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The Compass

Op-Ed: City schools are filled with uplifting stories – let’s share them

The story published in the Union Leader on May 31st, 2024. Link to publication here.

I’VE BEEN to every public school in Manchester, and the stories of success from students are spilling out of every one of them.

As members of the community, we all have a stake in the success of students. It’s easy to criticize our schools, but research shows positive engagement is better for student participation and performance. I hope that you take a moment to find one good thing to share about Manchester’s public schools.

Positive stories serve as powerful reminders of the potential for growth and success, encouraging students to set ambitious goals, work hard, and persevere in the face of challenges. When we shine a spotlight on the good things happening within a school district, we not only celebrate the achievements of students, teachers, and administrators, but also inspire and motivate others to strive for excellence.

I want to tell you three stories that have changed the way I think about Manchester schools.

Growing up in Manchester, I only reluctantly talked about school because of negative — and incorrect — assumptions. During my senior year, a man came into the school with what was thought to be a handgun. We went into lockdown. It was frightening at first, but officials later determined it was a former student who worked construction and had some tools looking for a recommendation from a former teacher. This story was all over the news and social media with negative comments and generalizations about the community. The truth that was never widely shared about the community is positivity and just a few weeks after that event, the school came together to produce an event where more than 20 students and staff (including myself) donated over six inches of their hair.

Shortly after that event, the senior class put on a community resource carnival featuring community partners, carnival games, and food to engage the community with the school and resources available to families. Such events are what represent the school community, but they rarely get the same attention that stories like the lockdown receive.

When working at a grant-funded summer camp at Gossler Park Elementary School in the summer of 2016, we had a culture day where students shared about their culture. I was greeted by a young student who excitedly talked about her Nepalese culture and gave the entire camp Henna tattoos. The joy of sharing her experience is something that caused this quiet student to light up with passion. Research shows positive encouragement and engagement can lead to improved academics, a study done in NYC showed a more than 20% increase in performing on grade level as a result.

As community communication director for Manchester Proud, I have seen success story after success story. Every year, Manchester Proud awards four scholarships to a student at each city high school. When chatting with students before their award ceremony, most students participated in volunteering with more than 10 organizations in high school.

Manchester Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Chmiel Gillis told me about kids going to Ivy League colleges and into military service, other students who crush sports records, school staff awarded federal grants, and so much more.

Let’s focus on the good and keep the momentum going. Manchester schools face many challenges, but celebrating our students can make a real difference in their success.

In a growing urban community that speaks more than 76 languages, there are too often negative associations and stereotypes assigned to certain schools. Dr. Gillis told me cheering on students blazes a path for their success. When there is negative chatter to combat, it’s a hurdle.  

The stories we choose to tell about education shape not only our perceptions of schools and learning, but also the aspirations and opportunities available to future generations. By consciously choosing to amplify the positive and uplifting aspects of education, we can inspire students to reach their full potential, strengthen community support for schools, and contribute to the creation of exceptional public schools for all.

By simply sharing a positive story on social media, you can make a difference.  Your words of encouragement may be just what a student or family needs to continue their journey to success.

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Lauren Boisvert is community communications director for Manchester Proud and a proud alumnus of Manchester High School West. She lives in the city.