NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 26, 2014

Students will suffer if budget cuts are made

Viewpoint
Patrick Hopkins

---- — “Combining an outstanding school department, a vibrant group of local artisans, and commercial groups dedicated to community improvement, Amesbury is an attractive place for families, businesses, and visitors.”

This is the message touted by the mayor on the city of Amesbury website. However, I am not certain how long the mayor’s statement will remain valid. Recently, the town has announced a long list of proposed cuts to the Amesbury school system. These devastating cuts will impact each school, leaving no student K-12 untouched.

The cuts proposed for the high school include limiting foreign language to two teachers (assisting over 800 students), removing the only remaining full-time music teacher (which would end the music and drama programs), cutting the technical education teacher, and entirely eliminating the Early College program.

At the middle school level, Tech Education and Family Consumer Science are on the chopping block, while the elementary schools will lose full-day kindergarten, and a substantial number of paraprofessionals are slated for removal at all levels.

These drastic reductions would have significant impact on student success at every level, resulting in enormous class sizes across the district and causing significant damage to the creative and unique culture that has been growing in Amesbury over the years.

The AHS Rhythmics and chorus have won several awards in the past few years, and the impact they have had on the community is enormous. Last year, the Rhythmics performed at a “Senior Prom” at the new Community and Transportation Center for senior members of the community. As president of the AHS chorus, I found myself incredibly moved as eyes young and old sparkled that night. What dollar amount would we place on that?

The arts aren’t the only thing threatened in our community with these cuts. Foreign language instruction is all but disappearing in Amesbury. When I was in first grade, foreign language was being taught across the board. A K-12 curriculum had been established in those days and even the elementary schools had foreign language teachers.

Several years ago, it was cut from grades K-6 and for the past several years there has been no foreign language instruction of any form at the middle school. Already the foreign language teachers are finding themselves teaching honors and college prep classes in the same block. With the cuts, the high school’s already understaffed foreign language department of three would be further reduced, resulting in even larger classes, fewer sections and the removal of advanced language courses.

Amesbury has all but abandoned its foreign language instruction despite the heavy requirements colleges place on foreign language. If our schools can’t give students the basic skills to move on to further education, where will our graduates find themselves?

The fact of the matter is, when you devalue schools, you devalue the entire community.

As the mayor seems to have understood at one point in time, a good school system attracts residents and increases property value, thereby attracting more business and industry. In essence, a good school system can make a town successful.

The change is not immediate, but it won’t come at all if we continue this trend of school divestment. If we claim to be a community that values families and children, then we must stand behind our rhetoric.

Please join Amesbury students, teachers and community members in a march to Market Square in Amesbury this Friday, followed by a musical and artistic rally in the square.

If you have any doubts about the value of education, stop by on Friday and see how these programs have built strong young men and women who deserve our full support.

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Patrick Hopkins, an AHS alumnus, is a student at Hofstra University.