FLORIDA, Mass. — Abbott Memorial School donated 1,508 items to the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry in North Adams as part of its Project 351 Food Drive.
"The outpouring of support to help others through food contributions by Gabriel Abbott Memorial School students and families was staggering," Principal Martin McEvoy Jr. said. "It is another reflection of the colossal empathy, generosity, and spirit of the community. To realize how willing the school community was to help their neighbors, even while facing formidable challenges, of their own, says so much."
Project 351 is an independent nonprofit organization that fosters youth-led service by engaging ambassadors from each of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns.
The ambassadors this year from Abbott were 8th-graders Ryleigh Rathbun of Florida, Amari Smith of Monroe and Marley Miner of Savoy. These students lead the program.
"We are very proud of the ambassadors representing Florida and the two towns with whom our school has a tuition agreement," McEvoy said. "... These student-leaders did an amazing job of planning and executing the drive, along with the project's coordinator, second-grade teacher/Assistant Principal Denise Chesbro."
The entire school was involved, and McEvoy said the 103 students who attend the small school, which is part of the Northern Berkshire School Union, collected 1,340 pounds in just nine days.
"I was surprised that a school of our small size could collect a total of 1,340 pounds of food, but not surprised at the level of generosity and goodwill shown by the Abbott Memorial school community," he said. "I have come to learn quickly how caring and supportive the school community and town is of its kids, school, and larger community."
He added that the school has participated in many fundraising and donation efforts over the years. He said giving back is most definitely part of the Abbott Memorial education.
"The parameters of public education today are ever-broadening in order to put students in the best position to live productive, meaningful, and happy lives in a constantly changing, complex world," he said. "One of the overriding and critical outcomes of education, which we focus on here at Abbott, is to prepare students to become engaged, thoughtful, and contributing members of society.
In fact, this project gave us the opportunity to live our school's vision, which we collectively developed at the beginning of this school year: 'At Abbott, we strive everyday to nurture growth, love of learning, and a sense of community in the Berkshires and beyond!'"
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"Great news for us that we were awarded [this]," Brosnan said. "Actually, we were the only vocational school that was awarded a grant for expanding, so we're really thrilled about that."
Some $350,000 of the grant funds will go toward new training simulators, and $250,000 to new faculty. Brosnan noted that the state is struggling with staffing for registered nurses, and grant funds were available for such an expansion to be possible.
"They were putting investment monies in, and I said, you know, just because we got one doesn't mean we can't get something else in," he said.
The new simulators, Brosnan said, will be put in McCann's space at the Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams campus. He said they should be a significant upgrade over the aging simulators used currently.
"Ours are 10, 12 years old, the science of them is just long gone. The software doesn't work; they don't work," Brosnan said.
The new faculty position will be funded by the grant for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. The new instructor will allow the program to take on more students.
"If you're going to expand your student body, the biggest problem you have is finding the instructor. So now that the funding is there, we can do that for two years," Brosnan said.
Brosnan also updated on the school's planned parking expansions, which he said is currently in the design phase. He said once designs are completed, the project can go out to bid.
"We expect that to be shovel ready, good to go and start construction at the very end of June to finish those parking lots before school opens," he said.
In other business:
The committee voted on school choice for the district, voting to reject it, as it has the previous 28 years.
Principal Justin Kratz gave an update on progress with the school year. He said every student was placed in one of their top three shops, with 95 percent getting placed in their top two choices.
"I've never seen that happen. So I was pretty excited that we were able to get the kids into placements that are pretty favorable," he said.
Kratz also said this was the first year in several when they were able to hold in-person awards for Skills USA.