Column: Giving thanks for a bounty of opportunities

Sheldon Berman 

The Thanksgiving season is upon us. I am deeply thankful for the support of our students’ parents, whose high expectations help motivate the Andover Public Schools to maintain our strong focus on academic rigor.

Given that emphasis, it is sometimes easy to overlook the importance of the sense of school community that builds caring relationships among students and adults, and the extracurricular programs that provide students with well-rounded and fulfilling experiences. One of the strengths of Andover Public Schools is that our faculty, staff, administration and School Committee recognize the value of an educational experience that integrates academics with arts, athletics, extracurricular clubs, and leadership and service experiences.

All of these opportunities provide pathways for engagement that help students discover themselves, build bonds with other students and achieve a sense of personal accomplishment.

To illustrate these rich experiences, in the arts the Andover High School Drama Guild presents an annual musical, a show for the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild festival and a spring performance. Andover Vocal Music proudly supports three show choirs that compete locally and nationally, with over 100 students participating.

Students in grades 8 through 12 participate in our award-winning marching and pep bands, while our four jazz bands draw students from grades 5 through 12. Musical Theater is alive and well at all three middle schools, which host annual productions. At the elementary level, Orff ensembles, choirs and musicals are present in most schools, engaging students from grades 3 through 5.

Students present over 50 vocal, band or strings performances each year. Andover High School also offers active art and photography clubs and a National Arts Honor Society whose central tenet is volunteerism.

In athletics, students can take part on 62 teams in 34 sports over three seasons. In 2018, with 915 students participating, Andover Public Schools earned 11 regional, division and state titles. Already this fall we’ve seen great success, with our cheerleading, field hockey, football, golf, and boys’ and girls’ soccer teams competing in the post-season, and the girls’ swim and dive team securing their 19th state championship.

Students eager to delve into math and science can join numerous clubs that encourage exploration. Our middle and high school math teams compete in the Massachusetts Association of Mathematics Leagues; the computer science club competes in the American Computer Science League competition; and the AHS Girls’ Coding Club is teaching students at Doherty Middle School to code.

The AHS Science Team, SeaPerch Underwater Robotics teams, AHS Robotics Club and BioBuilders Club regularly participate in state and national competitions.

For students who are especially civic-minded, many schools have student councils at elementary and middle schools, and there is Student Government at Andover High.

High school students can participate in the Mock Trial Club, the Debate Club, Amnesty International, Model UN, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, the Diversity Club, SADD, the student newspaper and many more.

Students have community service and mentoring opportunities through the Warrior Way program, the Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) middle school program, the Interact Club, and Be the Change club, to name a few. Our Capstone and Global programs enable students to deepen their learning experiences as they seek to understand and further the United Nations’ sustainability goals.

The advisers who lead these activities are dedicated to enriching students’ experience in the Andover Public Schools. They share their expertise and their excitement in ways that support and inspire students to challenge themselves and grow.

They encourage all students to get involved, discover their passion and make the best of what our schools offer.

So, as Thanksgiving Day approaches, I want to extend a truly heartfelt thanks to all the dedicated staff who support this wealth of activities that enrich students’ lives and build pride and community; to the booster organizations and partners who jump in to assist with funding and volunteer time; to the parents who cheer our students on, provide transportation to practices and events, and all the other “extras” that go along with extracurriculars; and to the community that understands the significance of these beyond-the-classroom experiences and so strongly supports our students as they engage in service learning, arts and athletic performances, and community events.

I know that I speak for everyone in the Andover Public Schools in wishing every resident of Andover a meaningful celebration of Thanksgiving with families and friends.

May the holiday bring all of us closer together in an “attitude of gratitude” for the countless benefits we enjoy as members of this amazing community.

Sheldon Berman is superintendent of Andover Public Schools.

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