A longtime private Catholic school in the community has found the balance between maintaining tradition while adapting to change during the COVID-19 global health pandemic.
St. Elizabeth Seton School has been a part of the Rochester community for over 150 years, teaching students ages pre-K to eighth grade from as far as Alton, New Durham, and Southern Maine to more local communities like Rochester, Strafford, Milton, Farmington and Barrington.
When the announcement came in March that schools statewide would be transitioning to online learning while buildings are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the team of 11 teachers at St. Elizabeth’s adapted quickly and took the change in stride.
“It only took our teachers and faculty a week to organize lesson plans, resources and assist families to handle what we hoped was only a month-long interruption that has now been extended through the end of the academic year,” said Principal Suzanne Boutin. “I’m incredibly proud of all the staff, students and their families for their incredible ability to handle these changes. This is one of the great benefits of being a smaller school and community.”
The most recent virtual event was the Annual Rock-a-thon, which is typically the school’s largest fundraiser each year. Normally, students rock in rocking chairs for pledges, including junior high students who rock for a full 24 hours. This year, the event was held virtually and families sponsored staff who rocked for 12 hours online on Google Meet. Students participated by playing games, singing songs and participating in a virtual talent show to keep that sense of togetherness.
With the end of the academic year approaching, staff and faculty are still working to host some of the beloved end of year and summer programs that they have in the past while continuing to follow state guidelines. School leaders hope the events will remind students of the caring, compassionate community they belong to, even amid social distancing.
The school will host this year’s third annual 5K Run/Walk virtually after cancelling the in-person race, which was going to be held on May 18, in order to comply with state guidance. Participants will now run on their own the weekend of June 6 and 7, sharing pictures and videos while they run or walk. Everyone is welcomed to join and participants can register, make a donation or purchase event t-shirts here.
Virtual tours are also posted on the school’s Facebook and Instagram pages for prospective students to view the facilities. Normally, the school would host an annual Spring Open House and Curriculum Fair to allow those interested in learning more about the school to visit and view projects done by current students.
Principal Boutin continues to host in-person tours as well, providing visitors with complimentary face masks and maintaining social distancing during the visits.
School officials have worked to maintain the relationships they’ve built with other community businesses and organizations over the last few months as well.
Resource Officers from the Rochester Police Department have come into the school to teach the Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) program, eating lunch, playing at recess, or playing a game of volleyball with the students. This past October, students and staff from the school were invited to participate at the Rochester Fire Department’s Annual Fire Safety Festival at the Rochester Commons, where attendees were able to play games and meet other children and business organizations in the community.
“We have strong ties with so many organizations and businesses in the city, like the Rochester Performance and Arts Center, the Rochester Opera House and local nursing homes,” Boutin said. “We couldn’t do it without them and are incredibly grateful when local stores and eateries donate goods and gift cards when we hold events like our Annual Harvest Festival, Rock-a-thon and golf tournament. It means the world to us”