Chenery’s Soap Box Derby Racer In The Spotlight On National News Broadcast

Photo: Belmont’s Myles Heller-Baptista was in the spotlight on a national television network’s feature story on the All-American Soap Box Derby

It was a thrill for Chenery Middle Schooler Myles Heller-Baptista to travel to far-off Ohio to participate in the 85th annual FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby this past July.

A Chenery Soup Box Derby club member coached by teacher Leon Dyer, the so-to-be sixth grader got his opportunity to participate in the historic by winning a regional competition held in Arlington.

“Dad” Ade Baptista and Myles Heller-Basptista at the All American Soap Box Derby

The trip was even more memorable when a national television network put Myles in the spotlight on its report of the young racers taking part in the historic event in Akron.

The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt: Kids Edition is a digest of the top headlines, broken down for kids to best understand the world today. The weekly newscast presents feature stories in which kids are the subject. Recent segments explored using musical tips to help retain what kids learned in school over summer break, hip-hop sports, and the Barbie re-phenomenon.

It turned out the network heard through news reports that Myles was on his way and decided that an articulate 11-year-old was just the kid to speak about the his experience driving at the derby.

The link to the feature story is below:

And Myles wasn’t the only member of the family in the report. “Dad” Ade Baptista, town meeting member and noted electric car enthusiast, was interviewed for the report.

Chenery Eighth Graders Champs Of National Middle School Quiz Bowl Tourney

Photo: The National Champions of Middle School Quiz Bowl: (from left) Gregory Zeldovich, Jeffrey Wu, Fergus Williams and Andrew Gao

When Andrew Gao answered what would be the deciding question in the 2023 Quiz Bowl Middle School National Championship Tournament, he knew he got it correct. And when they the announcer confirmed it, an excited Gao jumped out of his seat knocking over the chair in front of an auditorium filled with students, parents and Quiz Bowl officials.

[The answer was the 1976 Korean axe murder incident]

But that small faux pas didn’t dampen the realization the team from the Belmont’s W. L. Chenery Middle School had enough of a lead to hold off their Georgia competition and secured the national title to the team made up of four eighth graders – captains Gao and Gregory Zeldovich, along with Fergus Williams and Jeffrey Wu – who represented Belmont’s W. L. Chenery Middle School.

“It was like a mystical thing,” said Williams when the final score was announced. “Then it instinctively click: we won!”

Quiz bowl is a competitive, academic, interscholastic activity for teams of four students. Quiz Bowl teams use buzzers to answer questions about science, math, history, literature, mythology, geography, social science, current events, sports, and popular culture. The matches feature a blend of individual competition and team collaboration, since no individual player is likely to be an expert in all subject areas. Participation in quiz bowl both reinforces lessons from the classroom and encourages players to develop new intellectual interests.

“It’s like Jeopardy but with longer questions and there are bonuses for getting the question early,” said Gao.

See how you would do answering these Middle School Quiz Bowl questions.

The Chenery joined 159 of the top middle schools Quiz Bowl teams from 31 states and South Korea at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Chicago for the annual event held over the May 13 weekend.

Not that the Goa or the Chenery team are strangers to the competition as the school’s Quiz Bowl club was runners-up in the 2022 edition, losing to Longfellow Middle School of Falls Church, Virginia.

“That really helped knowing how to take on the pressure of each game,” said Zeldovich.

The young men are members of the school’s Quiz Bowl Club which includes students who are competitive and those who simply want to have fun with a wide array of subjects. The club qualified for the national tournament being one of the top 15 percent of teams in the country.

“I feel like we do pretty well in tournaments that we took part in last fall,” said Williams.

Coached by Beth Manca, Chenery began the preliminary rounds with a eight-game winning streak, finishing the preliminary rounds with a 8-0 record, qualifying them for the eight game playoff round.

There were some tense moments in the final round. Chenery defeated Sycamore A from Indianapolis, Indiana by the narrow margin of 440-415 during round 5 and then suffered a narrow loss to River Trail A from Johns Creek, Georgia, 345-340, during round 21. But by then, Chenery cumulative record was good enough to put them in the championship finals against Johns Creek.

In the ultimate match, Chenery had a small lead at the half 200-160. “It was back and forth, just like in the last game with them, It was Deja vu,” said Gao.

After a second half push by River Trail, Chenery managed to pull ahead for good with two minutes remaining, winning 380-280.

Gao was honored as an All-Star for correctly answering 60 tossup questions, 46 of them for “power questions.” Goa said he’s good at quires about literature, geography and history. “But not math,” he said with a shrug. “So it’s OK that there are not that many math questions.”

Next Generation Of Baghdady Grapplers Already Winning On The National Stage [VIDEO]

Photo: David Baghdady after winning the Reno Worlds championship

Say the name of certain Belmont families and you immediately associate it with what they do: French and construction; Shea and law enforcement, Muzzioli, landscaping (and hockey); and Flett with development and heavy equipment, to mention just a few.

And while they have become successful in real estate, say the name Baghdady in Belmont, and the image that’s conjured up is of wrestling glory.

When banners were hanging in the Wenner Field House at Belmont High School, an entire corner of the gym was a visual litany of the Baghdady’s prowess on the wrestling mat: league, state and region champions from the 1980s till today. And those honors include a national title won by Samir Baghdady in 1991.

And the family’s legacy continues from father to son as David, Samir’s son, is making a name for himself at the young age of 10. Earlier this month, the Chenery Middle School 5th-grader won the Reno Worlds, a prestigious national tournament, by defeating the number-one ranked wrestler in the country from Pennsylvania in the Under 10 Boys, 85-pound division.

David Baghdady

“I was a little bit nervous but then when I was wrestling I was fine,” said David during a recent interview about his week in Nevada.

The finals, comprised of three 90-second periods, was a tactical affair, with David scoring a two-point takedown in the first period and then gaining a point early in the third to go up 3-0. His opponent – who had won four national tournaments before Reno – earned his lone point as David was called for stalling but never got a chance to score as David had his leg in a hold when the match ended.

“Honestly, it feels awesome,” said David of his victory. “Now, every day, I can walk into my room, and I can see my trophy.” His first-place trophy, including a massive bald eagle statue, caused a stir among Starbucks customers during the interview.

While he is a naturally shy 10-year-old with a happy smile whose favorite subject is maths; on the mat, David will turn most of his opponents into a pretzel in short order. David quickly dispatched his challengers in his four preliminary matches before the Reno finals with pins. So it’s little surprise to learn that David is a four-time Massachusetts and two-time New England winner.

Baghdady began learning freestyle wresting at four and placed second in his first competition at six. His day comprises daily exercises and practice in New Hampshire, Lawrence and Natick. He’s learning to improve his skill set as everyone in his group has the basics down.

“It’s who has more technique, the more toughness and who’s stronger with more speed” who will come out on top, said David.

Compared to the wrestling meccas such as Pennsylvania, any number of Midwest states, and the west coast, Massachusetts is an outlier in the sport, one where there are just not the numbers or expertise especially at the younger age groups. For that reason, Baghdady travels throughout New England and the eastern seaboard to tourneys looking for competition up to his skill level.

David Baghdady in action in Reno

And Baghdady’s talent is in demand, with all-star teams across the country wanting him to wrestle for them in upcoming tournaments. He was recently invited to participate in an elite dual-team meet in Virginia Beach in July after taking part in a large regional competition this month in Rochester. His next goal is to wrestle in the Super32 in North Carolina, “which is one of the toughest in the world.”

Some could see this focus on a sport as blocking out new activities that many of his age first experience in middle school.

But Baghdady, who lives with his parents and four siblings, doesn’t feel that he is missing out with his schedule filled with this activity.

“I honestly don’t care if I miss something for wrestling. I’m not really an instrument or play guy,” he said.

For Samir, if his son is excited and energetic about the sport, “I leave it up to him” whether he continues. “The other day, he said to me, ‘Dad, if I weren’t wrestling, I’d be sitting at home watching TV and playing video games’.”

David points out that wrestling has allowed him to travel throughout the country – David will list off that impressive number on demand – and make friends with fellow grapplers in far-flung places such as Hawaii and Florida.

“It’s been great,” said Baghdady.

Belmont High/Chenery Musicians Achieve High Individual Honors

Photo: High and Middle School musicians hit the high notes at all-state, junior district levels

Before Thanksgiving, 50 students from Belmont High School were asked to perform in the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) Northeastern Senior District Festival, which took place at Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory on Jan. 7, according to Arto Asadoorian, director of Fine & Performing Arts for the Belmont School District.

On Jan. 21, several of those students were invited to audition for the MMEA All-State Music Festival. “We are very proud to announce that 10 students from Belmont High School have been selected to participate in the festival, which will take place March 2-4 in Westford,” said Asadoorian. The All-State Concert on March 4 will be held at Symphony Hall in Boston.

The Belmont High students are:

  • Helena De Figueiredo Valente (Grade 12), Chorus
  • Nathaniel Gillette (Grade 12), Trumpet – top score in the state
  • Jabe Hicks (Grade 12), Alto Saxophone
  • Lily Hicks (Grade 12), French Horn
  • Daniel Karma (Grade 12), Jazz Trumpet
  • Daniel Kim (Grade 11), Cello
  • Ethan Kim (Grade 10), Trombone
  • Meredith Knauff (Grade 11), Cello
  • Ryan Park (Grade 9), Trumpet
  • Su Min Pyo (Grade 10), Clarinet

On Jan. 28, 103 students from Belmont High and Chenery Middle schools auditioned for the MMEA Northeastern Junior District Music Festival, and 69 of those students were accepted and will perform on March 15, 17 and 18 at Galvin Middle School in Wakefield:

Brendan HanViolinBHS
PatrickLeeJazz Baritone SaxophoneBHS
LukaRozgicString BassBHS
BrookeWhalenTreble ChoirBHS
Elizabeth ZuccarelloEuphoniumBHS
PeterAloisioJazz TrumpetCMS
CalvinBarnesMixed ChoirCMS
MadelieineBuellTreble ChoirCMS
ArundhatiChakrabartyTreble ChoirCMS
IvanChernovMixed ChoirCMS
EllaConnellyMixed ChoirCMS
SamEnglerString BassCMS
EthanGongAlto SaxophoneCMS
AvikaGuptaTreble ChoirCMS
SrishtiKarJazz Tenor SaxophoneCMS
TylerKimJazz TrumpetCMS
RebeccaKnightTreble ChoirCMS
CarolineLafkasTreble ChoirCMS
ZoeLindseyTreble ChoirCMS
AustinMannMixed ChoirCMS
GinevraMiglioTreble ChoirCMS
ChristelleMoiseTreble ChoirCMS
IsaacMoonMixed ChoirCMS
JacobMoonMixed ChoirCMS
ShriyaSanyalTreble ChoirCMS
AbbySawyerMixed ChoirCMS
ZoeShenTreble ChoirCMS
MalachiSmithTenor SaxophoneCMS
SahanaSokkaTreble ChoirCMS
WilliamSunAlto SaxophoneCMS
MadelineTisdaleMixed ChoirCMS
LuanaWanderleyTreble ChoirCMS

As Middle School Preps For Next Year, There Are Changes In Leadership At Chenery And District

Photo: Karla Koza at the topping off celebration of the new middle school section of the Belmont Middle and High School.

With the one-year countdown is underway for the opening of the new Middle School on Concord Avenue and the transformation of the Chenery into a town-wide 4-6 grade elementary school, there has been some major shuffling going on at the Middle School on Washington Street this summer.

In a series of press releases from the Belmont School District, Karla Koza has moved from being principal of the 5-8 grade school and is the working as director of the newly-created District Configuration Transition post effective Sept. 1. Koza was the Principal at the Chenery for the past two years.

The purpose of this one-year position was to dedicate a single “point person” to focus all of their time and attention on leading the evolution of a 9-12 Belmont High School building to a 7-12 Belmont Middle and High School building by September, 2023. 

Koza experience and expertise in Grades 7-12, especially, will serve her well as she works to ensure that all stakeholders involved with the district reconfiguration feel supported and successful.  Having already built strong relationships with many in our school community, she represents a trusted point of contact.  She is a valued member of our leadership council and we have confidence that she will be successful in this new capacity. 

In proposing this role, the district said it emphasized the importance of:

  • Taking input from stakeholders
  • Focusing on timelines, scheduling, and logistics
  • Handling all public communication

Koza joined the Belmont Public Schools in 2020. Prior to her Chenery principalship she was an educator in the Grafton Public Schools, working as a classroom teacher (15 years), English Department Head (6 years) and Assistant Principal (5 years), from 2003-2020. She also underwent a similar transition into a new building in that role, which she spoke about passionately during her interview. 

“Her experience and expertise in Grades 7-12, especially, will serve her well as she works to ensure that all stakeholders involved with the district reconfiguration feel supported and successful. Having already built strong relationships with many in our school community, she represents a trusted point of contact,” said the release.

Taking Koza’s place, Chenery’s former assistant principal Nicolette Foundas has been named the Interim 5-8 Chenery Middle School Principal for the 2022-2023 school year which is the final year for the Chenery as a middle school. The one-year appointment began effective Aug. 8. But Foundas will not need to clear out her desk when the one-year appointment ends as she was named the future Principal of the Chenery Upper Elementary School, Grades 4-6, which will start in the 2023-2024 year beginning next September.

Nicolette Foundas

Foundas began her career in public education as a Grade 4 classroom teacher in Hartford. She joined the Belmont Public Schools 2008 and has served as a Grade 5 classroom teacher for 10 years and as a member of our leadership team overseeing encore programming and Grades 5 and 6 for the last four years. 

Foundas’ prior experience in a similar interim capacity as the Chenery Principal in May and June of 2020, will serve her well as she works to ensure stability for students, family, and staff through this period of transition. 

“We have seen her work up close as a member of our own leadership council and have confidence that she will continue to thrive in this new role,” according to the release.

And the school district will soon be seeking the first leader of the new 7-8 middle school in the Concord Avenue facility.

In January, 2023, the district will post for a permanent principal for a July 1, 2023 start. The hiring for that position will follow our traditional process, including a screening team made up of teachers and parents/guardians, public interviews, and community input.

As Anti-Gay Laws Increase Nationwide, Belmont’s Pride Parade Demonstrates Support For Equity, Inclusion

Photo: The third Belmont Pride Parade in Belmont Center

Ziza Soares would likely be fired from her job if she was working in Florida. And in some states, what the Chenery Middle School six grade teacher did on Saturday would have been seen as worthy of prosecution.

In Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which becomes law on July 1, Soares would find her teaching position in jeopardy just by being an openly gay educator. While the Florida law prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity to kindergarten and elementary students up to third grade, critics contend the ultimate goal of the legislation is to “muzzle any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” by all public educators.

Chenery Middle School educator Ziza Soares

“I am out in school … and I’m pretty confident that I would, at least at the end of the school year, not be invited back if I taught there,” said Soares, who is in her second year as an English Arts educator.

And as co-advisor with Crystal Waters of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Soares came to the Town Green on Saturday, June 11 with approximately 40 Chenery 5th to 8th grade students – between 10 and 14 years old – to march in Belmont’s third Pride Parade, the town’s celebration promoting awareness, inclusion and equity. In states in the US South and Midwest, Soares’ action would be viewed as promoting the gay lifestyle onto children which would bring her to the attention of state officials.

”I feel so bad for the students but also I feel so bad for the teachers who are put in impossible positions that no one should be put in,” she said.

Countering anti-gay laws spreading throughout the country, more than 300 residents, supporters, students and parents took to the streets on a warm Saturday for a boisterous trek through Belmont to support pride and the progress made in gender and sexual equality. With speeches and a town proclamation read by Adam Dash to start the day, the parade got underway with a Belmont Police detail as Soares’ middle schoolers demonstrated a non-stop energy that was evident from start to finish.

Marchers were greeted by honking horns along with cheers and waves as the event was the largest and most successful in its history.

”This is a great day to come together and celebrate each other and our allies and recognize the progress that we’ve made in the community over the past years,” said Dr. John Davis, a member of the Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance leadership team which co-sponsors the annual march.

While Belmont and Massachusetts are viewed as progressive on the subject of equality, the same can not be said for nearly half the states in the US, according to Davis.

“Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation is occurring at an unprecedented level across the country. And this includes 25 bills in more than 20 states.” While laws and measures taking place around the country “may not affect us directly here in Belmont or in Massachusetts, it does have an effect particularly on our youth who hear these discriminatory bills and feel threatened and powerless,” said Davis.

“So we cannot give up the fight. That’s why participating in this march in Belmont, to support LGBTQ+ individuals and groups as they fight discrimination anywhere in the country is so important.”

At the Chenery, that advocacy is provided by the Alliance which provides a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies as well as an opportunity to community build, said Soares.

“We have kids connect with each other. It’s a really important space for them to make sure that they know that there are people in the school that support them, and that want to advocate for them,” she said.

“I just think it’s a great that there’s a community to feel supported by,” said Maia Readi, an eighth grader who came with Alliance.

Letter To The Editor: How Restoring A Pair Of Reading Specialists Will Change How Belmont Schools Support Literacy Growth

Photo: A reading specialist’s job


That is the number of students who, out of the roughly 1,400 children between grades 5-8 in Chenery Middle School, were able to receive in-school reading support prior to January 31st, 2022. That is the date that funding took effect to create two dedicated Reading Specialist positions for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, fundamentally changing how the school has been able to support the literacy growth of its students.

We are writing this letter to the decision-makers of this town because these positions have been eliminated for the 2022-23 school year, and the time to act to restore them is now – before we leave more of our neediest students behind.

Since their transition to this role in January, the impact that Jen Mathews and Taylor Moroso – our two trained and certified Reading Specialists – have had on growing the reading skills of our students has been profound, and we would be failing some of our highest-need students to not have these positions continue into next year.

Due to their other job requirements prior to the funding taking effect, Jen and Taylor were previously able to spend only one 47-minute block per day offering Reading Enrichment classes to students identified as most needing this extra support during the school day. Since being able to pivot to working with students as full-time Reading Specialists in January, Jen and Taylor have been able to focus entirely on supporting students as they strive to achieve their literacy goals, not only through facilitating the small Reading Enrichment groups but also by supporting students in their ELA classrooms – something that was previously not possible.

Since these positions were added, the following positive impacts have been observed:

  • The amount of students being able to receive regular reading intervention services increased from 17 to 59. That is 42 students who were screened and identified as requiring additional support to reach grade-level reading goals but that previously received no reading intervention beyond what was offered in the classroom.
  • Students who receive reading support have also been able to be supported in their ELA classrooms on a regular basis – this helps the teachers and specialists observe how they work not only in small groups, but also support the development of bespoke interventions that can be applied in the classroom for each student individually. In the 14 ELA classrooms the Reading Specialists have been able to support, they have been able to work with students from a variety of skill levels to help lift the confidence and skill levels of all students through their classroom work. Further, this work has enabled the specialists to identify students who may benefit from additional reading support.
  • Some of our highest need students, including those from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, have been able to be supported in the classroom in ways that were previously not possible. Further, students whose literacy skills atrophied due to COVID and remote-related challenges have been able to experience success while supported by these interventions.

The proposed 2022-23 budget eliminates both of these positions, and as a result eliminates every single one of these benefits.

We implore the decision-makers of the town: the School Committee, Select/Planning Boards, and the citizens of Belmont, to not accept the fact that our school of 1,400 students will only have seventeen students receive small group reading instruction. To, rather than perpetuate a problem that has existed for years where we underserve these students, take a step toward a solution.

To make the decision to support all students, including our highest-need students still reeling from pandemic setbacks, in building their literacy skills. All it will cost to restore all of these crucial supports for many of our most vulnerable students is the 1.6 teacher positions that were added for the second half of this school year.

We are of the belief that there are not many ways to spend the town’s resources more effectively than this. If you agree that there are more than 17 students out of the 1,400 children in Chenery Middle School that need reading support, then you need to raise your voice, be heard, and restore these positions immediately for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

Alex Goldsmith and Caitlin Corrieri

English/Language Arts Teachers

Chenery Middle School

UPDATE: Missing Chenery Middle School Student Found

Photo: Belmont Police was seeking the public’s help finding a missing Chenery Middle School student

Update: Jonathan McHugh, the 12-year-old Chenery Middle School student who was reported missing Wednesday, has been found and reunited with this family, according to Belmont Police.

The Belmont Police Dept is seeking assistance from the community to locate a missing Chenery Middle School student.

Jonathan McHugh was last seen at the Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., at approximately 9 a.m., Wednesday, May 25. McHugh is a 12 year old white male. He is 5’4”, weighs approximately 100 lbs. and has sandy blonde hair.

Courtesy photo

He was last seen wearing a white Champion’s sweatshirt, gray pants and he was carrying a reddish maroon backpack.

If anyone has seen Jonathan, or has information regarding his whereabouts, please contact the Belmont Police Dept at 617-484-1212.

Belmont Police Will Be At District Schools Wednesday After ‘Incident’ At The Chenery

Photo: Chenery Middle School where an “incident” occurred on Tuesday which was resolved by Belmont Police.

Belmont Police will have an increased presence at all district schools Wednesday morning, May 25, after an incident Tuesday at the Chenery Middle School and yesterday’s mass killing of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas.

At 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 24, Belmont Police were made aware of a social media post showing pictures of the inside of the Chenery Middle School that included comments from the poster which were deemed “concerning” to the police, according to Chief James MacIsaac.

“Officers immediately responded to the Chenery Middle School along with our Co-Responder Clinician and located the person responsible for the social media posts,” said MacIsaac in an email press release.   Officers and the clinician were able to successfully address the matter.

Belmont Police would not expand on the nature of the comments in the posts, whether they could be perceived as a threat or a call for help.

“Out of an abundance of caution and due to today’s incident in Texas,” police will be at each of Belmont’s six schools Tuesday, said MacIsaac.

Also on Tuesday, the Belmont School Committee led by Chair Meg Moriarty paused for a moment of silence at the start of its business meeting to remember the 19 students and two faculty members murdered by a lone gunman in Texas earlier in the day.

‘Disney’s Little Mermaid’ (The Junior Version)On Stage At Chenery Middle School, May 19-21

Photo: The poster to the show this weekend.

The Chenery Middle School Theater will present its production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR.

Journey “under the sea” with Ariel and her aquatic friends in this production adapted from Disney’s Broadway production and the motion picture featuring the enormously popular Academy Award-winning music and delightfully charming book and lyrics. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories, Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR. is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance.

In a magical underwater kingdom, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home — and her fins — behind and live in the world above. But first, she’ll have to defy her father, King Triton, make a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, and convince the handsome Prince Eric that she’s the girl whose enchanting voice he’s been seeking.

Shows are:

  • Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, May 20 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 21 at 2 p.m.

The shows will take place at the Chenery Middle School auditorium.