HAVERHILL — At 8:45 a.m. each morning, Pentucket Lake Elementary School Principal Maureen Gray has sat in her office, picked up the phone and offered a cheerful greeting to the building's 650 students and staff, just as she's done every day since school started back in August.
This week, however, the building is often empty when Gray delivers her recorded morning message to kindergarteners through fourth-graders, due to the extended coronavirus-induced shutdown.
Gray and Pentucket Lake Assistant Principal Jim Brennan — who initially came up with the morning messages idea — plan to both deliver the calls to students and staff. The messages are typically sent to all families on the school's phone distribution list at 9:30 a.m., Gray said.
Gray's assistant, Tricia Dupre, dutifully stands and salutes the flag when it's time — all while practicing social distancing and keeping 6 feet away from Gray to stay healthy.
After the Pledge of Allegiance and Pledge to Pentucket Lake School, Gray shouts out the names of student having birthdays, among other messages.
Staying connected with students while they are at home is of paramount importance to Gray, a 17-year Haverhill educator in her first year as Pentucket Lake's principal.
“Especially for this age group, structure is so important,” Gray said. “The structure you do every day is what they respond well to. We have to think creatively over the next few weeks to connect with children and keep the school community in tact.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Gray.
“People have said their kids are standing up in the kitchen doing the Pledge of Allegiance,” Gray said.
In addition to the morning messages, Pentucket Lake has kept students learning at a social distance using apps including Class Dojo and Google Classroom. Staff also created “go bags” with things families can do with their children, including games and other activities, Gray said.
Other schools in Haverhill are doing their part to communicate virtually with students during the extended closure. Tilton Upper and Lower School, for example, hosts Facebook Live video sessions through which Principal Bonnie Antkowiak and her staff read bedtime stories to students.
Consentino Middle School Principal John Mele and Vice Principal Rich Poor are also hosting Facebook Live sessions for students each morning. During their segments, the duo has kept their Chargers engaged by telling jokes, wearing costumes and encouraging distance learning by interjecting “this day in history” flashbacks.