Guest Op-Ed: And Yet They Succeeded

By Marcony Almeida-Barros

This Saturday nearly 500 seniors will graduate from Everett High School. Although the celebration was not what they – and us – had in mind during their school journey, the Everett Public Schools and City of Everett officials are organizing a special celebration under the current pandemic’s constraints. Our students deserve the best we can be and do for them.

We will not be marching from the Connolly Center to Everett Stadium, joining hundreds of supportive family members and friends, as we’ve done throughout the years, but nevertheless we worked with our students and state officials on the best plan possible to honor our seniors with festivities over the past two weeks, culminating with a special, physically-distant graduation ceremony.

I’m proud of every single student of the Class of 2020. School life is not easy, as we all know, but adding in financial hurdles, language barriers, disability, and assimilation to a new culture make it even more difficult. But despite those adversities, the Class of 2020 represents the pride of our city.

Walking alongside their peers this Saturday will be six student heroes who overcame even greater, often unimaginable hurdles to succeed and graduate: the lack of housing. They are part of a program that I proudly brought to our schools two school years ago to assist homeless students with housing. I still remember one of my first School Committee meetings when I learned about the needs of our student homeless population. I couldn’t sleep that evening thinking about our young people who might be in shelters, couch surfing, or perhaps in the streets waiting for school to reopen next day.

Last year, I met with the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), a nonprofit public policy advocacy organization dedicated to ending homelessness, to request additional funding to pay for housing and food for our students. MHSA then presented EHS with a $25,000 grant to help identify students who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness for the 2019 – 2020 School Year. For the past two years, MHSA provided us with a total of $55,000, and I’m forever grateful for that.

The goals of the funding were to help students achieve immediate housing stability and better educational outcomes, including decreased absenteeism, improved school grades, and higher graduation rates. The grant funds were used to help students and their families with rent, emergency shelter and food. And thanks to our school’s partnership with Youth Harbors, the non-profit organization who delivers the services and provides case management to the students, we were able to assist 11 students this year, six of which are now graduating – and the others will graduate next year.

I am so proud of this program because it proves that housing stability is essential to our students’ success. If it were not for this program, they would have been more likely to have dropped out of school or silently struggled. My goal is to work on a long-term solution with our new Superintendent Priya Tahiliani and my fellow School Committee Members, and I will only rest when all of our students have a safe place to call home. I know funds are scarce, but I will continue to reach for them.

We are living in difficult and unimaginable times, but I’ve never been more hopeful for what lies ahead for our students. Public service isn’t always about sending letters to newspapers or posting on social media; it’s about working to build a sense of community, joining together, leading with compassion, understanding and collaboration, working for justice for all, and making sure that no one will ever be left behind.

So, to our six student heroes and to the entire Class of 2020, congratulations! I can’t wait to see your continued, successful journey ahead. Onward!

Marcony Almeida-Barros  is a Ward 5 School Committeeman.

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