(The author is an instructor with the One World Youth Project, which sends “ambassadors” from UMass-Boston to work with students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School on Columbia Road. The students — through Kelsey Warner— are responding to an opinion piece written by George Regan which appeared in the Reporter last year.)
In February 2010, the Dorchester Reporter published an opinion article by George K. Regan, Jr. detailing his experience as “Principal for a Day” at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester. The program he participated in, made possible by the Boston Public Schools and co-sponsored by the Boston Plan for Excellence, gives business and civic leaders the opportunity to go back to school and experience – in one morning – the joys and challenges of working as a public school principal.
We read the article and were shocked to find something missing: students we recognized. We did not see the voice of the student come through in what Mr. Regan wrote. We believe the purpose of the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, or any school for that matter, is its students. Ignoring us in an article about our school is as inconsiderate as it is destructive.
About our former principal, Deb Socia, Regan wrote, “For the female students she acts as a surrogate mother, because many of them are children having children.” Ms. Socia was an asset to our school while she was here but her role was not as “surrogate mother” to “many.” Perhaps to a few, but that does not define the place where we go to learn and grow. Our Pilot is a place where we feel safe. The surrounding neighborhood requires street smarts but it is not a place where there is perpetual danger. It is not a “city school battleground.”
We feel safe and we feel the teachers and administrators are there to work for us, to help us in any way they can. For Mr. Regan to say that as “a white woman in a school whose students are overwhelmingly non-white…[Ms. Socia] had to earn the trust of students and their families.” We never looked at Ms. Socia and thought of her as a white woman; nor did we see her as our surrogate mother. We thought of her as our principal.
Our Pilot is a place where Officer Gomez walks the halls and oversees dismissal to make us feel safe. Our librarian is helpful and friendly. He does not even charge late fees for overdue books and, using our school library cards, we have access to the Boston Public Library. Every student has access to their own individual MacBook during school hours. Those laptops are locked up at the end of the day and not one has ever been stolen or gone missing.
The way the school is set up, we are divided into three different academies. We take pride in those smaller groups and the setup allows us to feel more connected to our teachers and closer to one another. There is even a little but of rivalry between academies and each one encourages individuality, seeking extra help, and providing a quiet, orderly place to learn. The teachers work so hard to help us and we are dedicated in return. They actually make learning seem worthwhile. Mr. Regan may have been right when he wrote, “It takes a rare combination of toughness and compassion” to work at our Pilot. But we wonder, what in life does not require those qualities?
In setting the record straight on the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School we hope that people in our community will see the pride we take in our Pilot. We do not think it was fair that a man who was given the privilege to be at our school for one morning was given the platform to explain who we are. We want you to hear our voices, too. And we say: We are doing just fine here at our Pilot. In fact, we love our school.