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Waterford High School students greeted at entrance by community leaders

Waterford — Early Tuesday morning, as students stepped off the bus and walked to the building half-awake, they were greeted with energetic applause, good mornings and welcomes.

Many town leaders and community members took the morning to support the students on their first day and "encourage them that this is going to be a good year," said Kevin Booker Jr., founder of Booker Empowerment LLC, an organization that specializes in motivational speaking and work in adversity, inclusion and equity.

Booker organized the plan to bring special guests to greet the students, having done so at New London High School for five years. He said this is about "bringing communities together, a collaborative effort to empower students."

As a teacher walked through the line and was welcomed, Booker said the initiative also was to support educators.

Guests were stationed at the front entrance, field house and back entrance. Among the guests, First Selectman Rob Brule said this was the start of better times for the students.

Superintendent Tom Giard, accompanied by Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers, concurred: "This is a sense of what school used to be and should be."

Giard said hallmark events would be "brought back to life." Additionally, COVID-19 relief funds have enabled the district to provide funding in technology for every student, additional academic staff, tutors, mental health staff and the two new school-based health clinics.

Holding the door for students as they walked in, Assistant Principal Kirk Samuelson said the school was prepared for the year, having implemented mitigation strategies that were known to work from last year.

He said the goal is to focus on teaching and learning, ensuring students are in the classroom unless they are quarantining, to which he added the students would be able to meet virtually on Zoom with a teacher from each core subject if they need further assistance. 

Some of the special guests on Wednesday had children of their own they were welcoming in.

Board of Education member Amanda Gates Lamonthe said her twin boys were starting their senior year. Officer Mark Devine said he was there as additional support from the police and saw his son pass by on his first day of high school. Lisa Tellier, a mail carrier for the post office, stopped by to welcome everyone and her daughter who is a senior this year. 

"Feels great," junior Emma Grimsy said about the community leaders she'd just walked past. "Having everyone back is gonna be exciting."

j.vazquez@theday.com

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