Amelia Mack Is One to Speak Up, Not ‘SIT’ Back

By Al Daniel

Nearly a decade after Amelia Mack started attending public schools, her Montessori habits stick in both subtle and stark manners.

The Carrboro High School senior’s involvement in her School Improvement Team (SIT) typifies the latter. In the former, she references “Ms. Kendra” when fondly crediting teacher representative Kendra Hargett-Chamblee with bringing her on board.

Despite an imbalance between age groups, Mack approaches her SIT position with poise. The student-to-adult ratio is roughly the inverse of what one would find during class hours at CHS or the Montessori Community School. The 2019-20 roster has one pupil working with 13 teachers, parents, and staffers.

Yet Mack, who enrolled in the MCS Primary program and stayed through Lower Elementary in 2011, says her first stop prepared her for the present.

“At MCS,” she said, “I learned to communicate with adults at what was or seemed a more equal footing.”

In public schools around North Carolina, an SIT pursues proposals to optimize student performance. State law mandates participation by the principal and other key administrators plus faculty and parent representatives.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro district takes an extra step by requiring student membership on its middle and high school SITs. Carrboro High began fulfilling that obligation by enlisting three students in 2018-19.

When she was a rising junior the preceding spring, Mack was recommended by Hargett-Chamblee. Eager to bring her views on issues ranging from dress code to student safety, she accepted and joined two seniors.

As it happened, Mack arrived on the SIT concurrently with parent representative Katherine Asaro. Mack overlapped with Asaro’s son Jackson at MCS for five years, and again at Carrboro for two. Asaro’s daughter Sawyer, who was a Mustang through Upper Elementary, is now a CHS sophomore.

Each of the multigenerational, reunited Pope Road acquaintances exudes a second-nature Montessori attitude when they openly value each other’s SIT assets.

“I’ve known her forever,” Mack said of Asaro. “Always considered her a ‘cool mom.’ Katherine offers insight into the school by knowing what the school was like when her older son was there.”

Even if she could not commit name and face combinations to memory, Asaro would have an easy time recognizing the MCS alumni at CHS. Whether they maxed out their eligibility in the Adolescent Community or had a more abbreviated stay, the school’s influence radiates in their conduct and confidence.

Of Mack, Asaro said, “You can see that she benefited from a curriculum developing the ‘whole child’ — emotionally, physically, socially, and academically. She is both independent and an active member of the Carrboro High community.”

To that point, according to the archived records, Mack has missed only two meetings since she started. The SIT convenes 10 times per academic year, typically on a month’s second Tuesday, at the campus media center for between 75 minutes and two hours.

Per the archived minutes on the school’s website, since Mack joined, key subjects have included the budget and its effect on all CHS programs, concerns over vaping and substance abuse, race relations, standardized testing, college guidance, and prom.

“We talk a lot about how to diversify the committee itself,” added Mack. “It is made up of mostly white parents, and we would like to change that.”

The invitation to weigh in on it all upfront was a cathartic throwback to one of Mack’s most valued MCS takeaways.

“I think it made me feel more respected at a young age,” she said. “When I moved to public school that was crushed.

“Now that I’m in high school, the School Improvement Team has helped me have that feeling again. I feel like my voice is heard and I have a say in my learning environment. I feel listened to, and this is important for kids to really feel heard.”

Through her input, Mack gets to build on her public-speaking prowess, another trait she traces back to MCS. Poetry readings were the catalyst on that front.

“I don’t really remember much about the poems I recited,” she admits. “I did one about a cat and an owl. But I certainly gained public-speaking skills and not being afraid to be in front of peers.”

Within her age group at CHS, she has established herself as the poetry club’s leader. In addition, in the winter of her sophomore year, she stood out with five other Carrboro representatives in the district’s annual pool of art students selected for the PTA Reflections showcase.

Mack has also sat in on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro equity committee and carried her takeaways back to her peers for class-hour discussions. But now that she is this year’s only student holdover on the SIT, her Montessori background shines most distinctly in the early evening every four-to-five Tuesdays.

In the media center, her presence is conspicuous through more than an age difference. In fact, based on Asaro’s accounts, Mack’s maturity arguably obscures that discrepancy.

“Amelia is the epitome of a ‘Montessori kid’ in the SIT meetings,” she said. “She is polite and respectful of everyone there, while at the same time being assertive and advocating for herself and other students in a meaningful way.

“She is not afraid to ask questions, dig deep, and push the conversation. Maria Montessori would be very proud. At the core, she is focused and calm. She takes her role seriously, but still maintains a sense of humor, vital to success when addressing important issues.

“These are all attributes of Montessori Community School students and graduates, and makes me proud every time I see them in action.”