The senior class of Fontbonne Academy in Milton. Pilot photo/courtesy Fontbonne Academy
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This September, when the senior class began their final year at Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls high school in Milton, there were many new faces in the crowd: the entire senior class from Elizabeth Seton Academy, an all-girls high school in Dorchester, had been added to their numbers.
"As soon as we heard that Elizabeth Seton Academy was closing ? this was during the summer ? we made an offer to the seniors to finish their education together here at Fontbonne," explained Maura Spignesi, assistant head of school administration and Student Life. "This was our school living out our mission to reach out to our dear neighbor and to anyone in need. They were our neighbor, and were in a time of great need."
After meeting with the students and their families, this offer was accepted, and the students were invited to a special senior class orientation in order to help them ease into their new surroundings.
"Part of what we did then was to meet with the current seniors at Fontbonne Academy and ask them what they thought would be important so that the new seniors could really become part of our school," Spignesi continued. "We asked the girls, 'What would you want to see happen if Fontbonne Academy closed and you had to go to a new school this year?"
These conversations led to a special "Senior Community Day," which took place on the first day of school. All the students were divided into small groups to discuss some of the traditions particular to each of the schools.
"I know that it is not easy to lose a school," Spignesi said. "But we tried to build a senior class community that incorporates these girls just as much as the 'old' students."
Knowing that the transition could be very emotional, each of the new seniors was paired with an adult mentor who meets weekly with their student to make sure she is adjusting well.
"Of course we have guidance counselors, but we wanted to give them more, because we know they are not only in a new environment, they are also grieving the loss of their school," she said.
Aside from the adult mentors, however, the students are in every way a part of the Fontbonne Academy senior class ? they are incorporated fully in the classes, participate in all the extracurricular activities, and have adjusted "quite well," Spignesi remarked.
"Honestly, it has been a very natural transition," she said. "The new students are feeling very much welcomed and a part of the community."
The girls are also encouraged to maintain communication with the board members at Elizabeth Seton Academy. "We want them to continue the relationships they have built over the past three years," Spignesi stressed.
Spignesi herself knows what it feels to lose a school. In 2002, Fontbonne Academy took in the senior class from St. Clare High School, an all-girl high school in Roslindale, when it was forced to close. Spignesi, a guidance counselor at St. Clare High School, made the transition with the girls, and began working at Fontbonne Academy to help ease their anxiety.
"I know what it feels like to close a school. I know what it feels like to lose a school," she said. "And so we feel it is important to us, as a school, to build a community that integrates these young women and makes us all a better school."