Old Rochester's older students return to school fully

Apr 29, 2021

On April 27, students came back to Old Rochester Regional to learn in person for the first time since schools closed in March 2020.

The district had been teaching kids under a hybrid learning model since September, with two different cohorts of students switching in-person and remote learning days Tuesday through Friday and a full remote day for all students on Monday. 

All elementary school students in the Tri-Town returned to full in-person classes earlier this month, per requirements from the state’s education department to return students to in-person learning.

ORR junior high returned one day before the state-mandated return to in-person classes, while the high school came back well ahead of the state’s May 17 deadline.

A festive atmosphere prevailed at the high school as kids flooded in just after 7 a.m.

Parent Lisa Wright took photos of the senior class in the lobby that she and a group of other moms had decorated with balloons and streamers for the occasion.

“It was a total group effort,” she said. “There were 10 of us setting up yesterday. We just wanted to make everything special for the seniors to come back!”

“Welcome home Bulldogs,” rang out the morning announcements. “We are back at it again!”

Junior Eddie Gonet has been doing the announcements since his sophomore year. “It’s just something I enjoy,” he said afterwards.

“As you travel throughout the building, think about how lucky we are to be back in person safely,” he told the students over the intercom. “This return has been a huge collaborative effort made by all faculty of the school.”

Senior Katherine Dwyer said that it feels “really good to be back with all of my friends.”

“It’s amazing,” agreed fellow senior and student council member Emma Schwabe. “It’s so different walking in, seeing everyone’s faces for the first time.”

“It’s great to be back,” echoed high school principal Michael Devoll. “There were a lot of smiling faces coming into the building, even parents at dropoff.”

“Everyone was ready for this,” he added with a laugh. “It feels like another first day. There’s a definite energy in the building today!”

Devoll said that everyone had a role in working to bring the kids back safely. 

Some of the safety measures include desks spaced three feet apart in all classrooms, staggered hallway exits to mitigate close contacts, taking water fountains out of service, adding more lunch periods, and replacing cafeteria tables with desks and outside dining tents.

According to Devoll, the biggest challenge was organizing the lunches, because the state guidelines still require six feet of distance between students at lunchtime.

“So our cafeteria can’t look like it has in the past, with tables and kids sitting together,” he noted. Instead, they’ve filled the room with around 115 desks. “It’s wild.”

With extra lunch periods and tents available for juniors and seniors to eat outside, he said, they were able to fit it all in.

“We didn’t want to change much for kids, we wanted it to look really the same that it did before April vacation,” he explained.

“The only difference that we wanted them to see was that there’s just — more kids. That’s it. Same classes, same teachers, same routines.” 

The junior high school followed many of the same guidelines, including 20-minute lunch periods and multiple mask breaks throughout the day.

School guidance counselors are also doing weekly mental health checks on students.

“We’re trying to maximize spacing and human load on each classroom,” Coellner said before the return.

Back at the high school, students were still buzzing with excitement.

Plans for a real, in-person prom at Shining Tides in Mattapoisett are in the works, while Devoll said that graduation will be held outdoors and with students sitting in family “pods” like last year.

“The building feels so — it’s just alive,” Gonet said, calling the feeling “effervescent.”

“Everyone just seems so happy,” he added. “I think everyone is truly excited.”