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Two Stonington schools continue with in-person learning every day

Stonington — While public school systems across the region bounce between hybrid and all remote learning as they deal with COVID-19 cases, one private school and one parochial school here continue with in-person learning every day.

Both Pine Point School and St. Michael School have had students in class each day since the school year began in September. Both have returned to school from the holiday break and plan to continue through June.

Both are praising the cooperation of their students, families and staff for their success, as well as the physical attributes of their facilities — Pine Point students go outside for lunch, recess and some classes while St. Michael just moved into the much larger quarters at the former West Broad Street school in Pawcatuck. 

At Pine Point, Head of School Diana Owen said Tuesday that the staff worked really hard last spring and summer to prepare for the return, students would understand all that would be required of them and mask-wearing, social distancing and disinfecting procedures were all in place. Students, staff and anyone coming on campus must fill out a symptom checker each day.

"We've been very, very fortunate. The students have been enthusiastic. They really want to be here," she said. "The parents, the faculty and the staff all have been excellent partners."

Owen said the school also has leaned heavily on using its outdoor space, which includes 67 acres of athletic fields and woods, for learning. 

"Even now in the cold they eat lunch and snacks outside and they have some classes outside. They spend a lot of time outside and they enjoy it," she said.

The school, with 150 students and 50 staff members in preschool through ninth grade, had one hiccup in the fall, when school paused a few days to evaluate the situation after a few positive cases were reported. 

The school also conducted "reassurance testing" of staff and students after the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks to ensure they could return safely.

Owen said the school worked closely with its staff during the planning for the school year to address any questions and concerns they had.

"It's been a very collaborative approach. They very much wanted to be here," she said about the staff.

Owen said the school also understands each family has it own concerns and students can study remotely if they wish. "We want them to be safe and feel comfortable," she said. 

Owen said Pine Point, like every school and group of educators, is doing everything it possibly can to keep school going.

"We just tried to put in every mitigation measure we could and help people understand we have to work together to make it happen," she said. "Every day has been a gift." 

At St. Michael, where there are 168 students and 20 staff members in prekindergarten through eighth grade, Principal Doris Messina said Wednesday the school has been very fortunate, as parents "have been doing all the things we need them to do," such as keeping students home if they have any symptoms or need to quarantine.   

"Everyone wants our children to be in school so we're all working together to make sure that happens," she said.

"We can't let our guard down, not even for one day," she added.

If students need to stay home to quarantine, they can attend class remotely as well as those who have chosen to study that way during the pandemic. 

Messina said the school is very fortunate to be at the expansive West Broad Street School, which it moved to this summer after outgrowing its former home on Liberty Street. The extra space allows students to space apart. 

In addition to the usual mask-wearing, social distancing and disinfecting, she said students in middle school grades do not change class but teachers go to them. This decreases movement and keeps students in their same group. Students also stay together at recess and do not mix with other students.

While West Broad has a cafeteria, something the old school did not, it is not being used for lunch. Students continue to eat in their classroom, which Messina said they are used to doing.

But they do not bring lunch. Instead, staff and students get lunch delivered each day; students' parents order the food in advance online. On Monday lunch comes from Casa Della Luce, Tuesday from the Malted Barley, Wednesday is Bogue's Alley, Thursday is McQuade's Marketplace and Friday is Subway.

While there is no organized testing at the school, Messina said there are temperature checks and parents are asked to monitor their children's health each day before sending them to school. 

"Our parents have been really good. They know they can keep them home because they can still attend class online," she said.

Messina hopes the success will continue through the spring.

"So far so good. We're taking it one day at a time," she said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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