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With great fanfare, Concord students return to class

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  • School counselor Ashley Barsaleau and therapy dog Hazel greet students on the first day of school at Beaver Meadow. EILEEN O’GRADY / Monitor staff

  • School counselor Ashley Barsaleau and therapy dog Hazel greet students on the first day of school at Beaver Meadow School on Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O’GRADY—Monitor staff

  • School counselor Ashley Barsaleau and therapy dog Hazel greet students on the first day of school at Beaver Meadow School on Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O’GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Principal Michelle Vance and assistant principal Siza Mtimbiri welcome students back to the first day at Beaver Meadow School on Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O’GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Assistant principal Siza Mtimbiri and Principal Michelle Vance ring the bell to signify the start of the new school year at Beaver Meadow School on Sept. 1. EILEEN O’GRADY / Monitor staff

  • Second grade teacher Shana Olszewski gets her students ready to enter the building on the first day at Beaver Meadow School, Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Principal Michelle Vance ushers students toward the building on the first day at Beaver Meadow School. EILEEN O’GRADY / Monitor staff

  • Music teacher Robert Fogg greets students as they enter the building on the first day back at Beaver Meadow School, Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Music teacher Robert Fogg greets students as they enter the building on the first day back at Beaver Meadow School, Sept. 1, 2021. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Math coach Erica Izzi holds Julia da Vitoria as others try to convince her to enter Abbot-Downing on the first day of school on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Eventually, Izzi and a fellow student who spoke Spanish were able to convince Julia to enter on her first day. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Brain Sharkey, 10, does a handstand as his sister Emily, 6, plays around the welcome sign at Abbot-Downing Elementary School on opening day, Wednesday, September 1, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Family friend Kelly Gorbi talks to Julia da Vitoria in Portuguese, trying to convince her to enter Abbot-Downing School on the first day as Julia’s mom stands by. Eventually, a fellow student who spoke Spanish and a math coach were able to get Julia to enter the building. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Legend London walks up to the entrance for the kindergarten classes with his parents Bryson London and Hannah Parker on the first day of school on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Gracielle da Vitoria comforts her daughter Julia on the first day of school at Abbot-Downing School on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Eventually, a teacher and a fellow student who spoke Spanish were able to convince her to enter the building. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Legend London gets a hug from his dad, Bryson London, on the first day of school at Abbot-Downing on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Brain Sharkey, 10, does a handstand as his sister Emily, 6, plays around the welcome sign at Abbot-Downing school on opening day, Wednesday, September 1, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Emily Sharkey, 6, walks in front of the Abbot-Downing sign at the first day of school on Wednesday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • First year math coach Erica Izzi greets students at Abbot-Downing Elementary School on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Kelly Gorbi helps convince Julia da Vitoria to enter Abbot-Downing School as teachers rally to help on Wednesday.

  • Legend London says goodbye to his mother, Hannah Parker, at the first day of school at Abbot-Downing on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Legend was entering kindergarten for the first time. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Gracielle da Vitoria comforts her daughter, Julia, on the first day of school at Abbot-Downing School on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Eventually, a fellow student who spoke Spanish and a teacher were able to convince her to enter on her first day. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/1/2021 4:40:09 PM

Principal Michelle Vance and assistant principal Siza Mtimbiri pulled hard on the rope to make the bell above Beaver Meadow School clang Wednesday morning, marking the start of a new school year amid cheers from parent onlookers.

As the elementary students arrived on the first day, exiting from buses and cars, they located their teachers, who were dressed in colorful tie-dye T-shirts, and lined up by grade level outside the school building for a kickoff ceremony that involved the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the school song. Some kids were excited, hugging their teachers, waving and dancing. Others were timid or sad, clinging to their parents’ legs. Hazel, the Concord School District’s therapy dog, was on hand to comfort the nervous ones.

“I’m just so grateful that we can be together,” Vance said. “We just want to stay safe and be able to learn and grow together, that’s really all we want.”

Ringing the bell and singing the school song on the first day is an annual tradition at Beaver Meadow School. The school has a corresponding tradition for the last day, when graduating fifth graders take turns ringing the bell to mark the end of their elementary years.

The first day scenes in Concord this year were vastly different from the year before. In September 2020, all students started the year remotely, with the exception of English language learners, students on IEPs and 504 plans, unhoused students and those in the CRTC program. This year, everyone is learning in-person five days a week, with safety restrictions like universal masking indoors. Concord’s policy requires masks until either the vaccination rate in the city of Concord reaches 70% or a COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children under age 12. Concord’s vaccination rate is currently 59.4%.

“People did a lot of work to prepare, making sure all the systems were in place and I think it went off without a hitch,” said Superintendent Kathleen Murphy. “Obviously the children were really excited to be back in school full time with their teachers, and teachers were as excited as the kids to be back.”

Murphy visited Christa McAuliffe School on Wednesday. Each of the district administrators spread out and visited a different school building, to monitor operations on the first day.

Only sixth grade students attended Rundlett Middle School on Wednesday, and had a full day to get used to the new school building before the older students start Thursday. As they arrived in the morning, they were greeted by school employees wearing matching T-shirts and holding signs by the entrance.

“At the middle school level I think that the parents are as nervous as the kids – it’s a big transition,” Principal Paulette Fitzgerald said Wednesday morning. “A big part of our job is reassuring the parents.”

Both Vance and Fitzgerald said their schools are increasing the focus on social emotional learning after the 2020-21 pandemic year. At Rundlett, teachers are being trained in Responsive Classroom, an education approach focused on boosting students’ social and emotional competence. They’re also developing a screening tool to help identify the kids who are struggling the most.

“We’re trying to incorporate that whole SEL-focus even into content areas in regular classrooms, how we’re approaching kids, trying to be really sensitive to what their needs are and looking at behaviors differently,” Fitzgerald said. “Behavior is always information. What are they telling us through their behaviors? What is it that they need and how can we support them?”

The district is putting extra effort into collecting Free and Reduced Lunch forms from families this year. Murphy said forms were sent out to every family, and were also made available at back to school info sessions.

Breakfast and lunch are free for everyone in the district for the second year in a row because of federal COVID-19 waivers, but Murphy says its still important for parents to fill out the Free and Reduced forms, because the data will be used by the state and federal government to determine future funding for the district.

Last year, a lack of Free and Reduced paperwork due to universal free lunches created a false perception of low Free and Reduced enrollment in many districts, which caused administrators to worry about future funding. A trailer bill passed with the state budget in July temporarily fixed the issue for schools by allowing the Department of Education to use pre-pandemic enrollment numbers to calculate aid for this year, but many administrators are hoping to get their districts back on track with data collection.

“Those forms are really important that families fill out,” Murphy said. “The data that we collect from those forms is the data that we submit to the Department of Education and is used in the formula we receive in entitlement. Title I, II, III and the Perkins grant for CRTC all use data from Free and Reduced.”


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



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