Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Capuano Early Childhood Education Center in East Somerville. (Photo: HMFH Architects)

Fights break out at Somerville High School roughly once every two weeks – actually strikingly low for an urban high school, School Committee member Andre Green said, but enough to continue a conversation Monday among the full committee.

“Particularly following the global pandemic, SHS has seen an increase in both physical and verbal fights within our school. This is part of an unfortunate national trend among high schools,” principal Alicia Kersten says in a memo that was the basis for Monday’s discussion.

The memo was underway long before an uproar at Brockton High School, where elected officials worried about student violence wanted the National Guard called in to keep the peace. On Nov. 2, Somerville High School saw five student fights in one day, none with significant injuries or involving weapons. All of the fights involved separate friend groups and were seemingly unrelated, though Kersten said at the time that the first fight of the day may have contributed to “energy in the building.”

Across the city line, a fight between two students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School on Feb. 14 sent one girl to the hospital, a police spokesperson said.

While Kersten said she finds many families to be focused on security staff and measures such as ID checks upon entering the building, “what you’re really going to do to stop fights in school is to change the culture.”

“Restorative justice starts with everybody feeling like they have a community that they belong to and that they have a sense of ownership in their community,” Kersten said.

As such, teachers are implementing community circles in classes and the school has opened up more opportunities for students to seek mediation through a collaboration with Cambridge Health Alliance.

“It was very moving to me particularly as a parent of a high schooler to hear not only about safety, but about relationship building and trust and the support of this combination of team members,” said Laura Pitone, the Ward 5 representative to the School Committee. 

Capuano Early Childhood report

The committee also heard an improvement plan Monday for the Capuano Early Childhood Education Center at 150 Glen St., East Somerville, part of an ongoing look at individual schools’ plans and recent growth. Principal Felix Caraballo presented on mission and goals for an institution where he finds “joy in the morning” by seeing the littlest students peeking through the lower of two windows in classroom doors.

“We set a strong foundation of collaboration, social-emotional wellness and school readiness,” Caraballo said.

Capuano boasts 23 native languages among its roughly 250 prekindergarten and kindergarten students (down from around 360 before the Covid pandemic, but again on the rise) and every teacher either holds or is working toward state recognition on Sheltered English Immersion skills. Classes include specialized programs such as Early Childhood Intervention for children with developmental delays and disabilities, and the autism-focused Adapt, Include, Motivate. 

The school aims to ensure 80 percent of students show improvement on letter naming and speaking and listening skills as evidenced by assessments by the end of each school year. Additionally, officials hope 80 percent of students will demonstrate improved social-emotional learning based on state frameworks over the next two school years.

Given the youth of Capuano students, social-emotional learning is of particular importance, Caraballo said, though the “main focus” for several years has been equity. “We practice [equity] in everything that we do in our school,” he said.

In the next two years, the school plans to focus equity efforts on family engagement and ensuring families across all socioeconomic backgrounds can feel they are a part of their children’s education.

Only 23 percent of families in a 2022 survey reported that they felt they belonged to the Capuano school community. That percentage went up to 63 percent last year.

“Culturally, sometimes families do not see themselves as an active part of their student’s education,” Caraballo said. “We want to break that idea and let them know since the start that they’re an important part in the children’s education.”

Winter Hill school

The City of Somerville is looking for residents to serve on a school building committee that will replace the Winter Hill Community and Innovation School at 115 Sycamore St., which closed last year for safety concerns. Officials said in November the building would not be reoccupied.

If the district hopes to get state reimbursement for construction costs, it must submit a certificate of compliance in early April to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The district’s eligibility phase begins Monday, superintendent Rubin Carmona said.

Materials from the committee’s meeting are here.