Less than a month after her inspirational graduation speech earned her a standing ovation, W-H Class of 2022 Valedictorian April Keyes appeared at the State House for recognition at a formal legislative session of the House and Senate last week.
Keyes, who has a speech impediment, which causes her to stutter, earned a standing ovation at the June 3 commencement ceremony. She is also a talented athlete who was captain of her track and field team and a member of the National Honor Society.
“After watching her speech, our legislative delegation, including Rep. Alyson Sullivan [R-Abington], Sen. Mike Brady [D-Brockton] and myself, decided we wanted to recognize April for showing such determination and courage,” state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, said. “We invited her and her family to the State House to be recognized at a formal legislative session of the House and the Senate. We were also able to pay a visit to Gov. Baker’s office.
It was truly a delight to get to know April and be able to thank for being a role model for all of us.”
As a younger student, she often feared speaking out in class, or even raising her hand on account of her stutter, Keyes had noted in her speech. She joked that had her younger self known she’d be up at the podium giving this big speech, “I would have passed out!” she said.
And yet April overcame her fears to give a remarkable speech, talking openly about overcoming obstacles and being one’s true self.
“As her principal recounted, April is not afraid to put herself in an uncomfortable place, challenge popular beliefs, make mistakes or miserably fail. She can navigate through those ups and downs with confidence and an understanding that with patience, effort and a positive attitude, anything is possible,” Cutler said.
“Thank you to WHRHS Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak and W-H Principal Dr. Christopher Jones for joining with us and helping to make this wonderful visit possible,” he said. “April will be attending Harvard this fall and no doubt will continue to do remarkable things!”
You may watch her graduation speech here:
Szymaniak had announced the State House visit during a Wednesday, June 22 School Committee meeting.
On the evening when the School Committee was entering into an pre-meeting executive session Wednesday, June 22, Chair Christopher Howard offered residents who attended for a public comment period the opportunity to speak, even though it was not included on the posted agenda.
Stephanie Levesque of 113 Temple St., in Whitman, a former special educator who now works at Lesley University in Cambridge, with children in the school district, requested that a working group be established to consider the high school start time.
“It helps all of us work and serve the adolescents,” she said. “We know so much now, people in the community have already shared some research, some numbers, some data, so I know that’s a continuing conversation.”
While she echoed the data on adolescent brain development at sleep needs, she allowed that it wouldn’t be a simple fix.
“I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor that a working group could do a task analysis and look at carefully and see if we can come to a resolution to help balance what we know is best for children’s development and respond to the needs of the community,” she said.
Jessica Cook of 48 Hogg Memorial Drive spoke on the same topic.
“I also have children in the district, an incoming freshman and a little one over at the Conley,” she said, noting she is also a special educator in another district.
“I’m requesting that the School Committee choose to make this one of the topics they discuss over the summer during and their workshops,” Cook said. “When you look into it, all of the schools – all of the schools in our area – all of them [have later start times].”
She said Duxbury has an 8:20 a.m. Start time, Scituate starts the day at 8:15 and Quincy, the district where she works has a 7:45 a.m. Start time at the high school level. She noted that with the early W-H start time, some student-athletes are putting in 14-hour days before they start their homework.
“If we can buy them an hour, and it’s possible to look into … logistics, and I know that there’’s tons to go along with it, but I would just ask that you consider it.”
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said the key to changing start times is aligning all the schools.
“It’s not just the high school,” he said during a discussion with school administrators on possibile topics for strategic plan working group discussions. “It’s moving our elementaries to a similar start time – our three elementaries are different. Our middle schools are the same. All the principals agree that should be a focus for us next year.”
The executive session scheduled was to discuss strategy regarding collective bargaining or litigation and an open meeting could be detrimental to the committee’s position, regarding the WHEA Unit A teacher contract.
On returning to open session, the committee voted to ratify the Unit A contract.
WHEA representative Kevin Kafka thanked Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak for the opportunity to have open dialog during the negotiation process.
Howard said the contract will be posted on the district website for public access.
The committee also discussed topics to be included in it’s strategic plan workshops over the summer, including STEM and preparing students for the post-high school world in the 21st century, related arts, early childhood education initiative, diversity, social-emotional learning, substance abuse and student support, school start times, safety and security, professional licensing programs like CNA such as offered at South Shore Tech, early college courses, and combining some of the ideas where possible.
The committee will discuss the list further at it’s July 6 meeting and welcomes public feedback.