SAUGUS — A dozen sixth- and seventh-graders are weighing in on what needs to change at Belmonte Middle School. They envision a school with less violence, brighter colors, and more classes that relate to the real world.
The Youth Empowerment Group at Belmonte Middle School is made up of students who want to elicit positive change at their school and in their town.
“As a superintendent, I wanted to hear what was going on from a kid’s perspective,” said Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi. “I want to know what they like about the Belmonte and what they want to see change.”
The group met a few times over the summer and now gathers twice a week after school. They started their work by creating kindness rocks — small stones painted with kind words and images — and leaving them near convenience stores and in public places.
“If someone has a bad day, they can pick them up and smile about it,” said Allie Souza, a seventh-grader.
The group created flower bouquets and arrangements to decorate the Belmonte cafeteria for Thanksgiving, where many who couldn’t afford a meal for the holiday chose to dine.
Now, they spend their time around a large table identifying problems and proposing solutions. A dry erase board is littered with many ideas and plans that are being put into action.
“These kids are committed to community service within our building and outside of our building and they’re committed to leadership,” said Principal Myra Monto.
Over slices of cheese pizza, the students sounded off on what they already liked: their teachers, their friends, the new group, the instruments they get to play in band class, and real-life math, a new class being offered that shows the children how math applies to everyday life.
When asked by their superintendent, they weren’t shy to tell him what needed to change, including that they want to see fewer fights happening at school.
Oftentimes the fights start with a bump in the hallway and look a lot like pushing and shoving, the kids said. Word travels fast and it seems like “2,000 people show up to watch,” said Joseph Botto, a seventh-grader.
Their principal talked to them about speaking up so that nobody gets hurt and spreading the word that cameras could record their actions.
Other students sounded off with a grocery list of improvements: better air conditioning, more advanced technology, improved classroom spaces, and more classes that relate to the real world.
Many of the students are enrolled in the new real-life math course, which teaches the children how they’ll use the skill in real life.
“Classes need to be interactive in some way,” said Apollo Fernandes, a sixth-grader. “The worst kind of class is when a teacher talks in front and the students just write it down. Interactive plus fun equals learning.”
With every student in the room agreeing that they enjoy real-life math, DeRuosi said he would talk to the teachers to see how much the students were learning, and possibly propose real-life history and other courses.
Because the students took such an interest in what could be better with the building itself, DeRuosi said he will visit again next month with a presentation on the new middle-high school expected to open in 2020.