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
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