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Catholic schools begin new year focused on learning, safety

  • A student waves as he enters Lawrence Catholic Academy for his first day of school Sept. 7. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Students in Ms. Tobey’s second-grade class begin work on the first day of school at Lawrence Catholic Academy. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Students in Miss Rosa’s Pre-K classroom give a thumbs-up. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • A student in Ms. Rossi’s Kindergarten class works with clay. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault

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LAWRENCE -- Like schools across the archdiocese, Lawrence Catholic Academy began the new academic year this week with a sense of optimism and a commitment to education in a safe environment.

Teachers, parents, and students gathered outside the school on the morning of Sept. 7 for the first day of class. As students assembled outside the school, St. Patrick Parish pastor, Father Paul O'Brien, led everyone in an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, and then offered a blessing. He noted that it was the first time they were all together in person since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted the shutdown of schools and the transition to remote instruction.

Lawrence Catholic Academy's students gradually returned to the school building in the fall of 2020. The pre-K and kindergarten classes were the first to resume in-person learning. Then, in October, a new class returned every two weeks, so that by Christmas the building was open to all students. The only cases of COVID-19 in the school were those brought from outside, and there was no transmission of the virus within the school community.

This year, all the academy's students are back for in-person instruction, with protocols in place to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. As in all archdiocese-run schools, masks will be worn indoors by all staff, faculty, and students ages five or older, though they can be removed for meals and outdoor recess. The school has also joined the state's program to do pool testing for students once a week. To limit the number of people in the building, the school had parents drop off students in the parking lot on the first day rather than accompany them inside.

Given the low incidence of coronavirus cases in the school last year, "I think that we're in a very good position to keep our kids safe and guarantee them a wonderful year," Principal Mary Kelly said on the morning of the first day.

"That's our promise to our parents, to keep our kids safe," she said.

Kelly also expressed high hopes about the school's curriculum. While in-person field trips are still out of the picture, they are pursuing options for virtual field trips. Last year, the academy secured a grant and became a STEM school.

They have also partnered with LEGO Education Solutions and are ready to begin that program with students even as young as kindergarten. Kelly said this is "a really exciting prospect for the kids" and that she expects it to engage students, "who sometimes are reluctant learners."

"I think this is going to make sure that we're able to include everyone in (the) curriculum, and it's going to be really exciting for them," Kelly said.

Because Lawrence is a high-poverty area, she said, "what we offer our children, as a way up and out of poverty, is their strong faith that they get here, and their rigorous education. So that's what we count on."

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