Q&A: In disrupted school year, Kendall principal strives for student connections

Photos by Tom Rivers: Carol D’Agostino leads the Kendall Junior-Senior High School as principal. She worries about students who may feel isolated because they have been doing remote learning for more than two months now.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 May 2020 at 8:58 am

‘I want my seniors to know that I am here to serve them and we’re going to do the best that we can to provide them with experiences that are meaningful, and provide them with as many experiences as possible.’

KENDALL – Carol D’Agostino has worked as Kendall junior-senior principal the past 16 years. She grew up in Kendall and graduated in the Class of 1977. She and her husband Phil have three adult children and 10 grandchildren who are all in the Kendall school district.

D’Agostino is a two-time cancer survivor. She said she feels blessed to live and work in a close-knit supportive community.

On Tuesday, during an interview at the junior-senior high school, she talked about some of the challenges for the school, which has been closed to students since March 16 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Question: I know this isn’t a Hurricane Katrina situation, with activities being cancelled and the school closed, but you can you speak to the sense of loss that students are experiencing?

Answer: The way many adults feel is things could be much worse, and it could be, but when you are a teen-ager in high school, these events – your baseball season, the musical – it’s very, very important to these kids. Because we’ve had this virus, a lot of this has been taken away from these kids. And they’re isolated. They are social beings. They want to be with their friends and now they are isolated in their homes. So this does take a toll on our students.

And it may not be a hurricane but it is still devastating to them, and especially for our seniors. These events are really important to them.

I want my seniors to know that I am here to serve them and we’re going to do the best that we can to provide them with experiences that are meaningful, and provide them with as many experiences as possible.

So when we do yearbook distribution, and that’s for all of the kids, we want to make that a fun event that kids look forward to.

We hope to do a senior walk. It’s been our tradition for our seniors to walk through the elementary school. So this year my plan is, if I can pull this off, is to gather the kids at the gazebo. We’ll hand out the caps and gowns and then walk to the fire hall. So we’ll still have a processional in front of the elementary school, making sure that we social distance and wear masks when needed so really to provide memorable moments for our students.

They may not be like we’ve always been able to provide traditionally. But maybe they will be a little bit better.

And even after graduation, if we do have a drive-in graduation, then have a parade similar to the celebration we do for Sectional winners, a parade through the town.

We’re trying to do everything we can. Our parents have been great. They are so supportive. Whatever we can do we will make happen.

Portraits of the 51 members of Kendall’s Class of 2020 are displayed by the front entrance of the junior-senior high school. The display is also up at the main intersection in town, at routes 18 and 237.

Question: What about the students in grade 7 through 11? You see a lot for the seniors, but what about the other kids who are also missing out?

Answer: They are. That’s important to think about. The plays, the concerts. Our kids are musicians and they look forward to the end of the year concerts and we’re not able to do that. So for all of the students there is a real sense of loss.

So that is the significance of what we’re dealing with here. And also being optimistic that next year will come and we’re going to get through this together and we will be able to put things back into place for kids to look forward to. Next year we’re going to make that an awesome year because we’re going to have a new set of seniors and a new set of juniors. Our eighth-graders are going to be in their first year of high school. It’s important for every student at wherever they are in the sequence of their education.

Question: How hard has this been for teachers?

Answer: I can say without a doubt that I am extremely proud of the staff. They have gone out of their way to connect with kids. We’ve had close communication with the school counselor, Mrs. Bauer, and myself. We’ve done home visits to help kids stay on track and earn their graduation credits.

I think that is critical to make sure we’re thinking about every student and their continuum of education and make sure we’re meeting their needs.

Carol D’Agostino helps a student get ready during graduation last June. The students waited in the gymnasium before entering the auditorium for the ceremony. This year’s commencement will be different.

Question: For you personally, as a person in the midst of this, what has been the hardest?

Answer: When you’re in a job like being a principal, you’re here to serve the community and the students. You want to make every event as special as you can and that has been taken away from us.

It is really hard not to be able to do things for kids. I think Kendall is a special place. I like to be with the students. I like to be with the teachers and it’s been really hard to be isolated from them.

But what I love to hear is kids telling me how much they miss coming to school.

I think that’s a process that we’re all working through. For our teachers they have had to learn how to teach all over again. My analogy is for our teachers it’s like their first year of teaching all over again. And for our students it’s like their first year of college. We’re all learning how to learn and how to teach in a different world, and they’re doing a great job.

Question: Do teachers come to the building very often?

Answer: Not very much. They will trickle in once in a while to pick up resources or to close up something in their classroom. We’ve really tried to keep them at home to make that safe. They have the opportunity to access the building but mostly they work from home.

Question: It must be weird to come to the school in March, April and May, when normally it’s bustling and to have it be so quiet with just a few people here.

Answer: Many days I’m here by myself in the office. The secretaries don’t come in every day.

But we still have graduation. We have a program to create. We have an awards ceremony we are preparing. We have a Top 10 recognition that we’re doing June 1. We have Honor Society induction that we’re doing Thursday via Zoom. Junior National Honor Society induction was last week so we’re really committed to making memorable experiences for our students the best that we can.

Question: The Top 10 recognition, how would you do that?

Answer: Our plan is to do it in the east parking lot. We will follow the same format that we have always done. We will read a little bio about each student. They will stay in their cars. When their name is called, Mrs. (Julie) Christensen, the district superintendent, and Mrs. (Lisa) Levett, the Board of Education president, will hand them their plaque and medallion and then they’ll go back to their car.

My plan is to have some desserts that we can take to the cars. Just to have a little celebration.

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