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Mr. Adams and His Save the World Club

Susan Notes:

Ohanian Comment: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Winerip is back!!!! What a way to start the day--to see Michael Winerip's name on a piece. I'd say this piece reveals something about two good men.

As one reader commented:: A hell-of-a-story, beautifully told.

Personal Note: When I taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and again at a high school, one of my course requirements was Write a letter to right a wrong. Students always asked for help--a hint of where to write/what to write. I told them the key to the assignment was they had to find it for themselves. Our results were not in the realm as those of Mr. Adams. Ours were letters of complaint, not letters to change the world. But even so, it was a very effective/affecting writing assignment, encouraging kids to write about something that mattered in their own lives. The bonus was most received replies: I'll never forget the look on the face of the college kid who received a case of Campbell's soup.

By Michael Winerip

In 2005, I visited the main public library in my hometown of Quincy, Mass., south of Boston. I was there to speak about my new novel for middle school students. After my presentation, a man approached the podium trailed by a half dozen boys and girls. He said he was Ron Adams and that he taught 100 extraordinary students at Broad Meadows Middle School.

I glanced at them; they didn̢۪t look that extraordinary.

He wanted to know if I̢۪d be willing to return to Quincy some day and speak to his classes about writing.

I assumed we were making conversation, but it turned out we were making plans.

I̢۪ve been back every year since, although each fall I̢۪m sure this is the year I will say no to Mr. Adams.

It̢۪s certainly not convenient; I live in New York, a five-hour drive away. For years my work and family schedule were so tight that I left my home at 4:30 a.m., spent the day at Broad Meadows, then drove back afterward.

No matter. As everyone who meets Mr. Adams quickly learns — senators, governors, mayors, military brass, school superintendents, Harvard professors, the cafeteria ladies at Broad Meadows — it is impossible to say no to him and his 100 extraordinary seventh graders. He is a 64-year-old boomer, has been an English teacher in this blue-collar city for 33 years and in that time has learned to wheedle and noodle and flatter until people feel ashamed if they don’t do this one little thing for the children of Broad Meadows.

Through his writing assignments and his after-school human rights club — parents call it Mr. Adams’s Save the World Club — his students have achieved remarkable things.

As a seventh grader in the late 1980s, Margaret Laforest — now 37 and the Quincy councilwoman from Ward 1 — led a letter-writing campaign to bring a World War II battleship to the Quincy shipyard and convert it into a museum.

She even met with Senator Ted Kennedy to fill him in on it.

By her sophomore year in college the U.S.S. Salem was docked here and opened as a museum.

In the 1990s for her seventh-grade class project, Kerri Piccuito, now a nurse, began recording oral histories of the women who worked at the shipyard during World War II and was soon after joined by her classmates. They eventually tracked down 40 Quincy residents whose interviews are now archived at Harvard University̢۪s Schlesinger Library.

In Mr. Adams̢۪s class in 1994, Amanda Younger, now 31, was a founder of what became a national fund-raising project that eventually collected $250,000 to help poor children in Pakistan.

Here is a very minor example of how Mr. Adams works: He sends me an e-mail at the start of the school year with the subject line, "Good news from Ron Adams at Broad Meadows."

"It's October, everything seems possible at this great time of year," he wrote in 2008. "None of the kids has given up on himself/herself. Everyone is trying to learn as much as possible."

And then: "Do you think it remotely possible that you might be visiting Quincy in the next few months? If so, do you think a classroom visit is possible?"

October 2009: "This is perhaps outrageous of me to ask. But I was hoping and hoping that you could visit the students here for a day at Broad Meadows."

0ctober 2010: "Another school year has begun. This one is more difficult due to increases in class size, layoffs and program cutbacks and eliminations in the City of Quincy and across Massachusetts. Still, most of the teachers and all of the students are hoping for the best year of education they̢۪ve ever had."

October 2011: "I'm hoping you will be able to teach one more time at Broad Meadows Middle before the snowstorms start arriving. If life prevents one more visit, I totally understand."


Suffice it to say I was there last Friday for my annual visit, arriving half an hour early.

Beth Bloomer, 27 -- the oldest of seven Bloomers to have Mr. Adams, including Caroline, the last Bloomer, who is in his class this year -- says a major reason she became an English teacher is Mr. Adams, and she still calls for advice.

Every Monday he gives a writing assignment. On Friday he collects it and on Monday he hands all 100 papers back with comments. "I once asked him how he did it," she said.

His answer: Four hours on Saturday and four on Sunday.

A few years ago, when there was a rumor Mr. Adams was putting in his papers for retirement, Roberta Bloomer, a practicing Roman Catholic and mother of the seven Bloomers, prayed that he would stay until her youngest had him. "I don't know what happened, I'm just grateful to God he's still there," she said.

On the first day of school he gives his annual Write a Wrong assignment, which is due on the last day of the school year. Students identify something that upsets them and write a letter to someone in a position to fix it. One of Mr. Adams̢۪s big sayings is, "Put your anger to action and put it in writing."

Beth Bloomer wrote about an American company abusing child labor laws overseas; a classmate wrote about a busy corner near Broad Meadows that needed a stop sign.

Asked the secret of Mr. Adams's success, Ms. Laforest, the city councilwoman, said: "Some people look at you like you're just a kid. Not Ron Adams, he sees what a kid could be."

They know they've said something smart when Mr. Adams says, "You̢۪re making my head spin."

In connection with my visit each year, he teaches a lesson on investigative reporting. On Friday, they went around the room describing their projects. One girl is investigating a room that's always locked at school; another girl is trying to determine if helmets for youth soccer really work; someone else is trying to see why an environmental project for the marshes behind the school was never completed.

Caroline Bloomer and her partner are doing something so secret that they can't tell anybody. One thing she likes about Mr. Adams is that he trusts them to go into an empty classroom nearby and work (secretly) on their own.

If his students are commenting on each other's writing they must use bricks (constructive criticism) and bouquets (say something rosy).

Like Quincy, the Broad Meadows student body is not wealthy. Half the children qualify for subsidized lunches; many live in projects.

Ms. Younger's parents divorced when she was a child and she repeatedly moved around the country, attending eight schools by the time she got her high school diploma.

She arrived at Broad Meadows in seventh grade not knowing anyone and took a seat in the back of Mr. Adams̢۪s class. "What I loved, he would always see what I was up to," she said. "Mr. Adams makes sure each kid is touched."

When I asked about this, he mentioned growing up in a two-bedroom apartment in South Boston, one of four children, sharing a room with a brother and two sisters.

He hates all the standardized testing in education today and does as little test preparation as possible, yet his students make scoring gains well beyond the state average. Besides the Save the World Club, he coaches track and cross-country and for the last 10 years has been the faculty representative to the school̢۪s parent teacher organization.

Though he could have retired five years ago when his pension maxed out and has had opportunities to go to wealthy districts, he believes Room 109 at Broad Meadows is where he belongs.

It wasn't until last week, as I did interviews for this article, that I learned Mr. Adams is a former state teacher of the year, former Quincy Citizen of the Year and that his students have won numerous human rights and civil rights awards.

When I e-mailed saying that I was surprised it had never come up, he wrote back: "We do not brag about nor hang those awards up in our school because we do not want children to think that chasing awards is a priority at our school."

Mr. Adams said they are stored in a safe place for anyone who wants to see them.

— Michael Winerip
New York Times



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