have a population of 770,000.
  • The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and Daily Press of Newport News (Tribune publishes the two neighboring papers under separate nameplates but most functions have been combined): Newsrooms down 33%. No state reporter. One opinion writer for the two papers. No beat reporters for transportation, environment, business or the shipyard industry.

That's what it looks like when Alden owns only part of the company.

Once a newspaper, soon to be a whiskey bar.
Here at The Mercury, which Alden has owned completely for years, the decline has been slower but more severe. 

When I started in the landmark building at 24 N. Hanover St., there were, by contract, 15 Guild reporters (sports and news).

There are now three-and-a-half dedicated to our readership alone. And that landmark building has been sold to become a "boutique hotel" and whiskey bar. 

For the purposes of apples-to-apples with the above list, that's a 76.6% cut to the newsroom. 

To be clear, these reductions did not occur entirely under Alden, but began under its predecessors -- Journal-Register, which went bankrupt and reemerged as Digital First, which then merged with MediaNews Group, which was subsequently snapped up by Alden, which feeds on "distressed properties," like a leach feeds a farm animal drowning in a pond; sapping its strength as it struggles to survive.

Which is not to say, left to its druthers, that Alden would not have cut so much. One look at the blood-letting when Alden bought up The Reading Eagle -- 81 jobs slashed -- tells you everything you need to know about the hedge fund's one-play playbook.

Investigative Reporter Julie Reynolds speaks
for a rally for the Stop Wall Street Looting Act.
You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about that playbook; how Alden siphons off profits from papers for other questionable ventures; how it hides its profits in tax shelters; how its investors are off-shore entities;  how it destroys other companies and jobs and how what it is doing threatens democracy at -- https://dfmworkers.org/ -- the extensive website set up by the News Guild.

Most of that research is compiled and written by the indefatigable Julie Reynolds, an investigative reporter from California who lived with Alden's ownership for seven years before getting fed up and turning the tables by investigating the company for the Guild.

America needs local news as a bulwark against the forces now trying to erode democracy.

This weekend is a perfect example.

I am putting together a rudimentary preview of the coming primary elections. There are 12 contested primaries with 64 candidates to keep track of in The Mercury coverage.

And that's just for school boards alone. I haven't even gotten to the borough councils or township supervisors yet.

That work used to be spread among several reporters. Now it's on one. 

I say this not to make you feel sorry for me, although, by all means, feel free, but to make the point that this is not an optimal way to keep citizens informed about their local elected officials in "the world's greatest democracy."

And just like democracy requires the participation of informed citizens, so too does supporting local news.

Here are just some of the ways you can help:

On the day Joe Biden was declared the winner of the
presidential election, I took snap shots of front pages
around the country and was shocked at the flagrant
showing of corporate homogenization of local news. 
But ultimately, although Alden is the where the battle line is right now, the war against misinformation; the effort to keep local government transparent; the drive to ensure those whose whose voices are too often muffled get heard, that is a nationwide need.

It's a nationwide need satisfied, if things are working right, by thousands of local newspapers and news sites across the country.

Since 2004, the United States has lost more than 2,000 local papers and hundreds more went under during the pandemic.

At the end of 2019, more than 200 of the nation's 3,143 counties had no local newspaper, or no alternative source of credible information on crucial issues. They are, in the words of University North Carolina researcher Peggy Abernathy, "news deserts."

The discussion now happening here and across the country -- brought to crisis point by companies like Alden Global Capital -- is how do we make local news sustainable and vibrant again? 

The old model doesn't run as well as it used to, thanks to multiple forces -- the Internet, Craig's List, Google, Facebook,  corporations, vulture capital.

It's time to find a new model, one that runs on sustainable fuel to take us into the future.

There are any number of models being explored and tested across the country -- web-based, non-profit, podcasts, citizen journalists. 

My suspicion is that like the way that local news is particular to its locality -- what works at one paper doesn't always work at another -- that the solutions will be decidedly local.

Here's hoping, for demcracy's sake, we all find them before it's too late.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Webster Town Hall Monday to Focus on Education

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the office of state Rep. Joe Webster, D-150th Dist.

After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affecting education, state Rep. Joe Webster decided to focus his next virtual town hall on this topic.

A panel discussion titled “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child: Virtual Town Hall on Education” is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, April 26, and will be streamed live through Webster’s home page, RepJoeWebster.com.

“While there’s never a bad time to focus time and energy on ensuring we identify policy solutions that meet the needs of students, the topic is especially critical now after 13+ months of various forms of remote education and the myriad issues that developed because of the global pandemic,” said Webster. 

“This month’s panel discussion will seek to identify the resources and support mechanisms needed to adequately execute those policy initiatives.”

Subject to change, the current list of panelists includes:
There will be a traditional Q&A at the end of the program. RSVPs are requested, and comments and questions can be sent in ahead of time through the RSVP form: https://www.pahouse.com/Webster/RSVP/?id=1333.

The virtual town hall will also be streamed live on Webster’s Facebook page, facebook.com/RepJoeWebster.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Steel River Playhouse Offering Summer Camps

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by Steel River Playhouse.

After a year spent online, Steel River Playhouse is excited to bring creativity, learning, and fun back to the Playhouse with several choices for in person Summer Camps. 

From rising kindergarteners to high school students and those looking for a pre-professional theater experience, there is something for every age and level of experience.

Rising kindergarteners through second graders have a choice of “Mr. Tell’s Book Worms” in the morning, or “Mr. Phil’s Wiggle Worms” in the afternoon. 

These camps run from June 21 until June 25, with storytelling, movement, theater skills, and fun. If your child prefers to stay all day they are welcome, just pack a lunch.

Rising third graders through seventh graders can participate in a camp session lasting from July 19 through July 30 daily from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. At the end of the two weeks, the theatrical retelling of the hit animated children’s film Madagascar will take to the stage with a performance for both in-person and virtual audiences.

Rising seventh through tenth graders have the opportunity to perform in Godspell, Jr. This camp runs daytimes 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from July 5 through July 16. The culminating production will be offered with limited in person attendance as well as online access during camp hours. 

This show blends a variety of theater techniques, such as vaudeville, pantomime, and acrobatics, to bring a vibrant story to life. The musical’s songs are just as diverse, encompassing a blend of genres that ultimately leaves audiences with a message of love, tolerance, and kindness.

The Intensive Summer program will be the iconic musical theater favorite Heathers. This audition-only program will be open to those ages 13 to 21, with performances taking place Aug. 20-22. It will be directed and choreographed by Dann Dunn, who has created professional works around the world with Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning artists, holding credits on Broadway and more.

The safety of students, staff, and community is foremost, so all programs will conform to CDC guidelines in force at the time. Full pricing and more information is available at https://steelriver.coursestorm.com/

Steel River Playhouse is a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization that seeks to strengthen our community, inspire creative exploration, educate, and entertain, through the presentation of quality performing arts events and education for diverse audiences.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

In Sign of Hope, Council OKs Parades, Park Events

MediaNews Group File Photo
In 2019, the color guard kicked off Pottstown's annual Memorial Day parade. This year's parade is scheduled for May 31.

In much the way the natural world begins to awaken after a long winter, Pottstown may be awakening after a long pandemic-driven winter of discontent.

In a series of acts some might describe as extreme optimism, borough council Monday granted unanimous approval to no fewer than six events that were cancelled last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In a clear sign that we're still not out of the woods yet, all of the approvals are contingent on a COVID-19 safety protocol plan being submitted, reviewed by police and fire officials, and approved by the borough manager.

This year's Pow Wow will be held May 1 and 2 in
Riverfront Park.
• Already approved was the Seventh Annual PowWow on Mantawny Creek on May 1 and 2 which, will take place in Riverfront Park this year and is being billed as "Where Manatawny Creek Meets the Schuylkill River."

This change in venue is due largely to the pedestrian bridge between the main park and "the island" being out as well as the King Street bridge being closed for replacement.

• Council also has approved the annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 31. That will necessitate closing of High Street from Bailey to Manatawny Streets, from 8:45 a.m. to11 a.m.

The parade is sponsored by the Pottstown Joint Veterans Council. If you would rather recognize area veterans sooner, a drive-through car show photo booth event will be held at the Red Horse Motoring Club, 132 E. Third St., on Saturday, April 17.

The Pottstown Rumble volleyball tournament will be
held in Memorial Park on Junes 25, 26 and 27.
Those who register at http://bit.ly/VIP-FUNDRAISER can have a photo of their car or motorcycle taken by Keeler Photography and prizes will be awarded. Proceeds benefit the Veterans Island Project at Memorial Park.

• Council also approved the Parks and Recreation Department's monthly comedy shows in Memorial Park set for June 23, July 28, Aug. 28, and Sept. 22 from 6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The shows raise money to pay for a new pedestrian bridge over Manatawny Creek which was wiped out by flooding in 2019.

Also on Monday night, the borough approved applying for a $250,000 grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to help pay for a new bridge, but a local match will likely be required.

July 4th Fireworks are also planned.
• Also approved was a the request of the Pottstown Rumble to include a beer garden for the Volleyball Tournament to be held June 25, 26, 27 from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., in Memorial Park. Borough Manager Justin Keller explained this year's event will not include a "beer tent," which makes social distancing difficult, but will allow beer to be carried into a fenced in viewing area, and there will be no bleachers.

• The thumbs up was also given by council for a re-configured Independence Day event. As of now, the Rotary Club's Independence Day Parade will be held on July 4, resulting in the closure of High Street from Madison to Manatawny Streets, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Rotary Club will also hold its annual Duck Race fundraiser and tickets are already on sale.

• And the GoFourth Festival, usually held in Memorial Park, will instead be a street fair on High Street , resulting in the closure of High Street from York to Charlotte Streets, from 1 to 5 p.m. thanks to a unanimous council vote.

The Independence Day Parade is a go.
And yes, there will be fireworks under the current plan.

GoFourth organizers have announced that Precision Polymer Products, a local business, is the Fireworks Sponsor for this year and Fox Rothschild LLP and PECO are Gold Level Sponsors. More sponsorship information will become available in the coming weeks.

Click here to see Tweets from Monday's council meeting.