St. Mary’s High has 34 new students, elementary school is full with a waiting list
WESTFIELD – St. Mary’s Parish Schools started the school year in-person Aug. 31.
While the majority of area public schools will start the school year in mid-September and have a hybrid of remote and in-person learning or fully remote instruction, students from Pre-K through grade 12 will have full-day instruction in St. Mary’s schools.
Having the in-person instruction was appealing to many families whose children previously attended public school. At St. Mary’s Parish School, there are 70 new students and all classrooms, grades PreK -8, are full this year for the first time in a while.
“There are 229 students enrolled and waiting lists in all grades,” said Daniel R. Baillargeon, superintendent of catholic schools, Diocese of Springfield.
Baillargeon said it was a great first day back.
“The teachers, staff, families, and volunteers did a tremendous job in getting the building ready,” he said. “The students were overjoyed to see one another and their teachers. We practiced a lot of new procedures and got learning on track already in the first day.”
Teachers were also thrilled to be in school.
“In talking with the teachers, they were so happy to have the children back in class. At the end of the day, they too expressed that they were more tired than years’ past because of the new protocols; however, they were glad to be back with their students,” said Baillargeon.
At the high school, there are 22 ninth graders and 12 transfer students for a total of 80 students in grades 9-12. Even with social distancing, Principal Matthew Collins said there is still room for new students.
“We have a university model schedule and not all students in all grades are in class at the same time,” he said. “We have small classes so we could accommodate more students.”
St. Mary’s High School opened its doors Sunday evening for returning students and their families, as well as new students, to see the classrooms set-up for social distancing. Guests also received a warm welcome from staff ahead of opening day and the Foundation of the Diocese of Springfield provided a food truck for the event.
Collins said the summer was spent preparing the school spaces.
“All desks are six feet apart and we took down a wall in the English classroom to make more room,” Collins said. “We have 18 hand sanitizing stations; one in every classroom, in the hallways and in the cafeteria.”
Unlike many other schools that plan to have students eat in their classrooms, St. Mary’s High students will eat in the cafeteria.
“We added a third lunch, so there will be 26 students in each lunch and no academics during the lunch block,” Collins said. “Students who are not eating will have study hall, which gives teachers the opportunity to give extra instruction if a student needs help.”
Collins said St. Mary’s schools worked closely with Westfield Public Schools throughout the pandemic.
“Westfield Public Schools have been phenomenal to work with,” he said.
Because St. Mary’s has a fraction of the students in the public schools, Collins said it was easier for them to work with families to bring students back to school buildings. He also said he believes their size will also keep students safe.
“As long as everyone follows the guidelines for safety, I think we will be able to get through this school year safely,” he said. “I’m excited for the students to come back. In the spring I sat in on some classroom zoom meetings, but there is nothing like seeing them ‘face to face’.”