By Denise Dick
Brandon Wesley, who will be a seventh-grader at East High School this fall, wants to be a scientist when he grows up.
To prepare for that, the 12-year-old says he does a lot of experiments.
Brandon was one of about 30 seventh- and eighth-graders who will be at East this year participating in Project SAY — Student Aspirations Youngstown. The program was to prepare students for a successful transition to high school as well as introduce them to the My Aspirations program, part of the work the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, a Portland, Maine-based education organization, is doing with the city school district.
Through the program, now in its second year in the district, students and staff work together to identify and try to address problems.
“We’re talking about aspirations,” Brandon said. “It’s things we want to do and what we have to do to make them happen.” Deyontae Blue, 11, also a seventh grader, was part of the Quaglia Team at Volney Rogers Middle School last year.
“We talked about how we wanted to change the school,” he said.
Volney and P. Ross Berry Middle School closed this year and Wilson Middle School became the district’s alternative school, sending seventh and eighth graders to either East or Chaney. The younger students will be housed in separate wings from the older students with different start, dismissal and lunch times.
Jerome Harrell, an assistant principal at East, told students that the school will focus on rigor, relevance and relationships.
“We’ll develop relationships first,” he said, followed by relevance.
Personnel from the Quaglia Institute showed the students a video from the British version of “The X Factor” television show. Judges and audience members react negatively to two young performers based on their appearances — one is overweight with long unkempt hair. When they sing, though, the reactions change. The young man’s voice brings people to tears.
What does that show, asks the Quaglia moderator.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” answered one student.