HAVERHILL, Mass. — A former Haverhill High School student who was expelled more than two decades ago returned to campus Monday to talk to students in the wake of violence at the school.
Michy Morillo, who was expelled when she was 16 for drugs and other bad behavior, spoke to students during assemblies and an after-school event Monday.
“I was actually a juvenile delinquent from the ages of 14 to 18,” Morillo told Boston 25 News more than 25 years after her expulsion. “I am reaching back to those youth and helping them become the best version of themselves… They’re able to say – as someone that has been locked up 2, 3, 4 times – ‘If she can do it, I can, too.’”
Morillo, now a life coach living in Florida, has written a book, Cell Dreamer, for incarcerated youth. She tours the country sharing her story to empower kids to make positive choices and prevent going down the path she once took.
“There’s a reason kids behave the way they do, whether it starts at home or they want acceptance,” Morillo said. “As a coach, that’s what I tap into: ‘There’s a reason why you’re behaving the way you do. Is it for attention? Is it because you’re lacking something?’”
Like many schools across the state, Haverhill High School has had fights break out during school hours in recent weeks. This month, several students were involved in a large cafeteria brawl, leading to injuries, including a staff member. Seven students were criminally charged by police.
Violence Intervention & Prevention (VIP) Haverhill organized Monday’s events, inviting Morillo back to her hometown to share her message of being respectful and responsible and communicating rather than resorting to violence.
“Our mission is to promote peace and prevent violence throughout our schools and community here in Haverhill,” said program director Carol Ireland, who told Boston 25 News Morillo is getting through to youth who are struggling.
“Michy’s one of us,” added VIP Haverhill’s adviser. “Eridania Nieves. “Each and every one of [these students], they are important, and they need to hear that and feel that from someone that gets it and understands it… Her energy and her vibe, it’s what we need.”
After listening to Michy speak in class, dozens of students returned to school Monday night to continue the conversation. Some brought their parents.
“I really appreciated what she was saying. [I returned], so I could actually get the full experience,” said student Alexis Namulinda.
“The kids at our school are going to be able to relate to her more because she’s lived it,” said sophomore Gertrude Boakye. “It’s going to inspire kids to do better because I think as a school we all need to do better.”
Organizers believe the program is a positive step toward a safer school environment where the focus can be solely on education.
“There’s a lot of underlying factors to why kids become violent. And it’s not about finger pointing, and it’s not about one particular reason,” said middle school health teacher and VIP Haverhill adviser Lori Curry. “So, this is a piece of the puzzle that we’re trying to provide to hopefully show kids that there’s hope and that we never give up on our kids. That even when they’re at their worst, that we want to always believe that there’s something out there that will reach them.”
Morillo said she will follow up by Zoom in the coming weeks with students who want further assistance in making good choices and staying on the right path.
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