Counting one’s blessings is a daily exercise at St. Anthony’s School of Everett, but never did the school community think one of those counted blessings would be actually going to school in person.
However, that has been the case as the Pre-School to Grade 8 Catholic School in Everett has stayed in person most every week since September using some reconfigured routines and strict COVID-19 protocols. It has been a great and wonderful things for the children, and the families, said Principal Maria Giggie.
“We’ve been in school since Sept. 16,” said Giggie, now in her 15th year at St. Anthony’s. “We recently did a partial re-opening after Christmas in phases of 1, 2 and 3 because the cases in Everett were so high. Now everyone is back this week…Everybody is back physically in the building this week. Remote is okay, but over a long period of time, it becomes impossible for students and parents.”
St. Anthony’s is participating in Catholic Schools Week throughout next week and will have special, COVID-19 conscious, celebrations – such as a Mass and other fun things like a Pajama Day. Meanwhile, prospective students and parents are encouraged to come in-person to their Open Houses from Feb. 1-3 after making an appointment. The Open Houses are generally between 9-11 a.m. on those days, but Giggie said they are flexible.
Keeping away from all-remote has been very helpful to students and families, Giggie said, and has been a highlight of the year for them while their counterparts in the public schools have remained online this entire year.
“Remote is hard,” she said. “If people have to go to work, especially with younger children, you have to worry about getting them up on the screen. Nobody needs this kind of stress. Getting everyone back in school is best and of course, keeping necessary precautions in place when they are here is essential.”
Giggie said they have moved desks six feet apart in all classrooms, and now have four lunch sessions per day with two children at each table. There are a lot of other guidelines they’ve picked up from the best practices, such as having teachers come to the older students, instead of having students switch classrooms each period. That keeps them at the same desk all day and keeps them from having to move about the school and having contact with others.
“We’ve been blessed in this,” she said. “The teachers are a treasure and have gone above and beyond during school and after school. It is beyond what a teacher’s job description would be. They are always on. It’s been an amazing effort.”
The school has also been smart about utilizing the new technology as well. Some students have chosen to be at home, and teachers have quickly adapted to teaching in person and remotely at the same time – carrying around a technology cart to each classroom that doubles as the remote computer link for students at home. Likewise, on a few occasions, they have chosen to go all remote when the percent positive case numbers in Everett have soared far beyond 8 percent. In addition, some of their special occasions, have been moved online – like this year’s Christmas Play that was put together in a video celebration that was widely proclaimed as one of the best in years.
Needless to say, it is the in-person learning that has retained students this year, and increased the numbers of students in the older grades, Giggie said.
The student population has remained at around 200 this year, but that comes with fewer students in the pre-school and kindergarten, while more in the older grades.
“We did see an uptick in the older grades, quite a lot actually,” she said. “Because we provide on-site in school sessions, we have seen an increase in the numbers because we’re open.”
She said the younger children have also impressed her with their ability to adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines after teachers stressed them as part of the education plan this year.
“Honestly, I am impressed,” she said. “It’s unbelievable to see the 3 and 4-year-olds keeping their masks on and following the instructions. They have been so well-behaved.”
However, Principal Giggie said it has been an effort of every administrator, student and teacher in the building to keep school going in-person and to avoid any pitfalls brought on by COVID-19. It has simply been a blessing to be counted, she said.
“We’re blessed with our teachers, to see what they do every day,” she said. “Everybody is in it together because the most important thing is that we keep everyone in the school and provide an opportunity for parents to send their kids to school in person. We have been continually blessed by that.”
To schedule an appointment for the Open House next week, call the office of the school at (617) 389-2448.