Published April 4, 2019


NORTH READING — North Reading Middle School (NRMS) Principal Cathy O’Connell, along with faculty and students, presented an overview of accomplishments and activities from the 2018-2019 school year to the School Committee during its March 18 meeting.

Future leaders learn to serve

Eighth-grader Taleen Toby began the presentation with her experiences as the district’s Project 351 Ambassador.

SCIENCE OLYMPIAD team member Ryan Ciulla (center) shows off his Battery Buggy to School Committee member Rich McGowan (at left). Looking on are Olympiad advisor Cliff Bowers and Olympiad teammate Eli Hunt. (Jillian String Photo)

“It’s a leadership program of sorts that takes one eighth-grader from each of the 351 towns and cities in the commonwealth, and it brings them together throughout the year for service, leadership programs, panels, and things like that,” Toby said. “It’s supposed to inspire you to get more involved in your community.”

Toby noted that she was nominated by her teachers and attended Launch Day activities for Project 351 on January 19 at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

According to Toby, the ambassadors were organized into groups and went out into the city to perform acts of service. She went to a service village, where she made cards, blankets, and care packages for veterans.

Toby added that she will be organizing a clothing drive to benefit Cradles to Crayons, a Boston-based nonprofit that combats childhood poverty by providing children from birth to age 12 with essential items needed at home, at school, and at play.

The drive was slated to kick off on Monday, March 25 and anticipated to run “for about two weeks,” Toby said, adding, “and we’re just looking for quality donations, clothes mostly, to help families in need.” Hopefully, we can get your support.”

Mighty Meredith chooses kindness

The Mighty Meredith Project, founded by eighth-grader Meredith Casey, is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to kindness, giving back, and raising awareness of traumatic brain injuries.”

Casey spoke to the committee about the legacy of kindness she hopes to leave behind at NRMS.

“Our tagline, ‘Be kind. It’s good for the mind,’ summarizes in one sentence what the Mighty Meredith Project is all about, and how just being kind can really impact your overall health, including your brain health, mental health, and the well being of others,” Casey said. “Kindness is a cure for so many things. It has been my best medicine.”

ART TEACHER Jessie O’Brien (at right) presents the artwork of her seventh-grade students to the School Committee. Holding the sketches they created on iPads are (from left): Eric Xu, Kristen Galvin, Maddy Vant and Allison Manciaelli. (Jillian String Photo)

According to the organization’s website, the Mighty Meredith Project was started by Casey and her family after she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from hitting her head on a granite countertop.

The website states, “After meeting with many doctors at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center and The Brain Injury Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, Meredith was encouraged to get involved with something that would help replace what she had lost in terms of her participation in activities she once loved and to help with the associated psychological impact.”

Casey said that she would like to provide NRMS with a special thank you gift.

“I would like to provide North Reading Middle School with a kindness bench as a special thank you to the school and my peers for always being accepting of me and for never-ending kindness through my journey,” Casey said. “As I close out my middle school years, I and the Mighty Meredith Project would like to leave the North Reading Middle School with a legacy of kindness for years to come.”

The School Committee members praised Casey for her efforts toward helping others.

“I just want to (thank you for) your bravery and your kindness in what you’ve done to help not only others in this community, but people throughout the country,” Committee member Mel Webster said.

Committee Chairman Janene Imbriano and Vice Chairman Scott Buckley also thanked Casey for her work.

“For an eighth-grader, you are incredibly impressive,” Buckley said.

“It takes more than bravery. It takes something from inside to want to step out and help other people. I just hope you know how greatly, greatly it is appreciated,” Imbriano said.

Merging art with tech

NRMS Art Specialist Jesse O’Brien, along with seventh-graders Kristen Galvin, Allison Manciaelli, Maddy Vant, and Eric Xu, presented digitally created student artwork on iPads.

“These particular pieces of artwork were actually drawn on the iPad. We took a traditional lesson for scratchboard, which is drawing with a sharp tool on a black piece of paper and just removing that surface to reveal the white. Using that design lesson, we actually did it on the iPad,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien stated that she generally prefers using traditional materials in her art classes and was trying to incorporate more technology with this assignment.

“From my perspective, I love seeing the students be so engaged with this particular tool, and it’s just in a different medium form. It’s not scratchboard. It’s actually working on that particular iPad, which is a tool, but we could call it a medium; something that we’re making art with,” O’Brien said.

Webster asked the students if the iPad was more capable than more traditional tools.

“I think kids who sometimes have trouble more with the pencil and paper find it easier to draw on the iPad, because we use iPads and technology every day. They find it more interesting to use, and the app we use (AutoDesk Sketchbook), we’re able to use so many more tools and stencils that allow us to be creative in different ways,” Galvin explained.

O’Brien noted that the students are very comfortable using technology and often work faster using the iPads than they do when working with traditional materials.

“It was amazing for me to watch, because I don’t work like that. I work in a more traditional sense, but I learned a lot from them,” O’Brien said.

Superintendent Jon Bernard stated that student artwork is on display in the central office.

“To see what seventh graders are doing here and how that carries forward to grade eight is pretty extraordinary. I think you’ll be very impressed, not only with what you saw tonight, but when you see the more traditional elements of color with pencil, they’re very, very nice pieces of art,” Bernard said.

Committee members praised O’Brien for her hard work with the students.

“You are a phenomenal teacher. I don’t know how you do it, but you could take Mel Webster, and he would produce an incredible work of art,” Imbriano said. “You are very, very talented in bringing out (students’) strengths.” It was Webster’s final meeting before his official retirement from the board after 15 years.

Future scientists tackle challenges

The final student presentation of the evening included seventh-graders Eli Hunt and Ryan Ciulla, along with adult advisor and former School Committee member Cliff Bowers, from the Science Olympiad team.

Ciulla explained that the Science Olympiad teams participate in various science events at a statewide competition.

The Science Olympiad website, states, “Founded in 1984, Science Olympiad is one of the premier science competitions in the nation, providing rigorous, standards-based challenges to nearly 8,000 teams in all 50 states. We host 450 tournaments annually on college campuses and hold professional development workshops that showcase innovative science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

“My current events are Disease Detectives, where we learn about different diseases; Herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles; Water Quality, where I learned about things like the nitrogen cycle; Write It Do It, where (Hunt) is going to write it down and I’m going to have to create it. It’s going to be like a structure or something. You don’t know until the day of, and also Wood Glider, and Battery Buggy,” Ciulla said.

Hunt noted that this was his first year as a member of the team.

“I’m doing Meteorology, Heredity, Game On, Write It Do It with Ryan, Roller Coaster, and Fossils,” Hunt said.

School Committee member Rich McGowan asked the students how they practiced the Write It Do It event.

Ciulla stated that he and Hunt practiced a variety of different scenarios.

Ciulla brought the Battery Buggy to show the committee, and explained that during the competition, he will have to make the buggy run a given distance.

O’Connell acknowledged all of the hard work of the Olympiad team.