In Bridgehampton, the buzzword around the 2021-22 school year is "new."
It applies to the recently finished construction project, to several upcoming initiatives, and to the superintendent herself. Mary Kelly has been at the helm since July 1, and although it hasn't always been easy so far, she said she is "hopeful . . . but watchful."
"While we're optimistic, we're mindful that the pandemic is not over yet and that we still have to be careful and make sure that we're putting safety first," Ms. Kelly said recently.
Students started the academic year in sparkling spaces, many of which were not available to them last year when the nearly $30 million construction project was going on. Although some of the renovated classrooms were gradually put into use during the second half of last year, the students now have access to a new cafeteria, music room, library, technology lab, gymnasium and locker rooms, fitness center, and counseling center.
In addition to academics, social and emotional support is high on Ms. Kelly's list.
"The past 16 months have been very challenging for many -- very traumatic in terms of personal loss, being impacted by Covid, and our concerns about learning," she said. "The staff did an outstanding job last year from all accounts, making sure students did not fall through the cracks. Now we're going to be paying attention to any additional needs that may have been an outgrowth of the situation that the pandemic put everybody in."
Students and families can expect mindfulness activities and a focus on restorative justice, or reconciliation and conflict resolution, as an alternative to traditional disciplinary practices.
"We're also going to be building capacity for our staff and students to celebrate cultural diversity and cultural responsiveness with a diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiative we're launching in partnership with Eastern Suffolk BOCES."
The district is also in the process of renewing its accreditation from the Middle States Association, which evaluates public and private schools and colleges and certifies that students are getting robust educational experiences. Locally, only the Ross School, the Southampton School District, and Our Lady of the Hamptons also have this status.
"It's very noteworthy and prestigious," Ms. Kelly said. "It's not easy for a school to get the recognition, so it speaks to the quality of the entire program that is offered here in Bridgehampton."
Also new is the introduction of an "R" into STEAM education, which the superintendent said is evolving from a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics to now include reading. Teachers are receiving training on how to adapt these concepts across grades and subjects, she said, "to promote higher-order thinking and student engagement."
"It has been a very welcoming experience, and Bridgehampton is really an opportunity of a lifetime," Ms. Kelly said. "It's a very unique school that has so much to offer kids."