by George J Elbaum
Somerville High School (SHS) is a public 4-year high school that prides itself on being “the Lab School of the 21st Century.” Its stated primary goal is to prepare its 1300+ students to “lead satisfying and successful lives by helping them to become effective readers, effective writers, effective users of technology, and effective critical and creative thinkers.” Furthermore, the education it offers its students sets the same high standards in both college prep academics and in vocational training. SHS does this with the most diverse student body – in cultures, languages (50), nationalities, and aspirations (with one of three integrated vocational programs in the state) – and the richest range of in and out of school activities in Greater Boston.
SHS was reorganized in 2006 into a House System to: (a) improve connectivity between students and professional adults at SHS, and (b) provide a “home base” for core student support services for both students and parents. The House System provides a smoother transition for incoming Grade 9 students and all transfer students. In the Houses, Assistant Principals and Guidance Counselors collaboratively support students across their SHS careers, inform parents of important developments in their student’s education, and bring students together with one another and professional adults who can help them achieve their highest potential. Results of this close and multi-faceted collaboration include such unique programs as the award-winning Somerville Mediation Program which annually trains and deploys student mediators to resolve peer conflicts peacefully, and the annual student-planned and run Multicultural Festival celebrating the more than 52 ethnic groups represented at SHS. (One tangible result of the Multicultural Festival is the Somerville High School Multicultural Cookbook containing 135 recipes from 39 countries!)
SHS diversity and social awareness is also manifested in having worked closely with Facing History and Ourselves for the past 12 years, offering a year-long Facing History elective class about the Holocaust and other genocides. This class is currently being taught by history teacher Mark Quinones, and one of its highlights is the final “judgment, memory, and legacy” project wherein students create and display Holocaust memorials every spring. My presentation was organized and arranged by Alicia Kersten, Head of SHS Social Studies Department, and Judi Bohn of Facing History.