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Student voice ignored on McCormack field

Shaleeca Joseph
Student voice ignored on McCormack field
The McCormack School athletic field, playground and basketball courts at left. GOOGLE EARTH IMAGE

There has been a lot of controversy about whether the John W. McCormack Middle School’s field on Mount Vernon Street should be leased to the Boys & Girls Club. On Aug. 5, the School Committee decided to lease it. I have to say I disagree with this decision.

City Councilor Frank Baker stated in his Dorchester Reporter article, “Proper protocols have been followed. Public comment was considered.” But I recall the city writing a proposal for a fieldhouse without ever asking students what they wanted to happen on the land. No survey. No conversation. We didn’t even know there was a proposal until we read about it in the newspaper. McCormack students were only invited to have a meeting about our field because we fought to be included. Until we went to School Committee and told them we’d been shut out, no one involved with the project had even bothered to invite us into the conversation. People can’t contribute to something they aren’t made a part of. We should have been the first people at the table in this conversation, and instead we were the last.

From the beginning of our (late) involvement in this project, students at the McCormack have been clear: We want the plan to be focused on improving and expanding our green space. Not building a fieldhouse.

A fieldhouse would only contribute further to the impact of climate change on our harbor, causing more flooding and algal bloom. Our science teacher, Mr. Grymonpre, already has a schoolyard redesign project unit he does with his students revolving around how we can create a more pervious land for our community. This project actually makes Mt. Vernon Street even less pervious.

A lot of people have raised the winter as a reason for building the fieldhouse. But winter is only one season. What about all of the other seasons when we want to use the field? Does it make sense to take away our green space when we use it every day that it’s above 32 degrees to get exercise and take breaks from learning? If a fieldhouse is built, we lose our only outdoor recess space. If we are OK with being outside in the cold, why does it matter what others believe should happen with the land?

Also, during this COVID-19 pandemic, where social distancing has become extremely necessary, it is even more necessary that we keep our field. When kids go back to school, the field will be a perfect place to hang out with safe social distancing and even enjoy playing non-contact sports. Without the green space, kids will be stuck inside all day long, unable to take needed breaks from all of the rules about masks and distancing. Unable to move freely. Unable to access fresh air. We don’t know when COVID will end. So why are you acting like you know it’s safe to build a fieldhouse when it might not ever be?

This fieldhouse project robs kids of color of valuable outdoor space. The majority of the kids at McCormack Middle School are in fact Latino and Black. Even though our field could use some improvements, we are extremely lucky to even have access to so much green space. A lot of middle school students don’t. A lot of kids of color don’t. And when you think about McCormack becoming a high school, taking away green space seems even more confusing. Not only are we being robbed of something that’s been a part of our past — it also impacts the future students. How can we have a high school with no athletic fields and no space for extracurricular activities?

A solution to consider: There is already a Boys & Girls Club across the street from the McCormack. Why can’t the kids that attend the Boys & Girls Club use the outdoor space at the McCormack for their activities? Instead of coming from their school buildings then going to another just to get affected by the risk of COVID, they can spend some time outside on our field. It’s only 30 seconds by foot, so no money would be wasted on transportation. The McCormack would keep their field and the BGCD kids would still get time outside in fresh air.

It looks bad enough that a 14-year-old has to take time out of her vacation to fight middle-aged people for a field that already contributes positively to our community and that we’ve told you we want to keep. If you continue to ignore us, what lesson are you teaching us? That we don’t have a say. That even if something involves us, or affects us, our voices don’t matter. Even if you invite us to meetings, and sit and look like you’re listening, at the end of the day, the decision isn’t based on what we want, or what we need. It’s based on what you always already wanted to do.

Shaleeca Joseph graduated 8th grade at the McCormack School and will be entering 9th grade at the John D. O’Bryant.

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