Several constituencies of the city of Salem — municipal administrators, educators from higher education to preschools, private organizations, public service organizations, concerned citizens, parents and the media — are currently sustaining an abundance of attention on the progress of the Salem Public Schools. They are looking at multiple sources of data and extending a “laserlike” focus on curriculum, instruction and assessment issues. This is taking place at Collins Middle School, as it is at all other district schools. And this is indeed a needed and commendable focus.
Equally as needed, however, is to keep a strong focus on the real stakeholders in all of this attention, the students in each of these schools. The turnaround as defined by test data will take place. In the meantime, the students are not simply “on hold” waiting to be “turned.” They are busy doing what they have always done: growing and learning as they attend each day. Much of this growing and learning takes place during academic time. But equally as much takes place outside specific academic time. Much of this is in the areas of social and emotional awareness. The sixth-through-eighth-grade years involve considerable efforts spent on both the ups and the downs of being a middle-schooler. Just ask any parent of a seventh-grader! The physical, social and emotional roller-coaster ride can be a wild one for any student at any given time. School staff, parents and students need to take the ride together.
One arena for this is during the after-school activity program. Here at Collins, students are involved in an active, exciting fine arts program. Instrumental music students have already held two marvelous concerts, with two to come. Several students recently auditioned at Northeast Junior Districts, with three students selected as vocalists: Nicholas Angeramo, Madeleine Holtz and Alan MacTaylor. Rehearsals for our annual musical are under way, with “The Music Man” to be performed April 3, 4 and 5. Sets are being designed and built, speaking parts memorized, songs and dance steps practiced. Intramural programs are also running. Flag football is the big draw in the fall. The whiffle ball tourney is under way. A variety of clubs are running, including chess, photography, French, writing and yearbook. And every morning, the gym is open for morning basketball before school.
Another area for students to grow through experiences involves service to the community. At Collins, we try to help students take on an understanding of their role as citizens of the world, and the responsibility that goes along with that. We have held major fundraising efforts for each of the recent natural disasters, coupled with a study of the event and its impact on both people and Earth. These include Katrina, Haiti, Japan’s earthquake/tsunami and, in December, Hurricane Sandy. Collins sent a $2,338.52 check last month to the American Red Cross for Sandy victims. Last week, we received a package from Japan, from a school we had mailed paper cranes and letter of encouragement to immediately following the earthquake. The package included notes from the Japanese students, telling our students how much it meant to them both when they received our mailing and still to this day. We also recently received a thank-you letter from The Salvation Army, saying that this past fall Collins was “again far and away” above the other schools in our efforts. Our Therapeutic Support Program for students who are dealing with various emotional disabilities has an ongoing program connecting our students with the community through regular visits at Grosvenor Park Nursing Home and The Early Childhood Center at Bentley. And Sophia Blake, an eighth-grader, is Salem’s participant in Gov. Deval Patrick’s 351 service program (351 cities/towns in the commonwealth).
A third area is in our after-school library and technology programs. Students participate in Tech Ambassadors, volunteering their efforts working on computer problems throughout the school. Another group is learning video production, through a series of workshops here at Collins with SATV. And, for the many bibliophiles among us, the Read and Rant program offers opportunities for many students who enjoy the world of print encompassing all genres through both face-to-face and Web-based communication. (Yes, there are still cookies at meetings.)
Middle school students are kind, funny and generous. They can also at times be mean, noisy and self-absorbed. They are big, and small, and everything in between. Their interests sometimes change overnight. And their voices frequently change overnight. But their needs — academic, physical, social and emotional — are a constant. And at Collins, we are working constantly to meet all of those needs. It is very hard to grow up today in the world that we adults have created. Middle school-age children need all the help and support we can all offer as they learn and grow not only in the academic areas, but in all aspects of becoming a healthy and peaceful young adult.
Mary Manning is principal of Salem’s Collins Middle School. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.