CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Olivia Zoito will be the town's Project 351 Ambassador this year. The eighth-grader's selection was noted at last week's School Committee.
The statewide nonprofit organization seeks to mentor youth leaders and encourage community service. Participants — one from each of the state's 351 municipalities — choose a community service project. They are provided opportunities for learning team building and civic engagement through a Service Leadership Academy and other partnerships and advisers.
"There were a few applicants," said Principal Tara Barnes. "We ask students to write a letter telling us why they would be worthy of being our ambassador. And I just want to read a little bit from our ambassador ... She wrote to me saying that she felt she would be a worthy candidate for the school's ambassadorship because she feels like she has been a leader in her in her class and a resource to many who look for help or advice. She takes initiatives when she's doing group work, helping to assign roles to others and checking in with them listening to them objectively and giving positive feedback."
Olivia is active at her church, St. Elizabeth's in North Adams, and volunteers during the summer as a mentor. She feels she shows kindness and compassion by sitting with classmates who may be alone at lunch or recess, by not gloating over her grades or achievements and by abiding by the Cougar character anchors of respect, responsibility, integrity, perseverance, and citizenship. She's a high honor student and helps others and shows gratitude to the adults in the school by saying thank you and listening to them.
"The teachers at Clarksburg in the junior high selected her because they felt like all of this resonated with what they see in the classroom," Barnes said. "There are many students in our eighth-grade class, we have 30, this is a big class. And there are so many great candidates in this class with lots of kids who have a lot of character. ... So it's a tough process. It's a big pool of people who could be an ambassador."
She pointed out that there is a lot of family support as well, such as aiding with the project and going to Boston for the kickoff.
Olivia said she has not yet decided on her community service project but she had a couple ideas.
"I have an idea of ... I want something that will brighten up North Adams in areas that need improvement, by doing like art," she said. "But my mom's suggestion is books, like book houses, free books, maybe locating more of those throughout the area."
Barnes said they would be helping her in efforts and Chairwoman Laura Wood asked that she come back before the committee in the spring and update them on the progress.
Barnes also reported that there have been 19 positive cases of COVID-19 since the last School Committee meeting on Nov. 4, with eight of those since Thanksgiving.
"We're trending just like the whole area is clearly around here," she said. "We've been doing our very best to make sure that we're staying safe inside the school."
The rise in cases is from transmission outside the school, she continued, and that it was from events and gatherings from the holidays that were outside of the school's controle.
Barnes reminded the committee that the test and stay program was available only to students who were exposed within the school because the protocols in place allow for distancing and masking to prevent spread.
The high point earlier this year 24 students a day were being tested but now only three are in the test and stay program. Of those students, only two tested positive.
A close contact is defined as being within 3 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is providing rapid result tests for any close-contact exposure within the school. But students who are exposed outside of school must quarantine for seven days at home.
"We are not allowed to use the test and stay program for any out-of-school close contacts," Barnes said. "I get this question all the time from our families, why can't we just test them at school? We want them to come to school to but they can't do that under this program."
Superintendent John Franzoni said the testing protocol is based on data that show that schools are not places where the novel coronavirus is being transmitted because of the strict adherence to the protocols. He acknowledged that this has become a source of friction because other school districts may not be as strict.
"If you're fully vaccinated, and you're a close contact outside of school you don't have to quarantine," he said. "So that's a key point to go along with the vaccination clinics that we're running is besides the fact that becoming fully vaccinated protects you, it protects the people around you. It also allows you to not have to follow a quarantine if you are close to outside of school as long as you don't have those symptoms."
Barnes said the school's first vaccination clinic on Nov. 19 was successful with 33 children, most of whom were Clarksburg students. The next clinic is Dec. 10 from 3 to 5:30 at which first and second doses will be administered. Register here.
In other business:
• Barnes reported that the school has hired a part-time teaching assistant, a student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, until she begins her student teaching, and that the administrative assistant is cutting back on her hours from now until June. She will be working 8 to noon and Barnes anticipated finding some help to answer phones, monitor the door and attend to other duties in the afternoon.
She also reported that a representative from Garaventa Lifts came to the school to look at the staircases and take measurements and will provide quotes on what might be possible. The middle staircase would likely require more engineering than the back staircase from the middle school to the gym, she said.
• The school's app through Apogee Software is now available. It can be downloaded from the app store under Northern Berkshire School Union and users can select one or more of the four schools. It will include lunch menus, meeting dates, news and other information.
• Franzoni said only one candidate each for business manager and student services will be brought forward for interviews with the Northern Berkshire School Union committee on Dec. 16.