Student sheds ‘dark light’ on AP courses

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer

SOUTHBRIDGE — High school students enrolled in what should be the most rigorous courses are frustrated with the caliber of some honors and Advanced Placement teachers.

Frances Garcia, a senior at Southbridge High School who serves as the student representative to the School Committee, expressed the dissatisfaction she said is shared by many seniors who feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

“The students are very frustrated and kind of disappointed in the honors and AP program at school, and we have complained about it to administration,” Garcia asserted during her scheduled report at last night’s School Committee meeting. “It’s kind of effecting our education, so we’re very concerned about it.”

Garcia suggested a change likely will not benefit any of the school’s senior class members, but may result in a better education for those who follow.

“I feel like it shouldn’t be sugar-coated anymore and maybe it’s too late for my class for something to happen, but we don’t want that to happen to the juniors or anybody else in the school,” she told the board. “We just want something to be done and there needs to be change done quickly because it’s going to turn into a disaster. So, I’m sorry about shedding a dark light, but it needs to be said.”

School Committee Chairman William Bishop stated he was unaware of such concerns, and insisted Garcia not apologize for her remarks.

“When you come here you never need to apologize for your comments. If they’re truthful, they’re truthful. The truth can be painful, it absolutely can, but if we don’t know about it, you know, we don’t have a whole lot of power, but I will say when I do bring something forward to [Interim Receiver and Superintendent] Dr. [Russell D.] Johnston he is very receptive and I’m confident he does whatever is in his power.”

Bishop added: “The wheels of change in education are sometimes painfully slow. I understand that as well as you do, but you are entitled to that world class education that the Department of Education has run up the flagpole here in Southbridge. You are entitled to it as are all your classmates and all [Kindergarten] through [Grade] 12. If we don’t know about it, a lot of times Dr. Johnston and his team doesn’t know about it. As long as it’s the truth we’re certainly ready to hear it and try to do the best we can to help Dr. Johnston and his team fix it.”

Garcia went on to add that students are not struggling due to apathy or disinterest, but instead feel as if they have to be self-taught in order to succeed.

“These aren’t students that don’t want to learn, these are people that want to learn,” she explained. “We have students that are going to sleep at 2:00 in the morning, trying to teach themselves.”

School Committee member Jacquelyn Ryan thanked Garcia for her honesty, and empathized with the difficulty of AP classes.

“I was an AP student, I understand how hard you guys work and how hard these classes are and how much support you need to succeed,” Ryan said. “It’s truly important you get that.”

Garcia responded by noting that the course itself is not the obstacle, but rather a lack of effective teaching in some areas.

“It’s not that in the AP classes it’s hard, because it’s not, it’s because we’re not being taught,” she explained. “I’m not saying in all of the AP classes everything is bad, and the school does have a very strong, strong, strong English department, but there has been improvement in this year, but there needs to be a lot more improvement done.”

School Committee member Amelia Peloquin also thanked Garcia’s “candor,” and suggested it was evidence of the importance of having a student representative at School Committee meetings.

“We need to hear the good stuff and the bad stuff and please feel free to bring any issues that you have,” Peloquin said.

School Committee member Scott Lazo agreed, noting the position “was created to bring the good and the bad and any issues forward.”

Lazo applauded Garcia for bringing the problem forward.

“The truth is never anything to run away from. The truth is what makes you work harder to become better at what you do. You can’t solve a problem unless you identify what the problem is,” he insisted. “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link and we have some weak links.”

Grand Canyon Trip Planned

If Robert Siciliano has his way, 20 or so of his high school students will be visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The Southbridge High School history teacher presented his plan for a field trip to the Grand Canyon and the American southwest in April 2019. Coordinated with EF Educational Tours of Cambridge, the trip would take students to Arizona and Utah to study earth science, geology, and the 19th century period of westward expansion often referred to as “Manifest Destiny.”

Siciliano said told the School Committee the trip would be “kind of an interdisciplinary endeavor my students are going to embark on.” The field trip would include visits to Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park & History Museum, the Grand Canyon National Park, the Hoover Dam, the Lowell Observator, Yavapi Point, Desert View Drive, a trip on the Colorado River, and more. As part of the trip, students would conduct experiments with geological samples while at the Grand Canyon.

The proposed field trip is currently slated to cost students $2,659 each, Siciliano said, explaining that several fundraisers are in the works to help subsidize the costs and drive the final number down to make the trip more feasible for local students. The fees cover round-trip airfare, transportation, lodging, daily breakfast and dinner, a tour director, guided tours and activities, overnight security, a 10:1 student-to-chaperone ratio, and more.

“There’s a lot of buzz,” Siciliano said of the response from students. He added that a recent meeting in his classroom to gauge interest with parents and guardians proved to have a large enough turnout that he quickly ran out of seating. He hopes to make similar field trips a bi-annual occurrence.

Siciliano, new to Southbridge Public Schools, said he has done several successful school field trips with EF Educational Tours in the past, including journeys to Washington, D.C., and twice to Italy. Additionally, the educator said he’s been to China, a “half dozen European countries,” and approximately 25 U.S. states. This part of the country, however, would be uncharted territory for him.

“I have never been to Arizona, and I’ve never been to Utah,” Siciliano said, adding that he has been to Las Vegas.

Among the planned fundraisers to offset the associated costs is the inaugural Pioneer Open golf tournament in September, a three-point shooting contest later this winter, raffling off an oil painting by Siciliano, and the sale of chocolates and gifts. The fundraising, the teacher said, will help not only reduce the financial burden on students and their families, but also provide ownership and help develop a greater work ethic for those involved.

“The more effort and time and diligence people put in, the greater the reward should be,” he said. “We’re determined, I’m determined, not to mention just determined but excited.”

While the presentation to the School Committee was informational and was not followed by a vote, several panelists lauded the plan.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Bishop, who led several field trips, including to Ireland, when he was the high school’s band director.

School Committee member Ray Page called the opportunity “fantastic,” while member Scott Lazo applauded “the enthusiasm” exhibited.


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