All Around APS

News from the Andover Public School District

Wednesday, November 20, 2019- volume 6

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Students' Spotlight- Saphyra Percy from West Middle School

Most children remember their first flight on an airplane and eighth grader Saphyra Percy from West Middle School is no exception. In February 2018, Saphyra took her first flight as she moved from Port Au Prince, Haiti to the United States. Saphyra and her sister, Ralph Lynn, a student at South Elementary, joined their father in Andover.

Saphyra’s native language is Haitian Creole and she studied English as a student in Haiti. Saphyra says the English language “really clicked” for her when she came to the U.S. and began talking with other students and watching American TV shows and movies. Some of her favorite programs, like The Flash, Supergirl and Friends helped refine her understanding of the English language and the culture.

Saphyra jumped right in at West Middle and joined the WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) team as a mentor. The WEB program is a middle school orientation and transition program that welcomes 6th graders and makes them feel supported by 8th grade WEB leaders throughout the first year in a new school.

Saphyra’s favorite subject is science; she loves to experiment and learn through the labs. She hopes one day to become a veterinarian or a doctor. Naturally, one of the biggest differences she sees between Andover and Haiti is the weather and Saphyra is not quite a fan of winter yet.

Featured Educator- Toni Kirby at AHS

Toni Kirby’s first priority is students. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Toni has spent the past 20 years at Andover High School working to ensure students’ emotional health and well-being. Toni loves being with young people and works to raise awareness on the connection between wellness and achievement.

A few years ago, a colleague highlighted a national program that resonated with Toni called Challenge Day. Over its 30 year history, this day-long experience has worked to strengthen emotional safety and social relationships, positively influence educational achievement, build cross cultural connections, and reduce conflict and bullying. Challenge Day is a celebration of diversity, truth and full expression. Toni embraced the initiative and has worked tirelessly to bring it to AHS.

“With encouragement from Principal Conrad, we were able to secure funding and support from the Andona Society, AHS PAC, Andover CARES and LaQuinta,” says Toni. “These donors recognize the impact Challenge Day can bring to our school community. The program is powerful, and has the ability to change students’ lives.”

Challenge Day at AHS was held in early October with about 100 students and 25 volunteer adults. The program goes well beyond traditional anti-bullying efforts, and requires a deep emotional commitment. Adults and students share their experiences with common issues seen in today’s society including rumors, negative judgements, harassment, isolation, intolerance, racism, and suicide.

“These are tough situations for any student to face,” notes Toni. “The work that our students and adults engage in is emotional. The group must be actively involved; they can’t sit on the sidelines and listen to a lecture or watch a presentation. I’d be surprised if anyone finished Challenge Day without an awareness of how important empathy is as we interact with each other, and how they can initiate change toward a more positive school culture.”

Toni holds the tenants of Challenge Day in her everyday work with students and she prides herself on being a resource for them in difficult circumstances. The most critical part of her job? “I always hold onto hope for every student,” Toni says.

A Student's Story- Anish Kumar, Bancroft School

Anish Kumar is a fourth grader at Bancroft Elementary School. Anish created a diorama of a Diwali celebration with his friends Arshiaa, Nishad, Lucy and Ashley, also fourth grade students at Bancroft. The group worked hard to create a diorama to help others learn more about this celebration. They used materials from the Maker Space and voluntarily skipped several days of recess time to complete their project. This is Anish’s explanation of Diwali that he shared with other students:

“For Heritage Night at Bancroft, I was proud to share my Diwali project. By making this project, I learned other ways to make things using arts and crafts. I also learned how to work together better with other kids to complete a project. I was proud to share my heritage because my parents and all of my relatives are from India. It brings joy to me to share my family’s culture and keep the traditions going.”

Anish continued his explanation, saying that “Diwali is celebrated for lightness over darkness. Diwali is also called Deepavali, which means string of lights. On Diwali we eat sweets, explode fireworks, pray, and dance. Some of the sweets we eat are Gulab Jamun, Nariyal Burfi, Rasgulla and Rasmalai. We clean the house and also light diyas, which are small clay pots filled with oil and a small string that we light up like a candle. We also light sparklers. Some of the Gods we pray to and honor are Lakshmi, Ganesh and Saraspati. Another thing we make on Diwali is Rangoli, a small decoration made out of powder. We celebrate Diwali for 5 days.”

Superintendent's Message- Giving Thanks for a Well Rounded Experience at APS

With the support of our terrific parents, the Andover Public Schools keeps a strong focus on academic rigor and helping students challenge themselves intellectually. Given that emphasis, it is sometimes easy to overlook the importance of the sense of school community that builds caring relationships among students and adults and the extracurricular programs that provide students with well-rounded and fulfilling experiences. One of the strengths of APS is that our faculty, staff, administration, and School Committee recognize the value of a well-rounded educational experience that integrates academics with arts, athletics, extracurricular clubs, leadership and service experiences, and other areas of interest. All of these opportunities provide pathways for engagement that help students discover themselves, build bonds with other students, and achieve a sense of personal accomplishment.

Just to illustrate some examples of the richness of these experiences, in the arts, the AHS Drama Guild presents an annual musical, a show for the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild festival, and a spring performance. Students in grades 8-12 participate in our award-winning marching band and pep band, while our four jazz bands draw students from grades 5 to 12. At AHS, we have an active art club, a National Arts Honor Society that uses volunteerism as its central tenet, a photography club, and many opportunities for community service. At the elementary level, Orff ensembles, choirs, and musicals are present in most schools, engaging many students from grades 3 to 5. Our students put on over fifty vocal, band or strings performance each year!

In athletics, our students can take part on 61 teams in 30 sports over three seasons. In 2018, we were proud that 915 students participated, and APS earned 11 total regional, division and state titles. We’ve seen great success already this fall, with our cheerleading, field hockey, football, golf, and boys’ and girls’ soccer teams competing in the post-season and the girls’ swim and dive team securing its 19th state championship.

For students who are eager to delve into math and science, APS offers numerous clubs that encourage their exploration. Our middle and high school math teams compete in the Massachusetts Association of Mathematics Leagues, the computer science club competes in the American Computer Science League competition, and the Girls’ Coding Club at AHS is teaching students at Doherty Middle School to code. Science teams such as SeaPerch Underwater Robotics teams, the BioBuilders Club, and the AHS Science Team regularly participate in state and national competitions.

For students who are especially civic-minded, many of our schools have a Student Council, and our AHS students can participate in the Mock Trial Club, the Debate Club, Amnesty International, Model UN, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, SADD, and the student newspaper.

Students have mentoring opportunities through the Warrior Way program, the WEB program, and the Be the Change club. Our students are encouraged to participate in service projects to connect with their community. Our Capstone and Global programs enable our students to deepen their learning experiences at APS as they seek to understand and further the United Nations’ sustainability goals.

The advisors who lead these activities are dedicated to enriching students’ experience at APS. They share their expertise and their excitement in ways that support and inspire students to challenge themselves and grow.

With so many opportunities, I encourage all students to get involved, discover their passion, and make the best of what APS offers. The opportunities are plentiful! And I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage everyone to attend our theater performance of “Legally Blonde” this weekend and see how wonderfully talented and engaged our students are in the theater arts.

So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to extend a truly heartfelt thanks to all the dedicated staff who support this wealth of activities that enrich students’ lives and build pride and community; thanks to the booster organizations and partners who jump in to assist with funding and volunteer time; and thanks to the community that understands the meaningfulness of extracurricular experiences and so strongly supports the array of programs we offer. I wish all APS families a wonderful Thanksgiving break.

Shelley Berman


APS by the numbers- Fine and Performing Arts at APS

The Fine and Performing Arts Department at APS is led by Sean Walsh, K-12 Visual and Performing Arts Program Coordinator.

Elementary Strings Program- 241

AHS Show Choir Numbers:

  • From Start to Finish - 54
  • Nothin' but Treble - 44
  • Back to Basics - 22

Students in our AHS Chamber Choir- 39

Students in our Middle School Band Program- 157

Students who participate in Elementary Orff Ensembles- 80

Students who participated in Jazz Band in 2018-2019- 68

Students in our Middle School Choral Program​- 204

Students attending this Saturday's Senior Districts for Choral, Band, and String program- 58

APS holds at Least 53 Vocal, Band or Strings concerts annually.

APS Community News

High Five Fridays at West Elementary- Honoring the Sebaskys

For many years, the High Five program has been an inspiration to students and staff at West Elementary. The program celebrates students who model good behaviors within their community, such as caring about classmates, working well with others, helping problems become smaller, being in control of body and words, and knowing when to ask for help. Once a month, West El holds a “High Five” assembly to recognize these students for their good works.

The assembly on November 15th took a different approach and honored Ellen and Greg Sebasky for their generosity to West Elementary and to the district as a whole. The Sebasky’s three daughters attended West Elementary many years ago, and Greg and Ellen established the Elizabeth Roos Staff Development Fund. The fund was established to recognize the visionary leadership embodied by Elizabeth Roos during her 34 years of service to the students and staff at West Elementary School and will provide continuous learning in the field of elementary education. The Sebasky family has also contributed to faculty and staff with a generous donation toward the purchase of new literacy books distributed throughout APS classrooms.

The theme for November’s assembly at West El was gratitude, and the students decided the most appropriate way to thank the Sebasky’s was to provide them with this month’s “High Five.” All at APS are grateful for their continued support.

National Education Support Professionals Day

Andover Public Schools joins schools across the country and the National Education Association to celebrate National Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day on November 20, 2019.

ESPs include paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, tradespeople and technical staff. They also include school security officers, school bus drivers, food service workers, and those who work in health and student services. ESPs meet the most fundamental needs of students, enabling them to reach higher levels of knowledge, achievement, and student success. APS appreciates the amazing ESPs who make a difference in the lives of students both inside and outside the classroom.

Special Olympics Jamboree at AHS

Andover High School hosted the MIAA North Sectional Unified Basketball Jamboree on Tuesday, November 14, 2019. Teams from Lowell, North Andover, Tewksbury, Billerica, Methuen, Lawrence and Haverhill joined Andover at the AHS field house. Photos courtesy of Lindsey Reeves.

Congratulations! Girls Swim and Dive Team

The AHS Girls Swim and Dive Team won the MIAA D1 Championship on Sunday, November 17th at MIT. The event is the nineteenth MIAA title for the team with their score (456.5 points) far out-distancing the second place team, Needham. Congratulations to all!

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Shawsheen Welcomes Community Readers

Students at Shawsheen recently hosted several members of the Andover community. Members of the police department, library, veterans’ services, recreation department, and school committee read the children some of their favorite stories! Mark Comeiro, director of Veterans Services for the town reads Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit!

APS CAPStone needs your expertise!

The APS K-12 Capstone program was launched four years ago and has grown from 5 high school seniors to over 100 students in grades 5, 8 and 12. The Capstone experience encourages students to design and pursue projects that are of personal and academic interests and take their learning beyond the boundaries of the classroom. These APS K-12 Capstone projects are student-centered, teacher- and community-mentored, authentic learning opportunities. And our students need the help of community mentors to give them insights into professional experiences in their areas of interest.

The APS CAPStone team would like to better utilize the professional diversity of the APS community as students delve into their primary research. One way to accomplish this is to create a CAPStone database of experts from the APS community who are willing to volunteer their time and share their knowledge and expertise in a given field. If you are interested in helping our students, click here.

School Start Times: Edulog Transportation Optimization Draft Report

A draft version of the Edulog Transportation Optimization Study for Andover Public Schools is available on our website. This report will remain in draft form, as Edulog will present this information at the November 21, 2019 School Committee meeting at 7 p.m. The presentation and discussion at the meeting will be informational only, there will be no vote on this matter that evening. We invite the community to review the study in advance of the meeting and to watch the meeting, which is streamed live on Andover TV’s website.

Snow Angels for Seniors

Interested in helping out a senior in your neighborhood this winter season? Become a "Snow Angel" for an elder in need of help shoveling pathways. To get involved, contact Andover Elder Services at 978-623-8320 or email

SEPAC meeting

On November 5, 2019, the Andover School Committee recognized a group of volunteer parents as Andover's Conditional Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC).

Every public school district in Massachusetts is required to establish a SEPAC, and state law assigns both an advisory and participatory function to SEPAC. The purpose of a SEPAC, as a public body, is to serve as an advisor to the School Committee on matters that pertain to the education and safety of students with disabilities. Further, a SEPAC is a self-governing body and is open to all parents of children with disabilities and other interested parties and will serve all families of children with special needs across the district.

Andover's Conditional SEPAC is now advancing with tasks aimed at re-establishing SEPAC for the families of Andover. An initial SEPAC working-group meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday November 20th, 2019 at 7:30 PM at the Doherty Middle School Auditorium. For advance notice, a second working meeting has also been scheduled for December 2nd, with details to follow.

Andover’s Town Governance Study Committee

Andover’s Town Governance Study Committee is hosting a series of listening sessions over the next several weeks. The Study Committee wants to know what is working well and not working well with Andover’s government. The committee wants to know whether, and why, Andover’s government is transparent, accessible, representative, effective, efficient, and accountable.

The remaining listening sessions will be held as follows:

  • Wednesday, November 20, 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Public Safety Center Auditorium
  • Wednesday, December 11, 9:00-10:30 a.m. in Memorial Hall Library, second floor hall