Good times missed: N.S. committee hopes to replace experiences for 2020 seniors

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – From concerts and sports, to travel opportunities and maybe even graduation, the senior class of 2020 has watched as events  anticipated for years are cancelled with the goal of curbing the spread of COVID 19.

And while it is still too soon to know how, members of the North Smithfield School Committee said this week that they’re committed to doing something to try and make it up to them.

“I just want us to try to do what we can,” said Committee member William Connell. “We really have to think outside the box.”

The committee held a virtual meeting on Tuesday, March 31, their first following Gov. Gina Raimondo’s suspension of the state’s Open Meetings Act, ban on gatherings of more than five people, and closure of schools through May 1.

Committee members thanked Supt. Michael St. Jean for what they said has been a smooth transition into distance learning.

“We were prepared,” said Committee member Jean Meo. “We were ready on day one to move forward. It truly has been a team effort to travel an unknown pathway so successfully.”

Connell noted that the district submitted a distance learning plan to the Rhode Island Department of Education within 24 hours of being asked.

St Jean gave credit to his team of administrators.

“We were running the first day of distance learning,” said St. Jean. “Even now, some are still struggling, which is unfortunate. We’re pulling off something that no other state has attempted.”

“I could not be more proud of North Smithfield,” St. Jean added. “I’ve had a lot of great feedback. It’s been a very difficult time but also a very shining time for us.”

St Jean said that some 70 students now taking advantage of the district’s meals program, which was extended to all North Smithfield students following closure of schools.  Friday pickups now cover lunches and breakfasts for kids through the weekend.

Jones asked if there was a possibility some students would be able to continue distance learning even if schools reopen before the end of the year. St. Jean said it is unlikely because teachers would be doubled up on work.

“The rate of infection in North Smithfield is extremely low,” St. Jean said. “I think the community has just been doing a remarkable job abiding by the guidelines and the regulations.”

Chairman James Lombardi said he’s been hearing a lot from parents about graduation.

“We need to have a public graduation, at some point, whenever we have the ability to do it – whenever it’s safe to do it,” Lombardi said.

“Everyone here wants to see them get some kind of recognition,” agreed North Smithfield High School Principal Timothy McGee.

Connell noted that students have missed a choir trip to Virginia, a senior trip to Ohio, and the All State Music Festival, just to name a few. The future of spring sports, awards night, graduation and the Senior Prom – originally scheduled to take place on a boat leaving Boston, Mass. – remain uncertain.

“I could go down a list,” Connell said. “Obviously things are out of our control. I just want to see us try and do what we can to try and help this.”

Connell said he’s hoping there will be opportunity to somehow make up some of the lost experiences and do something special for the students in July.

“I agree 100 percent on this matter,” Lombardi said.

“This is something we’re all trying to wrestle with,” said St. Jean. “How to do right by our students.”

“These things will happen in one way shape or form when we’re allowed to,” the superintendent said.

McGee said he plans to speak with students about potential ideas.

“If there’s anything, within reason, we can do for them, we’re willing to help,” Connell said. “This is unprecedented in our lifetimes.”

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