In a world where every threat to a school has to be taken seriously, that played out on Monday morning at Chelsea High when the schools were put on alert by a social media threat to “CHS” that turned out to be a month old and referring to a school in New Mexico.
Supt. Mary Bourque said around 7:15 a.m. Monday, Officer Dan Delaney was alerted to a threat observed on social media by a parent, a threat that indicated the person was “going to shoot up CHS.”
Bourque said it was unfortunate, but it was something that’s going to happen more often.
“It turns out it was a month old and was referring to a school in New Mexico,” she said. “Every threat has to be taken seriously. We can’t afford to not take threats seriously. At the same time, this is going to be what it’s like in the times we live in…It’s a sign of the times these weekly incidents for schools will be happening. It’s happening around the nation and we’re no different.”
The high school was functioning normally shortly after the threat was investigated.
More than 500 Chelsea High students walked out of class on Thursday, March 15, as part of the national school walk-out movement to promote more efforts towards school safety.
Armed with only a megaphone, students marched into shin-deep snow and cold temperatures to participate in the movement locally, and to draw attention to school safety.
They were supported by the Chelsea Public Schools and the Chelsea Police, who stood in solidarity with the students, who ranged in age from 13 to 18.
“P-O-W-E-R,” yelled Stephanie Rodrigues, one of the key coordinators along with Diego Estrada. “We have the power. We have a voice. We can use our power…We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be safe. We don’t deserve to stand around and wait for someone to come kill us. You could be next. Unfortunately, the 17 students in Florida were killed by a man who should not have had a gun. This is not normal. We should not stand around and wait for someone to take action for us. We can take action.”
Student Eric Lazo entertained the crowd with impromptu chants and songs on the megaphone, for which most everyone in the crowd followed.
“I came out because this can’t happen again,” said Imane Rharbi. “We can’t have students being killed and unsafe. We need gun control right now. That’s why I came out.”
Junior Angel Vargas said he and many other students are concerned that they could be next, that the fear of something at Chelsea High is real.
“It’s important for all of us to come out here,” he said. “It was terrible what happened in Florida. That was the reason I came out. We are scared.”
Students cheered loudly, hats and scarves wrapped tightly around them, and then broke into a solemn moment as Rodrigues read the names of the 17 students killed in Florida on Feb. 14.
The national walk-out day was supposed to occur on March 14, and all over the state and country students staged walk-outs to call for more gun ownership restrictions and more funding for mental health services inside and outside of school. In Chelsea, the effort had to be postponed because of the blizzard on March 13 that cancelled school for two days.
Originally, the plan called for Chelsea students to have their walk-out in the school gym to avoid having to go in the snow. However, Rodrigues said she and Estrada were approached by students who said it should go on outside.
“We were approached by some students who felt we shouldn’t be focused on comfort by going in the gym,” said Rodrigues, who described herself as just another student and a track athlete. “We agreed. We shouldn’t be comfortable when making a stand. We wanted to show we were standing up no matter what the conditions were outside.”
Outside on Thursday, students carried signs that made many different statements.
Some depicted an anti-gun message, while others called for funding to help people who are mentally ill. Some signs blasted the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others called for remembrance of the Florida students.
Most striking, however, were the hand-made signs that read, “Am I Next?”
Rodrigues said it isn’t an overreaction in Chelsea.
She said students and adults are concerned about their safety in school, and it’s something that is a bit new.
“Honestly, I feel we are all scared, even the adults,” she said. “That’s what pulled us all together. We shouldn’t let our safety in school be in question. That brought us together…One day it could be us.”
Stephany Villatoro and Masireh Ceesay were two of about 500 Chelsea High students that participated in a walk-out for school safety on Thursday, March 15. Students said they came together because they were scared that one day they could be school shooting victims.
Nancy Baguada and Mauricio Rubi march through the snow to the walk-out.
Co-Organizer Stephanie Rodrigues fires up the student crowd at the Stadium with a megaphone.
Student Erik Lazo shouted out interesting chants and songs during the walk-out to get the crowd fired up.
Imane Rharbi said there can be no more school shootings. She said now is the time for stricter gun control.
Students rally on the Stadium field in the snow.
Junior Angel Vargas signs the petition from Chelsea High.
Student organizers standing with Chelsea Police Officers. Chelsea Police and Chelsea High security provided a safe perimeter for the students during the walk-out.
It wasn’t magic, but rather someone creepin’ ‘round the corner. Alex Tran performed ‘Mack the Knife’ by Bobby Darin (and/or Louis Armstrong) during the Chelsea High School Talent Show on Friday night, Jan. 19, in the Auditorium. Scores of acts took the stage to display their talents for students in attendance.
The Chelsea Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration was commemorated in song, in speech and in camaraderie on Monday, Jan. 15, at Chelsea High School.Keynote Speaker Rev. Basil Yarde related how King inspired him as a young man. The annual event also saw performances from Chelsea High students, student essay contest winners and community spirit award winners.
Chelsea High School senior Brandon Lazo performs ‘Carol Of The Bells’ for his piano solo during the annual CHS Winter Concert on Friday, Dec. 15. The evening included music, dance and percussion all performed to a packed house in the auditorium.
Photographer Dr. Marshal Reiner and Ansu Kinteh, RN, of Chelsea Jewish Elderly Care stand in the room dedicated to Dr. Reiner’s work. Reiners amazing wildlife and landscape photography from around the world was on display last Thursday, Oct. 26, in the annual Chelsea High and Chelsea Jewish Elderly Care joint art show.
The Chelsea High Volleyball team takes a knee during the National Anthem on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 3, in a game at home against Notre Dame, who chose to stand and salute the flag. The girls, including (L-R) Arianna Pryor, Xiana Herasme, Masireh Ceesay and Guidairys Castro, plan to continue taking the knee all season to highlight inequities the lives of minority youth and immigrants. One school in Methuen has asked that they do not come and take a knee at their venue, choosing to forfeit the game instead.
The Chelsea High School girls’ volleyball team – a team loaded with seven seniors – has been together for several years and so it is that they’ve developed a family-like bond and a chemistry that sometimes helps them to act in unison.
It’s almost telepathic, they say.
In fact, when they first decided to take a knee during the National Anthem to make a statement on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Whittier Tech, it was something they didn’t rehearse or plan in advance.
It just happened, and now it has happened two other times and – like other National Anthem protests – is sparking a robust conversation in Chelsea High, outside in Chelsea and even into the other cities and towns where they play.
All 11 players on the team are now taking the knee and did so as recently as this past Tuesday afternoon at Chelsea High.
“When it happened first, it wasn’t planned and it was just spontaneous and we all went down,” said Arianna Pryor, who pointed out that they took the knee before it became something much greater with the NFL protest on Sept. 24. “We gave each other the look and then it happened. It was just a natural thing. We had talked about it, but never planned on doing it. It was almost like mental telepathy.”
Leaders of the team say they are all taking the knee for several different reasons – whether it be for immigration issues, discrimination, economic opportunity, or better resources – but in general they seem to want to draw attention to the fact that they don’t see the country as being “free” or all of created “equal.”
“For me, a majority of us have immigrant parents and they came to the country to provide a better future for us,” said Rym El Mahid, a first-year player. “. What kind of American Dream is there if things are working against our parents all the time?”
Ruchellie Jimenez said she also takes the knee because she has seen how others are treated, how people treat her. She wants that to change, and this was one way to draw attention to her cause.
“I don’t think it’s fair how we have systematic forces against us and are always in the backseat of America,” she said. “We struggle and get the scraps of everyone else. My parents were immigrants and I see the way they are treated and the way I am treated. That’s why I take the knee. It isn’t fair.”
She added, as an example, that she recently wanted to improve her SAT score and went to a counselor outside Chelsea for help.
“I was sitting with the counselor and they looked at my score and said I was a minority and from a low-income area, so I was all set; there was not need for me to try to get better,” she said. “That’s not how I want to be treated. I just want to do better on my SAT.”
Pryor said others have been taking a knee to make a difference, and she saw that and brought it up to the rest of her team. They had talked about it, but made no plans. As time went on, she said she wanted to be one to make things known, to let people know that things are not right.
“I take a knee because I want to be there with the others that are trying to make a difference,” she said. “I take a knee because things need to change.”
All agreed that they don’t mean disrespect to any soldiers, and are grateful for the service of veterans – those who have died and who have returned injured. They said, however, they picked the National Anthem because it was a non-violent and because it was one of the few outlets they had as high school athletes.
“Our team is very ethnically diverse and culturally diverse,” said Capt. Jessica Martinez. “We feel strongly about how our country has been going, and we wanted to make our point in a way that wouldn’t seem violent or aggressive, but rather intelligent. We wanted to do something that showed we took a lot of time thinking out our actions.”
She added that if they had made their protest at City Hall or another public venue, it could have taken a violent course – which they didn’t want.
Added Jimenez, “We’re very grateful for what the veterans have done and they have given us freedom of speech to take the knee. I don’t think there is any other way for us to do this publicly. Everyone knows what taking a knee is.”
At school, it’s been a mixed reaction.
A lot of students don’t agree with it, they said, while others are wholeheartedly behind them.
Already, last Friday, the Chelsea High cheerleaders took a knee before the home football game.
Coach Serena Wadsworth said when it became obvious how her girls felt about taking the knee, and that they planned to do so the rest of the year, she sent out a letter to other schools. Most, she said, understood, but one school in Methuen preferred that the girls not come to their school and take a knee. The school indicated it didn’t feel it respected its school values. They were willing to forfeit the game, and also were willing to play at Chelsea.
Interestingly, the girls said their message isn’t really for those in Chelsea as much as it is for the other schools they play, many of which aren’t as diverse or understand the life that they lead.
“Our message isn’t really to be taken to only those who are doing the discrimination,” said El Mahid. “People who aren’t minority – the white and well off – don’t know the discrimination we face. It’s a way to get the discrimination out there.”
When the 2017 Chelsea High volleyball team is remembered, all of them agreed that it will probably be for their stand. They hope that it helps people think about what they did, and perhaps is something that’s continued.
“There are other teams and other seasons,” said Masireh Ceesay. “They will see what we did and see it as an example, I hope, and carry it on and find ways to go forward with our statement.”
Elsy Sanchez, 17, is one of 11 Chelsea High students to be awarded the new Seal of Bi-Literacy this year during graduation.
Eleven new Chelsea High School (CHS) graduates will carry at least one more award with them this year than did other classes at CHS, and that award is the newly piloted Seal of Bi-Literacy that Chelsea and several other districts are implementing.
Sarah Warren of Chelsea Public Schools said Supt. Mary Bourque and the administration was looking for a way to recognize students who had strong bi-literacy skills. In Chelsea, because so many students are fluent in Spanish and English, the designation was meaning and was a way to market this unique skill to colleges and employers.
The Awards were given out at the annual Chelsea High Awards Night on Monday, June 5.
“We have just started this,” said Warren. “Dr. Bourque wanted us to see how we could get a meaningful designation in place that would recognize students that achieve bi-literacy,” said Warren. “As a district, we want to recognize students that become proficient in more than one language. We believe that is a very valuable skill for college and in the workplace. In Chelsea, we have a great amount of people who are proficient in more than just English. We’re very excited to be able to introduce this award when students achieve full proficiency in two languages.”
Bourque said she was very excited to be able to premiere the new award to 11 students in the class. She said they will move forward with it in the future as well.
“The Seal is a recognition of the fact that Chelsea Public Schools values students’ language skills and heritage as a huge asset,” said Bourque. “This credential will travel with our graduates as they move on to higher education and future employment. There is increasing demand – both in Massachusetts and nationally – for employees who are literate in two or more languages. By encouraging students to earn the Seal, we are sending the message that the ability to communicate in more than one language and to bridge different cultures is part of being a well-rounded global citizen in the 21st Century. It takes a lot of hard work to become fully proficient in two or more languages, and I couldn’t be more proud of these young people for their high level of achievement.”
Warren said there are three levels for the Chelsea seal.
Platinum winners achieve a 5 on their Advanced Placement Spanish Test and an advanced on their MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) test.
A gold winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 5 on their AP Spanish.
A silver winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 3 or 4 on their AP Spanish.
Elsy Sanchez, 17, was one of the first Gold Seal winners, and came to that point after starting out her high school experience in the English Language Learner (ELL) program.
Sanchez was born in Chelsea and attended the Sokolowski School and the Clark Avenue Middle School. However, after fifth grade, tired of going back and forth to Honduras where her parents had moved – having left Chelsea behind – she decided to stay in Honduras. However, after being in Honduras for some time, Sanchez realized that she had some pretty big goals for her future. She decided that getting to an American university from Honduras was going to be very tough, but getting there from Chelsea was more likely a successful path.
“My father asked me if I wanted a Quincenaera party or to go back to Chelsea,” said Sanchez. “I decided to come back here. So I came and quickly realized my English wasn’t as good as when I left for Honduras in 5th grade. One thing I wanted to do was go to college here. When I came back to Chelsea, I understood what people were saying, but i couldn’t express myself…Sometimes I would start a sentence and not be able to finish it because I couldn’t think of the right word.”
Sanchez entered the ELL program, known as the Bridge Academy at CHS. There, her teachers saw she was talented and had big goals and just needed a push.
“The teachers always pushed me to challenge myself,” she said. “They are always there to support you. They work to make connections with you. If they see someone who they thinks needs a push, they will push you to do better.”
With that support upon moving back, Sanchez was able to move to the regular Chelsea High program by her sophomore year, regaining her English fluency again.
In her senior year, Sanchez has put her English headaches behind her and took six Advanced Placement classes, including Physics, Stats and Language.
She said she plans to go to Salem State in the fall to study biology and Spanish, with the goal of becoming a pediatrician.
“I really like kids,” she said. “I always thought that because I also like science, I could become a doctor and help kids and people feel better. That is the perfect combination for me.”
As for the seal, she said it has the potential to open doors not only for school, but also in the workplace.
“I think it will help me in many different ways,” she said. “We live in a country with many different languages and being able to be fluent in multiple languages will open doors for me along the way. This helps me to market that and it goes on my transcript and on my resume.”
Graduating seniors processing into the gym during the opening ceremony. It was the largest class in 15 years at Chelsea High, with 309 members.
The last time Chelsea High School (CHS) graduated a class as large as the Class of 2017, the Boston Red Sox still hadn’t won a World Series in more than 90 years.
This year’s class featured more than 300 students in the class, the most since 2002, and teachers at CHS said it is one of the most accomplished in many years.
Supt. Mary Bourque said the class is noteworthy not just from the data, but also from their character.
“The class president came to us from Africa when she was 5 years old,” said Bourque. “She spoke movingly at graduation of having returned to her birth country for a visit last year for the first time in 13 years. She came back to CHS with the beginning of the school year, but she came back with open eyes of how she and her peers need to value this country and the opportunities that are presented. She thanked CPS for embracing and supporting her and her peers along the way.
“We are a proud immigrant community; we welcome and educate everyone,” she continued. “The students in our schools are from 58 countries and speak 36 languages. We are not perfect and we still have much work to do to improve our student outcomes, but it is for days like Chelsea High School’s graduation for which we work. It is the renewal and joy we feel when we celebrate our students’ accomplishments.”
One of the most telling statistics is that some 70 percent of the class is moving on to attend a two- or four-year college next year. Another 13 percent are going directly into the workforce, while 6 percent are entering a certificate program or trade school.
Some 3 percent are going to the military.
Of those going to college, the list of schools includes:
Boston College – Woods College of Advancing Studies
Johnson and Wales University
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
University of Connecticut
Additionally, Bourque said students earned $2.3 million in local scholarship programs and scholarships from colleges and universities. That was the most ever.
Students in the Class of 2017 also took advantage of dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses.
More than half of the senior class, 160 in total, enrolled in an AP course.
Students enrolled in dual enrollment at Bunker Hill Community College earned 1,162 college credits while still in high school. Those credits will transfer to their new school in the fall, saving them valuable time and money.
“Dual enrollment graduates saved on future college debt, in tuition and fees, more than $200,000 and $50,000 on books,” said Bourque. “On average, dual enrollment students earned eight credits each; one student earned 27 credits. This student in effect completed one-third of an Associate’s Degree before she even received her high school diploma. Within the next four years, we will have students graduating with an Associate’s Degree at the same time as they graduate from Chelsea High School.”