By Amanda Burke
ASHBURNHAM — When members of Oakmont Regional High School’s after-school Art Club last year learned administrators planned to disband their group for want of money to pay its faculty adviser, students snapped into action.
A petition was printed and signed, and students’ disappointment aired on social media. The next day, a voice on the loudspeaker called all Art Club members to the lecture hall.
The about 60 students who participate in Art Club showed up, but so did about one-third of the entire 707-person student body, three Oakmont students said Friday.
The club, members learned inside the lecture hall that autumn day, had been saved.
“You would think football players wouldn’t care about Art Club, but they did,” said Jarrod Tshudy, 17, a rising senior at Oakmont who lists the club among his many extra-curricular activities. “The entire lecture hall was packed.”
A Proposition 2 1/2 override to inject the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District with $1.2 million to hire teaching staff and upgrade technology for fiscal 2018 failed after a split vote between the two towns on Tuesday.
These students said voters must rally behind funding increases if they wish to preserve the district’s reputation for academic excellence. They worried about the ways steeper budget cuts could affect their education, and by extension, their futures.
They highlighted large class sizes, reductions in the number of course sections at Oakmont, and the real possibility their high school will lose New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation if a librarian isn’t rehired.
Oakmont’s previous librarian became an Advanced Placement teacher when the teacher he replaced quit unexpectedly in fall 2015.
A full-time, accredited librarian to replace him was never hired, the students said, adding that part-time staffers currently run the library.
“Losing accreditation damages how colleges view our applications,” said Oakmont rising Senior Danielle Caisse, 17. “I’ve worked hard, not just in high school but all the years leading up to it. If I don’t have a librarian, and that’s why I don’t get into my top choice college, I’m going to be very mad.”
Tshudy said his high school diploma will lose value if Oakmont is stripped of its accreditation.
“It’s going to turn into a piece of paper that doesn’t have meaning attached to it,” he said.
The school is already on warning status with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Superintendent Gary Mazzola has said.
According to the grass-roots parents’ group, Support Our Children and Schools, Oakmont had 41 sections fewer sections last school year than it did in 2006.
With fewer sections to choose from, some students are forced to spend a quarter of their day in the library for a “directed studies” period, otherwise known as study hall, Tshudy said.
“Sometimes you don’t have any homework to do, so you’re just sitting there for 83 minutes,” said Tshudy. “A good amount of students have that problem.”
Tshudy said there weren’t enough desks in his English classroom to seat the about 30 students in his section last fall. So two students were placed on a classroom couch, and two others worked at a table where books and classroom supplies were usually placed.
By the end of the semester, the class watched the Great Gatsby movie because there wasn’t enough time to finish the book, while the teacher dealt with “a few cheating scandals” and disciplinary issues, said Tshudy.
“Students had a hard time in that class paying attention, a lot of bad things happened because there were so many students,” he said. “She’s (the teacher is) only one lady, and she couldn’t get everyone to do what they needed to do.”
Tshudy, Caisse and rising Junior Olivia Kuehl, 16, each shared stories detailing how their younger siblings got along in class sizes of between 25 and 30 students.
Kuehl, 16, a member of the school math team, marching band, and Student Advisory Council, said her younger brother, Nick, struggled to keep pace in fifth grade.
Nick’s teacher juggled too many students to provide the individualized attention he needed, Kuehl said.
“That was the reason why my brother got held back,” she said. “He struggles to learn in class because his teacher can’t get around to everyone.”
The three students said they do not know what to expect from the fiscal 2018 schools budget. At a special meeting Tuesday, the School Committee will discuss next steps after the override failed in Ashburnham by 24 votes.
The students don’t, however, plan to stay silent. Tshudy said he will to knock on doors and discuss the budget with neighbors.
Kuehl said she’ll continue attending School Committee meetings, and Caisse said she’ll reach out to voters in person and on Twitter, encouraging her above-18 Oakmont peers to register to vote should another override question make it onto the ballot.
“We are the future of these towns,” said Caisse. “And if we don’t have the tools of a basic education, we can’t give back to the community.”
Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31090538/oakmont-students-rally-funding-after-failed-override#ixzz4l6QkUs6X