A Belmonte Middle School creation that stands for “Youth Empowering Saugus” is becoming a force of good
By Mark E. Vogler
Ryan Barry will be the first to tell you about the “inspiring group of kids” he knows at the Belmonte Middle School who may be the best that happened in Saugus Public Schools this year.
“I’m excited about the future of these kids and what they could be doing for their school and their community,” said Barry, the adult leader who has been working closely with this afterschool group of nine 6th and 7th graders who are called The “The YES Club.”
“That stands for Youth Empowering Saugus, and they are really doing some great things. And it’s only just the beginning,” he said.
Barry, 25, is the regional coordinator of the Substance Abuse Prevention Collaborative which serves Saugus, Revere, Winthrop and Chelsea, where his office is based. He’s been overseeing a unique program funded by state funds that makes it possible for young people – Middle Schoolers in this instance – to do extraordinary things that will improve their education and the quality of education in their school by encouraging them to have a say in curriculum and afterschool programs at the Belmonte Middle School.
Barry meets several times a week after school with the group, which has its very own room on the school’s second floor. There’s a whiteboard in their room that allows them to “brainstorm” about possible future projects and also chart the progress of ones they have completed.
Saugus Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. calls the group a “youth empowerment team” and “a very special group of middle school students.”
On Wednesday, the superintendent, joined by Belmonte Middle School Principal Myra Monto and Brendon Sullivan – the school district’s executive director of curriculum, instruction and accountability – held the first of several focus groups with the students. DeRuosi is so proud of the group and confident in its potential that he invited local newspaper reporters to observe the students in an hour-long session while joining them for pizza and asking them questions about their projects.
“This group is basically about helping out the school and the community in Saugus,” said sixth grader Gianni Baez Dellelo. “We try to become leaders and help the school.”
Allie Souza, a seventh grader, told the visitors about the “Belmonte Kindness Rocks,” painted rocks in different colors that sit on a shelf. “If anybody has a bad day, they can pick them,” she said, referring to school staff or students who might need an emotional lift.
The superintendent, during Wednesday’s meetings, sought feedback from the students on what they liked about the school, what they didn’t like, programs they liked to see and equipment they’d like to see.
DeRuosi said he hopes that by empowering the students, they will become valuable leaders in their school. This will lead to improved education and instruction, he added.
“This group comes together and they brainstorm. We get a lot of ideas out on the table,” said Monto, a longtime educator who is now in her second year as principal – the first time as permanent principal.
Monto remarked that the group functions “like a think tank in here.” And there’s a focus on “the positive,” something that is encouraged by the adult educators and Barry.
“I like how we can just talk and hang out and help people out,” sixth grader Apollo Fernandes said.
“We can work on projects that help students out and help out the school,” he said.
One of The Yes Club’s future projects is to create an anti-vaping campaign that will better overall student health.
During Wednesday’s session, several students said they didn’t like fighting in the school or on the playground. It goes on because most students are afraid of retribution if they try to do something about it. But the adults in the room encouraged the students not to be afraid of reporting that kind of behavior.
“Your name will never come up,” Monto told the students.
“The adults in the building will take care of things without your name coming into it,” she said.