New middle school principal braves pandemic school year

Lauren Young's first year as head of Nissitissit Middle School comes with new challenges in keeping kids safe during coronavirus pandemic

New Nissitissit Middle School Principal Lauren Young, left, with former Nissitissit Principal Diane Gleason at the school’s drive-by graduation on June 8
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PEPPERELL – Taking on a job as a school principal is a daunting task on its own, what with having to be a friendly and informative leader for young learners and fellow educators. When that job also comes amid a pandemic and the heightened concern of children’s safety, that task comes packed with an entirely new baggage of stacked odds.

Basically, Lauren Young had a big hill to climb well before her first day as principal of the Nissitissit Middle School on Sept. 14.

Still, Young stepped up to the plate to help prepare and oversee the middle school’s hybrid reopening method for the current school year. Students have been attending school for four half-days during the week while one day involves entirely remote learning.

The Shirley resident thought the first day of school went better than she expected.

“I think we are in a little bit of a groove now,” Young said. “I think now, we joke that the kids are smiling under the masks. We can’t see but we think they’re smiling under the masks. I think the kids are very happy to be back in their routines.”

Students and staff are required to wear masks and maintain social distance inside the building, so much so that the school’s hallway has been divided by a line to establish single-lane foot traffic going in and out of the building. School staff members have also made extra efforts to sanitize classrooms and other school surfaces between classes.

Despite all that preparation, Young was aware of factors that could come up once class was back in session. She said she was unsure of how students would feel about wearing masks all day and how this year’s increased number of parents dropping off their kids instead of taking the bus would clog up the roadway leading to the school.

“The things we anticipated being a problem really weren’t,” Young said. “We’re now a week in and every student has come into the building wearing a mask, nobody has even forgotten a mask one day, and students are wearing them willingly. Our staff is trying to normalize wearing a mask. This is just what we do and this is the new normal, but the kids are being amazing with them. Nobody has been pulling them down or trying to take them off.”

Though it’s her first go at being principal, Young is certainly not a newcomer at Nissitissit. She was the school’s assistant principal for 10 years and before that, she served as a guidance counselor for the school right after earning her graduate degree from Rivier University, conveniently located in Nashua, N.H., where she grew up.

Education is something of a family trade for Young. Her mother, Nancy Murphy, has been a high-school English teacher in Lowell for 25 years.

“I think that growing up, having a mother as a school teacher always resonated with me,” Young said. “I’ve always known I wanted to work in education, even as a young girl. I always knew I wanted to work with kids, but I wasn’t sure in what way. As I went to college and looked at it, I liked all subjects, but there wasn’t one subject I was particularly passionate about. I think I wanted to work more closely with kids so that’s why I went into counseling. Working with small groups of kids was a really nice way to get to know students on a more individualized level.”

While the safety of the students is the most pressing issue facing Nissitissit, Young also has other ambitions for the school in the future. She hopes to strengthen the school’s STEM program, improve methods of social emotional learning and help boost student achievement. All in all, Young wants to help a school that has inspired her for so many years.

“I’ve found that the school culture here is like no other, and my goal is to continue that,” she said. “The collegiality among the staff is amazing. They work will with the students and with each other. Even though we’re in uncharted waters, we’re experts in the realm of education.”