More than ever, high school students need a safe and inclusive learning environment in which to discover their potential and earn a high-quality education. Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School (LMACS) holds students to high standards and ensures they reach their goals. LMACS is kicking off the school year with a hybrid model which combines online and in-person learning. Registration will remain open until September 30.
LMACS believes in teaching the whole student – holding emotional and mental health in equal regard to academics and providing opportunity for students who need it most. Marge McDevitt, LMACS Executive Director, believes that maintaining a safe space for students has never been more important, especially as the anxiety levels in the country have are so high.
“We have a family-like culture in the school,” she said. “We’re able to have that small school environment and the students are very supportive of each other – they help each other out all the time – and the teachers are very warm and caring.”
The accredited public high school partners with Middlesex Community College to serve students between the ages of 15 and 21 who have left school or are at risk of dropping out. The program provides academic, social and career skills necessary to succeed post-graduation – emphasizing the importance of college education. Graduates receive a high school diploma. LMACS students also have the opportunity to take courses through MCC’s Dual Enrollment program.
LMACS started the new academic year on Wednesday, September 16 with great success. Students are broken into two cohorts of about 40-50 people. When they are in-person, there are seven classes running each period. This allows for five to seven students in one classroom at a time. Each cohort attends lessons two days every week and the school is open every day except for Wednesday, when they close for deep cleaning.
During their online school days, students meet with their advisors like normal and then complete their work under supervision – and with support from – certified teachers who act as tutors to keep students on track and motivated.
When the school had to shut down near the end of the last school year and transition fully to online learning, teachers used Google Classroom. Although it was a success and teachers went “above and beyond” according to McDevitt, the school upgraded to G Suite for this school year, in addition to ordering Chromebooks for each student.
To prepare for the school year, teachers engaged in 10 days of professional development. Their level of preparation and care for the students left a lasting impression on McDevitt.
“I was absolutely amazed at the way my teachers just knew exactly what to do and just did it at the end of last school year,” she said. “We closed on a Friday, absolutely in a stunned state like everyone else and the teachers, without anyone saying a word, contacted every one of their advisees to ask them if they felt safe and to tell them we’re going to get through it.”
To keep students safe at school, McDevitt and Assistant Director Anne Monoxelos, greet them at the door and organize them into a six-foot separated line to wait for the school nurse, Amy Hendl, to ask them screening questions and take their temperatures. All students are required to wear masks – although the school has scheduled outdoor mask breaks for two classes at a time throughout the day.
“The students came to us extremely happy to return to school, which was really gratifying for us,” McDevitt said. “They feel very safe and we keep stressing that if we don’t stay safe, we won’t be able to have in-person time and that’s what they all want. They’re teenagers, they need socialization.”
According to McDevitt, Ken Bello, LMACS Facilities Manager, has been working hard over the summer to keep the school safe and clean. He built plexiglass partitions for students’ and teacher’s desks, as well as fixed up the building’s ventilation system, which has been running purifiers and filters for the past few weeks. Bello also figured out which windows have to be open at all times to maintain proper air flow.
The school is following guidelines set by the Department of Public Health and have been open about protocols with both students and faculty. Teachers wipe down desks after each class with antiseptic spray, additional hand sanitizer dispensers have been added to hallways, and air hand dryers have been replaced with paper towels in the bathrooms.
Maintaining a sense of community is also a matter on which McDevitt is focusing. Although she understands there are some events and opportunities that cannot be done this year because of the pandemic – including field trips and cooking lessons – the school is working on figuring out how to continue offering special events. On Wednesdays online, students work on Life Skills classes which involve team-building. They’re also trying to organize an online pumpkin decorating contest and healthy eating courses.
A new addition to the school is the grab-and-go-lunch program, which McDevitt believes has been a hit so far. Students pick up a bagged lunch, as well as a breakfast for the next day. It is important to LMACS to ensure students have their basic needs met, in addition to academic and technological support that will help them be successful.
McDevitt believes now is a great time to enroll at LMACS because in addition to adapting successfully to the hybrid model and setting up health and safety measures, they have always been a close-knit community centered on student success. Every faculty, administrator and student know each other’s name and support one another. They also have excellent MCAS pass rates, particularly in science and ELA.
“It’s a wonderful school and we have great teachers,” McDevitt said. “That’s what makes our school work – the teachers and the students – and it was wonderful to see the students these past few days. We’re so happy to have them back.”
As for circumstances due to COVID-19, McDevitt said, “We’re going to try to make the best of it and have a little fun along the way.” To enroll at LMACS, visit www.lmacs.org/ or contact McDevitt at 978-656-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.