Opinion: Time to Reset When Belmont Schools Start The Day

Photo: Sleep deprivation among adolescents is a chronic problem across the country and here in Belmont.

By Andrea Prestwich and Steve Saar, Belmont Start School Later

For one Belmont High School senior, the beginning of the school year – which starts today, Wednesday, Sept. 2 – is a double edge sword; the excitement of their final year in the public schools is dampened in trying to stay awake to enjoy the moment. 

“It’s really difficult to maintain your focus in class when you don’t get enough sleep. Belmont High School is a great school with high standards, but it’s difficult to keep up when you’re chronically tired,” the senior said, who manages to sleep seven hours on a “good” night.

Our daughter is another example. She is a 12-year-old Chenery Middle School student who says she feels “heavy, slow, grumpy and lethargic” on most school mornings.

What’s wrong with these kids? As it turns out, NOTHING! Many – if not most – middle and high school students in Belmont struggle with chronic sleepiness as they are forced out of bed at 6:30 a.m. or earlier to get to school.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that as kids hit puberty their sleep rhythms change. They naturally fall asleep later and get up later. Asking a teen to get up at 6:30 a.m. is like asking an adult to get up at 4 a.m.; they are deep into their natural sleep cycle. Studies also show adolescents need eight-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night.

Depriving kids of sleep at such a crucial period of their development can lead to serious long-term health consequences, including:

  • increased risks of obesity
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • stroke
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • substance abuse
  • Accidents while driving.

Sleep deprivation among adolescents is a chronic problem across the country, linked to poor impulse control and self-regulation – sleepy kids make bad decisions – impairments in attention and memory and deficits in abstract thinking.

Student athletes are especially impacted by sleep deprivation. A study highlighted by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that “athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 68 percent less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less.”

The scale of the problem has been recognized by the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the Society for Pediatric Nurses, the National Association of School Nurses, and the National Sleep Foundation, all endorsing later school start time, with middle and high schools opening no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

So, with just about every professional medical organization in the country endorsing later school start times, why does Belmont begin the Chenery day at 7:55 a.m. and Belmont High at 7:35 a.m?

Sometimes the reason is economics. Many schools set start times decades ago to save transportation costs by running the same busses in three cycles for the high school, middle school and elementary school. Starting schools early also leaves more time in the afternoon for athletics and other after-school activities.

The current schedule would make sense if adolescents had a “sleep mode” button, but sadly, evolution has not seen fit to equip them with one. You just can’t put teens to bed at 9:30 p.m. and expect them to go to sleep immediately and wake bright and early at 6 a.m. as the schedule is contrary to their natural sleep rhythms.

If you put teens to bed at 9:30 p.m. they will toss and turn until 11 p.m. when they will finally start to feel drowsy. The adage “early to bed and early to rise” doesn’t apply to adolescents; they are creatures of the night!

So why not change Belmont to a healthier, later schedule? First, there’s a widespread belief that if schools start later kids will stay up later. This is not true. A landmark study looked at 18,000 high school students in Minneapolis before and after the district’s school start time changed from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. The main conclusion was that high school students slept an hour longer on average when their school started later. They went to bed at the same time as before the time change and slept longer. 

Athletics is another consideration. Currently, schools in the Middlesex League have early starting times. If Belmont were to shift to a healthier, later schedule, our athletes would be out of sync with the rest of the league. Practice times would also have to change, possibly causing a ripple effect and impacting youth groups who use the same facilities.

Other barriers to a later schedule include the need to re-think before- and after-school programs and the impact on some kids with part-time jobs. 

There are certainly obstacles to shifting Belmont High and the Chenery to start later but none is insurmountable. For example, bus schedules could be reversed so that Winn Brook starts first at around 7:45 a.m., then the High School just after 8:30 a.m., Wellington, and Chenery later. Elementary school kids are usually up with the larks, bouncing on their beds – they have sleep rhythms naturally suited to an earlier start. 

Start School Later has local chapters across Massachusetts working for later start times, and we are working with Massachusetts legislators. Hopefully, Belmont will join other districts as they shift times.

Even though there are difficulties in changing school start times, it is not acceptable for our kids to be sleep deprived, any more than it is acceptable for them to go without food or any other life necessity. And sleep is a necessity of life. Our kids should start the school day well fed and rested. The current start times make this impossible.

School districts around the country have shifted to healthier schedules with very positive results: kids are more alert and less grumpy, there are lower rates of tardiness and fewer missed school days. They arrive at school ready to learn.

We ask Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan and the Belmont School Committee follow the recommendations and shift Belmont schools to healthier schedules.


Marauders in the Middle: Second Year of Chenery Football Underway

Photo: Head Coach James MacIsaac with some of the players at Chenery Middle School.

The grass on the Chenery Middle School playing field was green and freshly mowed on Monday, Aug. 24, greeting 40 7th and 8th graders who “are going to learn football,” said James MacIsaac, the head coach of the Chenery Middle School team.


While the squad is a member of the Eastern Middlesex Middle School Football League, “I like to think of this as a 12-week football camp,” said MacIsaac who is running the program for the second year.

“It’s a great league because we don’t have playoffs or championships; it’s all about learning the game, being drilled in the fundamentals,” said MacIsaac, who is also Belmont’s assistant police chief.

Now in its second year after being dormant for nearly four decades, all but three of last year’s 7th graders have returned, “which says a lot about how we treat the players and how much they enjoy being part of this team,” said MacIsaac, a lifelong resident, as he put the players through their paces around the field.

The team will have three home games scheduled including one at Belmont High School’s Harris Field “which will be special. They love playing there, with the turf field and stands filled. It’s great fun.”

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Opinion: Chenery Students Credit to Horace Mann’s Legacy

Photo: Horace Mann

Eighth-grade History is all about our changing American nation. It’s focused on the issues of 2015, but the amount of connections that students make between the past and the present by looking at the American Revolution, how our system of government formed, and how society grew and changed during the 19th century is remarkable. I’m fortunate to work at the Chenery Middle School with a group of passionate educators and motivated students. Your students care – not just about their learning, but also about their role in the bigger picture as the next generation of leaders. For them, the override vote and the debate that it brings up couldn’t have come at a better time.

Together we’ve been looking at how our founders set up the system of government, reaching back through the Jacksonian era, when public participation and involvement in government was heavily promoted. Just last week, we were looking at reforms our country made in the 19th century, one of which was the push by Horace Mann for public education. We looked at excerpts of Mann’s The Common School Journal and one of the biggest principles it emphasized was the idea that education should be paid for, controlled and sustained by an interested public.

I can’t tell how you excited as an educator it made me when students came in early; or stayed after school just to tell stories of the forum that they attended on the override’s yes/no debate and how many connections they made to the Jacksonian era because of it. They had about arguments both for and against the override, and how those made them think of the principles that Horace Mann was promoting. One of my students proudly proclaimed last week how great it felt to be able to go canvassing with her father, and be able to add something to the discussion when meeting and talking to potential voters not just about the work that goes on in our public schools but about why they should care about it.  

Much of the learning and sense of community we have is possible because of our “team model.” At Chenery we focus on fostering a safe learning environment that allows kids to step out of their comfort zones and become better students and bigger thinkers. Getting to know each and every one of my students not just as learners but also as people is the best part of my job. We build relationships and give kids the community they need looking out for them, caring for them, and giving them the tools and support to succeed. We meet in our teams to discuss their progress, growth, and social/emotional well being regularly. Each year our classes get a little bit bigger, and each year it gets a little bit harder to keep maintaining those relationships with a growing student body, and keep fitting those meetings into the busy daily schedule – but it still gets done. We know how important it is not just to the kids, but to their families as well.

The public forum at the Beech Street Center last Monday was a great example of your students in action. I was so proud to be standing with some of my colleagues listening to high school students, and even a middle schooler too, talk about the cuts they feared would make their way into our system if the override didn’t pass. Those participants are the ones we should recognize the most. They might not have a vote, but they care about what will happen and one day will be the thoughtful decision makers in Belmont. Throughout each and every step of their journey this community, and the educators who love to serve it, have supported them. Students have benefited from the strong team model at the Chenery among many other academic and extracurricular opportunities and support systems that our system is able to provide.

Horace Mann would probably be proud. Belmont is definitely a place where there is an interested public, and they certainly care about their public education system. Belmontonians should be proud too, because the “kid constituency” in town that might not be able to vote is definitely a part of the debate. They’re not just watching it; they’re participating in it and learning from it. Let’s make sure to preserve the supports they deserve and the educational community that they need so that when years from now they become the next generation of leaders they’ve been well prepared because of their strong foundation built in the Belmont Public Schools.

Adam Weldai
Chenery Grade 8 History 
Member of the Malden School Committee

Opinion: Chenery Teachers See Firsthand Impacts of Budget Cuts

Photo: Foreign language learning.

As experienced foreign language teachers who have each been teaching  at the Chenery Middle School for more than a decade, we have seen firsthand the harmful effects in our classrooms of the ongoing town budget crisis.

Over the years, class sizes have increased greatly, limiting the amount of personal attention that each student receives.  Special educators are not available during foreign language instructional times, so the foreign language teacher is solely responsible for the learning of all students at all times.  Increasing student enrollment, along with plans to cut one section of foreign language, will continue to exacerbate this issue.

Another troubling trend affecting all students at the middle school is the dramatic increase in the size of study halls. Some study halls in the middle school have 90 students or more, and it is not unusual for a student to have two study halls in one day. In a large group study hall, only two teachers are attending to a very large group of students. These large group study halls are held in the auditorium or the cafeteria, spaces which lack access to technology and also are not conducive to productivity and self-directed learning. The increase in study halls is a clear result of lack of funding for our school.  This hurts students directly because they have less direct instructional time. It also hurts them indirectly because teachers are responsible for covering these study halls when, previously, this time (which amounts to 100 minutes in each six-day cycle) was spent on personal planning and collaborating with department members and teams.

Lack of funding for our schools has also resulted in the cutting of important coursework for our students. Even though studies have shown that the earlier children begin to learn a foreign language, the better chance they have to become fluent, Belmont Schools, facing budget constraints in the 2013-14 scchool year,  eliminated the 5th grade foreign language program, which had existed for almost ten years. The 5th grade program was an important introduction to all four foreign languages offered: Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese. As a result, students now begin their foreign language studies a full year later and also must choose a language to study after minimal exposure (a brief 15 minute introduction as opposed to the former 15 lessons). On the other end of the spectrum, without an override, fifth year and AP foreign language courses will no longer be offered. This will deny Belmont High School students the opportunity to advance in their foreign language studies.

Another negative consequence of the budget shortfall is the slashing of funds for professional development work. Not only are teachers not fully reimbursed for the costs of their professional courses and workshops, but also substitute coverage is no longer available. In our case, this severely limits our ability to take part in many opportunities to learn how other innovative foreign language teachers are engaging their students.

Taking all of this into account, it is difficult to imagine how the students in our classrooms and in our school would thrive under additional budget cuts.  We ask you to support the override so that Belmont can continue to provide a quality education for all students.

Beth Manca (grade 6, 7 & 8 Latin)     

Amy Sánchez (grade 6 & 7 Spanish)

Elizabeth Pruitt (grade 6 & 7 French and Spanish)


42 for 42: Chenery Football Ends Season a Success On and Off the Field

Forty-two students arrived on a sweltering August afternoon to the Chenery Middle School playground for the first day of football practice.

Two-and-a-half months later, 42 now experienced and tested players ended the first season of middle school football in Belmont in several decades with a big win over Watertown, 22-8, played at Victory Field on Nov. 5.

“The big news was that we began and ended the season with the same number of kids,” said Chenery Head Coach James MacIsaac. 

“They showed a lot of dedication and grew as a team after each game,” said MacIsaac.

The season had its ups – playing on Harris Field vs Melrose, winning more games than they lost – and downs – losing at home – but above it all, the players spent the season improved their fundamental football talents on the field and learned life skills on the sidelines.

“I received a great deal of positive feedback and the kids all seemed to have fun,” said MacIsaac.

The 2014 Chenery Middle School football team included:

Ryan Hoffman, Mitchel Pereira, Joe Salvi, Peter O’Connor, Matthew Crisafi, Carlos Osgood, Robert Dolan, Jared Edwards, Frank Castagno Jack Hannibal, Avery Arno, Nareg Stapanian, Tommy Cranson, Tim Starr, Connor Estok, Rhaki Joseph, Sohail Hajri, Jake Parsons, Jason Santos, James Nally, Owen Strakowski, Joseph LaFauci, Brett Westgate, Connor Shea, Michael Alexander, Dijuan Moore, Ryan Santoro, Zachary Hubbard, Willy MacIsaac, Merrill Barnes, Parker Lutz, Emanual Clark, Thomas Brugger, Drew Finn, David Brennan, Joey Hurley, Brendan Noonan, Rafael Alejandre, Aiden Dowling, Demetri Stathadikis, Nathan Rose and Brendan Logan.

The coaching staff included MacIsaac, Robert Walker, Kevin Shea, John Arno and Mike Carew.

Duty, Honor, Country: Schools Salute Vets in Remembrance Observances

The Chenery Middle School Wind Band played patriotic music, the chorus sang the “National Anthem” and several students made speeches and recited poems to their classmates and the two dozen men – many slowed with age – sitting on chairs on the side of the stage.

They were an array of armed forces veterans from Belmont and surrounding communities, coming to the school as the living embodiment of the commitment and sacrifice they gave to the country.

The school-wide assembly, held on Monday, Nov. 10 in the Chenery auditorium, is an annual commemoration of the service of all veterans and those currently in uniform.

“I want to thank all of you for showing up today because twice a year, we feel like rock stars,” said Kip Gaudet, commander of Belmont’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Trapelo Road.

“We come here to represent those who can’t be here, who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we enjoy today,” said Gaudet, who was awarded a bronze star for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service” as a radio man in Vietnam.

Chenery’s Principal Kristen StGeorge advised students to take a moment on the holiday to personally reach out and thank a veteran “for their contribution … for fighting for things that are important to us and our country.”

St. George read the names of veterans with a connection to the “Chenery community” and for the student to simply “listen and to reflect.” Included in the names were of Chenery teacher Ryan Schmitt and Army Spc. Jonathan Curtis, an alumni who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Gaudet read the names of the veterans who stood to receive the applause from the auditorium, including Frank Morrissey, a 96-year-old vet from the US Navy.

“Hopefully these events reminds the students of freedom’s cost,” said Gaudet after the service, before leaving with his fellow veterans for visits at the Butler and Winn Brook elementary schools before a lunch at the VFW post.

“The veterans get appreciated for their service and the kids learn something, so this morning is like a two-way street,” he said.

The highlight of the ceremony was the reading and a musical rendition of the poem, “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae who wrote the poem on May 3, 1915, moments after presiding over the funeral of his friend, Alexis Helmer.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.”

After Half Century Wait, Chenery Football Returns to Harris Field

They ranged from six-footers to those challenged to break five feet; ones who run like the wind and others who still have the looping strides of a kid in the playground.

But each member of the Chenery Middle School Football team who took Harris Field at Belmont High School were making history on Friday, Oct. 3.

It’s been five decades since the last Belmont middle school team ran onto the home field of the town’s football teams.

“I told the kids, if they choose to play in high school, they only play about 20 games on this field, their field, so they had to make the most of it,” said Chenery’s Head Coach James MacIsaac.

And how they performed. Before a vocal throng of family and fans, the Cheetahs tackled (sometimes), caught passes (sometimes) and ran (a lot) as a team against a polished and older Melrose squad.

“We have some terrific players and all the kids have worked very hard which caught me by surprise of the caliber of play in our league,” said MacIsaac, who is leading the resurgence of middle school football which has laid dormant since the 1960s.

The new middle school football team, for upper school students in 7th and 8th grade, has been on the field since the final week of August, learning fundamental skills and formations while adding their own inert football knowledge to their play.

“The progression of the team [since August] has been great. I can’t say enough of how quick the kids get everything the coaches give them. We don’t have problems with kids not showing up for practice. It’s been a great experience for all of us,” said MacIsaac.
The middle school program is part of the resurrection of a football culture in Belmont, which has been on the wane since Belmont High School won the unofficial state championship 50 years ago this fall.

With the town-wide sports boosters club on the rise and a new young head coach at the High School, “I hope we see a return of football that is a great sport. It offers a lot of kids who don’t play a lot of other sports the opportunity to be around other kids their own age and compete,” said MacIsaac, who has been an assistant coach at the High School.

As for the score? Belmont lost as time ran out as Melrose stopped the Cheetahs on the goal line.

I would have liked to win, but everyone had fun today and that’s what we strive to do with our program,” said MacIsaac.

Hot Chocolate Homework Wednesday at the Library

Rainy autumn days and hot chocolate is one the best examples of a complimentary pair. The Belmont Public School invites Chenery Middle School students on early release Wednesday to come over to the library’s Assembly Room today, Wednesday. Oct. 1 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., to do your homework while enjoying some hot chocolate. 

This is for middleschoolers only so high schoolers are on their own. This event is provided for free, thanks to the Friends of the Belmont Public Library.

Just drop in, no registration required.

Belmont Fire Log: Fire at the Chenery, Lightning Strike Fries Outlet

Possible lightning strike uses lawn to get inside

Sept. 7 – At a quarter ’til 11 a.m., a resident who was returning from vacation to his Plymouth Avenue house discovered charring to an electrical outlet and the adjacent sprinkler control unit in basement. Firefighters told the man the charring pattern suggests the damage may have been result of electrical storm and a “surge” that likely entered the home through the sprinkler equipment wiring. The homeowner was advised to keep the power “off” at the breaker to the sprinkler and the outlet until a licensed electrician could inspect damage.

Stuck in the elevator

Sept. 11 – For the second time in a week, a person had to be sprung from a stalled elevator. This time it occurred just after 2 p.m. in a Leonard Street office building.

Chenery fire put out quickly 
Sept. 12 – Just before the end of the school day at Chenery Middle School, about 5 past 2 p.m., the fire alarm rang throughout the building. A fire was quickly discovered in a third-floor boys bathroom when it was put out by staff. The entire Belmont company – Engine 1 and 2, the Ladder truck and Rescue 1 – rushed to the building at the corner of Washington and Oakley. Fire personnel found a heavy smoke condition present and began ventilating the area. Belmont Fire notify the Fire Investigation Unit. With fire and police at the school, the parking lot closed and parents already on their way to pick up their children, it was a crowded scene.
Kitchen nightmare

Sept. 13 – At a quarter ’till 8 p.m. a Claflin Street resident reported smoke in the building, possibly coming from a fire in an electrical outlet. The Engine 2 crew investigated and found a shorted receptacle in the kitchen. The power was shut down and the owner advised to contact an electrician.

Belmont Meets Everyone at Annual Event

Residents turned out in force Tuesday evening, Aug. 27, as the 12th annual Meet Belmont took place in the Chenery Middle School lunch room as it seemingly does, on one of the warmest days of the season.

What is becoming a traditional “end of summer” event on the calendar (school begins in eight days) more than 100 exhibitors – the first time Meet Belmont had reached that landmark figure – representing town departments, organizations and groups were part of a large “meet and greet” with several hundred longtime and new residents.

“It’s an opportunity to get our message across,” said Florence Lefebvre of Belmont Against Racism.

Around the room, groups like the PTOs of the six public schools sought members as town departments provided a glimpse of what they do around the “Town of Homes.” Groups – such as the recently established Mother Out Front that hopes to facilitate climate change controls – and those a century old like the Belmont Dramatic Club, which pressed the flesh through the scheduled two-and-a-half hours.

In addition, approximately 40 new voters were registered by the town, according to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

“We are very pleased,” said Sara Oaklander, who along with Jennifer Page, has run the event since its inception in 2002.

“The turnout was great, the guests seemed to appreciate it and the exhibitors were very enthusiastic about the turnout and about their own exposure,” said Oaklander.

Both women said they were already planning for next year’s event the moment they finish packing away this year’s material.

“We have been receiving feedback from both exhibitors and guests, and we will try to incorporate some of those suggestions next year,” she noted.

Meet Belmont is sponsored by the Vision 21 Implementation Committee and co-sponsored by the Belmont Public Schools with support from Belmont Car Wash and Belmont Light.