Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Pawtucket 04-07-2021

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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2 IN OUR SCHOOLS APRIL 7-13, 2021 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION PAWTUCKET – After learning virtually for almost an entire school year, Olivia McNichols, a freshman at the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Pawtucket, said it's been much better being able to attend in-person classes and she feels less frustrated and drained at the end of the school day. "It's been very, very beneficial," she told The Breeze. "Distance learn- ing has been very, very hard, espe- cially on my mental health." Last week, starting on Tuesday, March 30, high school stu- dents in Pawtucket who wished to do so were allowed to attend in-person classes for the first time all school year. While there are still some students choosing to virtu- ally learn full-time, students who are back in school are following a hybrid schedule, with half the class attend- ing Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other half going Wednesdays and Fridays. On the days they're not in school, students are virtually learn- ing, and Monday is a distance learn- ing day for all. To ease the stress and provide support for the freshmen who were entering JMW for the first time last week, the school's PTO created and distributed 60 "survival kits," bags filled with items they might have for- gotten in their excitement to head to school, according to the organizers, including pens and pencils, pads of paper, hand sanitizer, water bottles, granola bars, and more. "We really wanted to come togeth- er for the freshmen," Ben Mayers, president of the PTO and father of freshman Gianna Mayers, told The Breeze. "A lot of these students haven't been in school since (March) of last year." Stephanie Baxter, secretary of the PTO, agreed, saying that parents and teachers on the PTO "have been so happy to see many of our kids return to school. Last year we ral- lied around our seniors, but we were most concerned now for our fresh- men who had not been inside their high school since the auditions or open house in 2019." Mayers noted that for a lot of freshmen, this year is a big transition year and normally students make a lot of relationships when they're in person and seeing peers not just in classes but before and after school and at lunch. "They didn't really get that (with distance learning)," he said. His daughter, Gianna, agreed, tell- ing The Breeze that with only time for classes and lacking the informal con- versations that happen naturally at school, "online it was hard to make friends or talk to anyone." Gianna and McNichols, both of Pawtucket, said they appreciated the survival kits the PTO gave them. "I thought it was really, really sweet," McNichols said, while Gianna added, "They are really nice and useful." Ben and Baxter's husband, John Baxter, dropped the kits off at the school last Monday so staff could dis- tribute them to students. Baxter said they have had "great feedback from parents" on the kits. "It felt great to do something, even if it was smaller than we hoped," she said. Without being able to host their normal fundraisers due to the pan- demic, she said their funds are lower than normal this year. In one of the virtual PTO meet- ings, members discussed what stu- dents might be stressed about with returning to school and heard that some freshmen were concerned about getting lost in the building. Teacher Jason Marchetti hosted a video tour for them prior to their return, she said. "He eased fears ahead of time." While the PTO is focused on the freshmen class at the moment, Baxter and Ben said they will turn their attention to the seniors soon but don't have concrete plans yet. While the PTO had just three mem- bers for a long time, Ben said they have approximately 70 people they contact and 20 active members right now. "Over the years we're pretty proud of the ways we've been able to sup- port teachers and students," Baxter said. Last week they also teamed up with Ricardo Pimentel, director of JMW, to provide teachers with coffee and pastries. "We'll continue to do some of that throughout the year," Baxter said. Students at Shea and Tolman also returned last week, with Shea Principal Jacqueline Ash noting that approximately 400 students returned. "It was quiet but an exciting quiet," she said. She noted that she feels bad for the students, especially the seniors since it's their last year and the freshmen who haven't had the opportunity to experience events such as pep rallies and assemblies where they can build camaraderie. "Absolutely," she said when asked if she's happy that at least some of the students are back. "There's noth- ing like seeing the kids ... I think I smiled all day long (the first day)." She said that the staff deserves kudos for going above and beyond, and her message to students is to take everything one day at a time and "don't forget that Shea is here" for any type of concerns. 'I'm a lot calmer' McNichols, who attended Slater Middle School last year, said she's Survival kits ease return to high school By MELANIE THIBEAULT Valley Breeze Staff Writer melanie@valleybreeze.com Members of the PTO at the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Pawtucket made these "SUR- VIVAL KITS" for the freshmen class on their first day of in-person learning last week, which included pens, pads of paper, water bottles, snacks, and more. GIANNA MAYERS, a freshman at the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Pawtucket, and her father, BEN MAYERS, president of the school's PTO. 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