Monday, February 20, 2017

100 Days In: a reflection

We just finished 100 days of school here at Beach Middle School, and I want to take a moment to reflect on the school year. I've met so many wonderful families and worked with such admirable and worthy education professionals. Chelsea truly is exactly where I want to be.

A question I often get is how Chelsea, or Beach Middle School, compares to other places I've worked. The answer, however, is very complicated.

In many ways, BMS shares many of the same characteristics of other middle schools; the students are good kids trying to find their way, the staff care deeply for the success of their students, and administration works hard to ensure that there as few obstacles to learning as possible. The community supports the schools, and in turn, the school produces young adults that ready for the world. The differences between BMS and its contemporaries are subtle, but crucial.

After being immersed in the culture of the building, one begins to notice how closely all of the teachers work together. "Teaming" is not a unique concept to Beach, but it is performed better than most schools that I've seen. Teachers take time out of their schedule to meet with the team and discuss student achievement/behavior, coordinate projects between subjects, and organize field trips. Teacher consultants work closely with general education teachers to ensure that the needs of our students with special needs receive the accommodations and modifications they need. Paraeducators work in conjunction with special education and general education teachers to ensure that students can be as successful as possible.

The support offered by our counselors (Dennis Strzyzewski and Marie Lombardo), psychologist (Emily Verbeke), and social worker (Fred van Reesema), is a cornerstone for our building and how we tend to the social-emotional needs of our students. The counseling staff is not merely a reactive group of people, but a team that actively pursues the most effective ways to address the varying and changing needs of our students.

Our food service workers and custodial staff work tirelessly to keep students fed, warm, and safe. Their work cannot be overstated. Without these individuals, our school can't run. This is true in most buildings, but here at Beach our food service workers know kids by name, they are aware of food allergies and taste preferences. The custodial staff is present during lunch time to interact with students and help hold them accountable for their areas. It's truly a village here at Beach.

The strength of the schools, however, resides in the community's support. There are myriad examples of the charity and favor given to the schools, but most recently, Beach Middle School has received support in the form of scholarship money for some 8th graders to attend the Washington D.C. field trip in April. There were moments of concern as to how we would cover the costs of some of our students with financial need. The concerns were alleviated when word got out, and the community responded with an outpouring of generous donations that have covered the expenses. The donations varied in size, but what was constant was the speed at which families and companies contributed.

Athletics in Chelsea call back to a time that preceded pay-to-play, year-round specialization, and the "whatever it takes to win" mentality that seems to present in high school athletics today. Student-athletes in Chelsea are encouraged to play as many sports as they possibly can, and they're able to do so because Chelsea sports are free to all students. It's a stark contrast to what we see around the state - sometimes families can only afford for their student to do one sport, or no sport at all. In Chelsea, it's apparent that there is push to make everything accessible, regardless of financial obstacles. Student-athletes in Chelsea learn life skills by working as a team, focusing on personal growth, and accountability for their actions.

After 100 days, I see the similarities that I see in many buildings, but at its core, Chelsea schools and Beach Middle School offer faint differences that make this a wonderful place to be. As cliche as it sounds, my first 100 days only make me want 1,000 more.