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Changes coming to Academy of Notre Dame

By Grace Pecci | Oct 10, 2019

TYNGSBOROUGH, Mass. – As students at the Academy of Notre Dame settle into another school year, officials are working to promote a positive culture through the school with new hires, more professional development and anti-bullying campaigns.

This all comes from new Headmaster Vittoria Pacifico, who joined the team in July. Pacifico has major goals for the school.

“I’m a mover and a shaker. Things are moving and I’m shaking, but in a good way. Things are getting done,” Pacifico said.

Pacifico is leading the school on a 24-month Strategic Plan, which will evolve into a five-year plan. The plan calls for a number of action items. One is hiring Megan Thomann.

Thomann will serve as the school’s Lower School Guidance Counselor to support the social-emotional well-being of student in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Though she is new, Thomann has hit the ground running by meeting with students on both a weekly and monthly basis. Thomann conducts monthly guidance lessons with the elementary-aged students.

Rather than mentioning the word bully, Thomann said she focuses more on “What is a friend?”

One activity in which Thomann directed students was to make ice cream cones with two scoops. Then, they went around the class and everyone said something nice about each person. Those remarks were written on a scoop, so they can remember what others are saying about them, Thomann said.

She also meets with the upper grades, consisting of sixth, seventh and eight-graders, on a weekly basis. They learn about self-advocacy, bullying, victim and bystander and other related topics.

In addition, the school will be holding new challenges each week, such as a pay-it-forward challenge and a challenge to make new friends.

Students also wore blue on Monday to share the message that there is zero tolerance for bullying.

“We’re just offering them these skills and then we’re giving them the opportunity to utilize the skills,” Thomann said, “which is why I am doing group activities and not just lessons. We talk about what is self-advocacy; what is being a good friend; how do you handle your emotions and then do an activity where they might get frustrated with each other because it’s competitive and they want to win and being able to stop and think what did we talk about, how can you do this in a kind way.”

Stomping out bullying and promoting kindness is something that is near and dear to Pacifico’s heart, as Pacifico was once a victim of bullying herself. Pacifico moved from Italy to the U.S. at the age of 8 not knowing a single word of English. Within two days of her arrival, she began school.

“I was different than everybody else in the way that I looked, the language that I spoke, the food that I ate, so it was positive in some ways, but also it was negative for me because I was that little girl, that 8-year-old girl that was being bullied,” Pacifico said.

Her experiences led her to study and eventually do a dissertation on the bullying of immigrant girls, with the differences and similarities between now and 40 years ago.

Social media makes bullying even more vicious now, she said.

“Forty years ago, when someone was being bullied, it stayed at the school. Today, it follows them at home because of the iPhone, because of the social media,” Pacifico said. “That’s why I’m very passionate about stomping out that bullying. I have zero tolerance for it.”

Aside from making all students feel happy and welcomed, Pacifico is working to make sure this is the case for educators.

Currently, she is focusing on attracting high-quality, well-qualified educators and keeping them. Implementing professional development is one way Pacifico hopes to retain staff. She considers this an investment.

“It’s to provide the best benefits that we possibly can for our teachers so we keep them,” Pacifico said. “There’s a sense of excitement within the school because we’re doing this.”

“You have happy teachers, you have happy kids and our teachers are happy. They’ve been happy, but there’s this great spirit, this great enthusiasm, that’s catching on with the students,” Pacifico added.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243, or at gpeci@nashuatelegraph.com.

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