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SAUGUS — This is the last year Belmonte Middle School freshmen will have to come up with $25 for orientation.
The School Committee directed Superintendent David DeRuosi to remove the fee starting in the 2020-21 school year.
“Every kid has to go to the orientation or they dont know whats going on,” said chairwoman Jeannie Meredith. “Going from elementary to middle (school), in my opinion, is probably the biggest transitional period. They’re going from that small little safety net to a big middle school and it can be overwhelming.”
The event is intended to teach students what they’ll need to know at a new school. Among other lessons, they learn how to read and follow their schedules, where to find their classes, and how to open a locker. Many of the students only know peers from their own elementary school, and orientation is a chance to make new friends, said Meredith.
“I would never want to see somebody to miss out on that due to their inability to pay that fee for any reason,” she said.
The fee covers supplies and meals for the students during the orientation, said DeRuosi.
Beginning next year, the cost associated with the event will be worked into the School Department’s budget.
The notion that many parents can’t afford the fee is not far-fetched.
Last year, about 47 percent of Saugus elementary school students were considered economically disadvantaged and between 1,200 and 1,300 children qualified for free or reduced price lunches.
DeRuosi said he has been tracking a gradual 5 to 6 percent increase in the number of economically disadvantaged families in the public school system each year.