After two years of coping with Covid closures, restrictions, and cancellations, Outer Cape students and teachers returned to school with smiles on Tuesday, Sept. 6. “We are so looking forward to a normal year,” said Eastham Elementary School Principal William Crosby.
“We are so happy to open up without any Covid protocols,” said Truro Central School Principal Stephanie Costigan.
Though school enrollment numbers are not final, every principal told the Independent they have about the same number of students as last year.
Special Needs at Nauset
The Nauset Regional School District, which includes elementary schools in Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster, has adopted a new regional approach for elementary children with severe special needs. Formerly, students with autism, emotional problems, and cognitive delays were educated at their own towns’ schools.
But the small elementary schools offered only one or two classrooms for those who needed a wide range of instruction, said Mary Buchanan, Nauset’s director of student services. That meant students with very different needs were placed together, she said, even though “the way you instruct somebody with social and emotional needs is very different from how you would provide instruction to a student who is nonverbal.”
The district is now offering two new programs for meeting students’ special needs. One, called STEP (Structured Therapeutic Education Program), is for elementary-age students with emotional conditions. Students qualifying for STEP will go to Eastham Elementary School. Currently, about five students have enrolled, all second- and third-graders, said Crosby.
At Brewster’s two elementary schools, Nauset is offering SAIL (Specialized Approaches to Individual Learning) to educate students with autism and related developmental disabilities. Buchanan said most students on the spectrum will not need it — this program is for children who will benefit from more intense attention. The child’s special education team must recommend the placement, Buchanan said.
Buchanan said regional programs for specialized instruction are common throughout the state as a way to get students services designed for their needs. No layoffs or new hires were made to create the programs, Buchanan said; instead, teachers were shifted from elsewhere in the district to start STEP and SAIL.
Civics and a School Dog
In Eastham, at the largest elementary school on the Outer Cape, students will gather for the first time in two years for monthly all-school meetings where educators recognize civic-minded students with beacon awards, and where everyone’s birthdays are announced monthly, Crosby said.
Erica Peno, Kimberly Ames, Jill Weber, and Donna Martin-Langtry have retired. Kat Williams, the school’s former English-as-a-second-language teacher, has become a fifth-grade classroom teacher, Crosby said. A new face, Patricia Aube, will teach English language learners.
The principal has unleashed Cisco, a licensed therapy dog, to help calm emotions of both students and staff. Cisco spends half the week in Eastham and the other half at the Forestdale School in Sandwich, where Crosby’s wife teaches. The Crosby family got Cisco last spring; she is licensed by Therapy Dogs International.
As another way to focus on mental health, the Eastham Elementary staff read Yale University psychologist Marc Brackett’s book Permission to Feel last year. This year, they will undergo training in Brackett’s social emotional program called RULER, which teaches the skills to recognize, name, express and regulate emotions. Next year, the educators will roll out RULER to the students, Crosby said.
Wellfleet Gets a Playground
Wellfleet Elementary Principal Mary Beth Rodman said there are “two big things” for this year. The school’s new playground equipment has arrived and within a few weeks Wellfleet will have a playground for the first time in two years. Funding came from $314,000 in Community Preservation Act funds and $61,000 raised from donors.
Rodman’s other news: the school will offer its after-school program free of charge. But due to a lack of available staff, only kindergartners, first-, and second-graders of working parents may attend. There are three instructors and room for 26 students. The program will invite third-graders to join if space allows.
Rodman said she will retire in June after 35 years in education, the last 14 as Wellfleet’s principal.
Co-Teaching in Truro
Truro’s after-school program was curtailed this year because of staff shortages.
“But we are trying,” said Costigan, the principal. The school is seeking a coordinator and two instructors.
Truro Central School is piloting a co-teaching model in the fourth and fifth grades, with the goal of a more inclusive experience, she said. Each class will have two teachers, one who focuses on special-needs students and another who handles general education. Both educators will alternate teaching the entire class and working one-on-one with their students.
John Burns and Joshua Paul will run the fifth grade, and Hannah King will teach fourth grade with the former kindergarten teacher Sherri Stockdale. A long-term substitute, Sandra Biron, will teach kindergarten this year. Biron may be hired permanently, depending on the success of the co-teaching model.
Costigan, who was a student services director, said this model has been well researched by special education experts. But, she added, it is a pilot for now.
Provincetown Students to Travel Again
“Kids will be eating in the cafeteria again,” said Provincetown Schools’ acting Supt. Gerry Goyette.
And another end-of-pandemic joy: the eighth grade can go on a trip. For years, children from the middle-years program went to Costa Rica, which involved a year of fundraising. That tradition will return after a two-year hiatus. Goyette is preparing a pitch to the school committee, which must approve a travel plan at its next meeting on Sept. 21.
They cannot go to Costa Rica because one child uses a wheelchair and the Central American destination would not be inclusive, Goyette said. But they will go somewhere on American Airlines because the company is holding a $12,000 credit from a canceled trip to Costa Rica in 2020.
“That is the town’s money,” said Goyette. “They should not lose it. Not on my watch.”
Goyette admitted he began to panic when the airline kept changing the rules about how long the credit would remain valid.
“I was just at my wits end,” he said. “So, I sent a nice email to Ben Simmoneau at WCVB Boston.” Simmoneau leads a consumer reporting program called “Ben Has Your Back,” Goyette said. “Whatever he did, American Airlines is being very nice to me.”