As students in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton wrapped up the 2021-22 school year, COVID was finally starting to show in the rearview mirror. The graduation went as planned, unmasked with hugs and celebratory handshakes, and smiles once again became a regular part of the day.
One more thing was missing: the parents and volunteers who help build a bridge between talented students and the community that has long partnered with the district to support children.
Chariho Schools Superintendent Gina Picard said this week that when students return to class on September 1, the hope is that the more standard schedule and lack of pandemic restrictions will allow staff and students to focus on restoring the community partnerships that have helped make Chariho one of the best districts in the state over the past decade.
“Our overall goal this year is to re-engage parents and the community, to work with them and to make them feel welcome within our school communities,” Picard said in a phone interview. “As we finalize aspects of our Vision 2023 initiative, we want our parents to play an active role and be part of school improvement teams, and we want our volunteers to feel safe and welcomed in all of our buildings.”
But perhaps more importantly, they want all students to feel connected, that is, to believe that they have a productive place both in the school community and in the cities where they live. .
Chariho High School principal Andrea Spas said that in high school, all extracurricular activities are available again, practical classes have returned to full instruction, and lunch and daily schedules will be more like those before the pandemic.
Masks are welcome, but not necessary — and for those who don’t wear them, school staff said “smiles are encouraged.”
Spas said the high school will focus on more regular interaction within the community, including helping with volunteer and humanitarian efforts, bringing in guest speakers to share their experiences and expertise, or working alongside service companies. the region.
“We really want to restore those connections that make students feel successful and part of the community,” Spas said. “Whether they’re athletes, whether they love music, whether they love building with their hands… whatever a student likes, we want them to feel like there’s a place of welcome for him and that he has his place.”
High school and middle school students will also be encouraged this year to build better relationships with staff, neighbors and others through the “trusted adult” program. The program asks students to identify an adult to turn to when they need to talk to someone.
“It’s about being connected and staying connected,” Spas said. “We want every student to feel connected to our community in some way.”
Nor is the community connection effort exclusive to high school or college. At Chariho Tech, Spas said director Gerry Auth has established many strong technical and professional partnerships that benefit both students and local businesses.
Picard said successes with the community don’t just happen at the high school level, either. Each of the district’s elementary schools has taken an active role in recent years to participate in drives and provide food and clothing donations to the Rhode Island Center for These in Need and other nonprofit organizations.
At Richmond Elementary School, efforts to establish a farm-to-table program were so successful that the school began donating fruits and vegetables grown in the greenhouse or one of the two hydroponic systems in the school. school at RI CAN, an effort Principal Sharon Martin said earlier this summer has helped feed hundreds of people in need over the past few years.
This year, Picard said the school is going even further to deliver its goods to the community: Lucas Callahan has designed a trailer that will allow the school to be represented at nearby farmers’ markets, selling surplus vegetables and using the money to help the community in other ways.
“It’s something that will give students a hands-on way to learn to volunteer, have fun, and do something good for the community at the same time,” Picard said.
Another effort launched over the summer, which Picard and Spas say would be used to further improve communication and create a bridge between the schools and others in town, is the introduction of a much stronger presence on social networks.
The district, at all levels, has emphasized connecting with the community and that has meant finding different ways to target its audience. Phone calls and newsletters are no longer always the best ways to reach parents, staff admitted, and one solution is to post social media “blowouts” that will help spread the word to those who may be less inclined to watch traditional media. forms of messaging.
At Chariho High School, students have adapted so much to using social media that it’s almost harder not to fit in, Spas said.
“It’s an important part of their lives, and it’s an important part of messaging for business,” Spas said. “If we can improve communication, it will only help us serve everyone better.”
The high school currently has 4 forms of online media, with the Chariho High hosts a bloga Facebook page and an Instagram page (both @chsadmin401), and even establishing a handle on TikTok (@charihotech).
The goal is to truly bridge the generation gap, Spas said. She is confident that over the course of the year the district will succeed in achieving a number of these goals.
“I really think everyone is committed to coming out of this pandemic and making our community stronger than it even was before, and that’s one of the things we’re hoping to step up and do this year,” Picard said.