SOMERVILLE, NJ – Bound and determined, the sixth-graders had done their research and were well prepared for their presentation to the Borough Council, just a few days before the end of the school year.
With all the aplomb of a seasoned trial lawyer and precision of a professional planner, the panel of students from Somerville Middle School presented their case.
Each of the six students - Abigael Gallaghar, Merrick Testa, Brandon Bray, Jr., AJ Carlson, Angie Rivera and Miracle Coit – addressed the social and health benefits of a municipal pool that could be enjoyed by borough residents of all ages.
Their talking points: Exercise can delay aging and reduce blood pressure and help people with diabetes; the pool would improve community bonding and should be a high priority.
Their conclusion – the borough needs a new pool – and it should be named in honor of Paul Robeson, undeniably the most famous person to have lived in the borough and who also attended school in the same building as they do in the early 1900s.
Robeson went on to attend Rutgers University, where he was an All-American football player and valedictorian of his class. He went on to a prolific career as a vocalist and actor and in his later life was a social activist.
One month earlier, the students had been given a tour of Borough Hall by Mayor Dennis Sullivan, who challenged the students to become involved in their community.
They took him at his word.
Teacher Sally Booth explains how the project came together:
“In English/Language Arts, the 6th graders read “The Giver, “ which is about a dystopian community. With each novel, the students have a problem-based learning component.
“For this unit, the students researched what makes a community successful. The students then looked at what has made Somerville a thriving community and then researched ways to continue to improve our community.
“After researching, the students determined that the community pool needs improvement. They then researched the benefits of swimming and pools and they wrote argumentative essays.
“Then they explored famous residents of Somerville and determined that Paul Robeson would be the best name for the pool. As you know, we took a field trip to town hall and the Mayor encouraged the students to come back to town hall and present their conclusions.
“During the first marking period, the 6th graders researched food waste in the middle school and went to Somerville Board of Education and offered solutions to the food waste problem. They were able to get new recycling bins put into the cafeteria. These projects empower them to make changes in the world around them.
"They understand that these outcomes may not always be a success, but the process teaches them that their voice matter, and should be heard,” Booth said.
Members of the Borough Council were impressed.
“You should be very proud and your parents should be very proud,” said Councilwoman Jane Kobuta.
The borough does maintain and operate two outdoor pools and spray parks during the summer.
Sullivan said the students’ proposal would be referred to the borough’s Recreation Department, which operates the recreational water facilities.