AGAWAM – The Agawam School Committee discussed the âHello Startâ program in high school and heard an update on food service at their October 12 meeting.
Superintendent Sheila Hoffman explained that the âStart with Hello Programâ is about getting children back into buildings, rebuilding communities and recognizing how people build relationships within the school community.
Agawam High School Principal Norman Robbins and Adaptation Counselor Amy DiStefano presented this program to the school committee. Robbins said they were happy to be reunited with students, but realized that 18 months without some of them in the building showed they had to work to restore relationships and rebuild the community.
âIt’s a program that we launched just after [the school shooting at] Sandy Hook happened in 2012 and that’s part of the Sandy Hook promise, âRobbins said. âWe kind of added our own flavor to it. “
DiStefano said the âStart with Hello Programâ is a program the school has taken every year since.
âIt’s really a weekly reminder that we bring the kids to a congregation and talk to them about how it’s okay to be alone and what you can do if you’re feeling lonely, especially after the past two years. “
During weekly assemblies, said DiStefano, students learn what loneliness feels like both in themselves and in others, as well as an understanding of social isolation.
“We empower them to reconnect, reminding them that they just have to see someone alone, reach out and help, and it can start with a simple hello.”
She went on to say that each year a theme week is held that emphasizes reconnection and coming together. For example, during the first week of the school year, students would garden and document the good things they had done for others.
DiStefano said this year they were extremely excited to bring the after-school clubs back. Some of the clubs offered in junior high include the Drama Club, Science Club, French Club, and Kindness Club. All clubs can be found on the Agawam High School website at www.agawamed.org/o/ajh/article/546569. Everyone is welcome to join at any time.
DiStefano said the Kindness Club will host a âWorld Kindness Dayâ event in November and âInclusive Schools Weekâ in December. The spring semester will also feature a variety of events, with a few months currently left open so schools can see what needs to be done.
âWe are really excited to find ways to let these kids feel that we are now a safety net for them and we are back, and they can be safe and happy,â said DiStefano.
Following this presentation, Hoffman recognized the teams and individuals scheduled to be inducted into the Agawam High School Sports Hall of Fame on October 24.
The teams to be inducted are the 1966 football team, which extended Agawam’s three-year winning streak to 26-0; the 1970 baseball team, which won Agawam’s first outright Valley League championship; and the 1996 women’s track and field team, which won the first West Massachusetts championship in the sport.
Those to be inducted include Len Charest, Venita (Giles) Early, Doug Janik, Amy Mantha, Rich Nacewicz, Brian Rheault and Mayor William Sapelli.
Additionally, Hoffman informed meeting attendees that on October 12, the Test and Stay program had started at Robinson Park School.
âCurrently, eligible staff and students are those who have been identified as close contacts of the school and who are not exempt from testing in quarantine protocols. We will continue to provide you with updates on the protocols as they evolve, âHoffman said.
Hoffman also introduced Liz Moulton, the school food services director, who recently started her sophomore year. She explained that Moulton encountered challenges and had to adapt over the past year, such as offering meals remotely when students were using the remote / hybrid model.
Moulton said, âWe are adapting to COVID-19. Breakfast and lunch are much more like students this year than they were last year. Last year, they saw a lot of meals in containers and meals in bags. This year it seems more familiar to them.
She shared that the items are prepared in a more traditional way, the menus are more similar, and all the staff wear masks and stay as distant as possible.
As part of the seamless summer option offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Moulton said all breakfasts and lunches are free for children. students until the end of the school year.
âFamilies should continue to visit or submit requests for free meals. Although lunch is free, the app and accompanying status allow families to receive fuel assistance or Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), âsaid Moulton.
For families who haven’t received a letter advising them that their child is entitled to free meals, she asked them to submit an application. Applications are accepted at any time.
Moulton said he has seen a rapid increase in the number of students receiving free breakfast and lunch, and believes it is beneficial that meals are offered to everyone.
On food delivery, shortages and orders, Moulton said his managers were doing an âamazingâ job ordering as far away as possible. Currently, they place orders three weeks in advance. With seven schools to buy, ordering some items became more difficult and forced Moulton and his team to research alternative options. Nevertheless, she ensured that all students receive quality meals and have a varied choice.
âI think everyone at Agawam, especially the employees in your cafeteria, are working really hard to find solutions,â Moulton said.
In addition, Agawam cafeterias now have a new point of sale system called TITAN. This program is web based and allows family sharing. Moulton explained that all cafeterias have received new terminals and that there is a new family portal for online payments. She plans to send more information on this later this month. All breakfast and lunch menus can be viewed online at www.agawamed.org.