Mount Everett teachers create 'phone boost' to praise students

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SHEFFIELD — Mount Everett Regional High School students arrived to the school cafeteria Tuesday afternoon to find a curious sight. A makeshift booth covered in paper hearts, outfitted with a curtain made of streamers of gold ribbon, had an "open" sign in front of it, inviting them to step inside and be amazed.

Some teens were puzzled and several were curious about who would be the first to check it out.

Senior Chandler DeGrenier, with some hesitance, did the honors, at the urging of her dad, Kurt DeGrenier, who happens to be the dean of students there and one of collaborators in this surprise scheme. He discreetly announced Chandler's name into a two-way radio as his daughter walked through the curtain.

There, she found a table festooned with Valentine's Day-themed swag (stickers, pencils, flowers) and a chair for one facing a telephone. It rang.

"Hello?" She listened for the reply of the mystery caller.

But instead of a prank, the young woman got an earful of praise and encouragement from teachers in her school, past and present. She ended the call with a stunned "thank you," and emerged from this inspirational phone booth with a smile, encouraging classmates to give it a go and hinting to what they'd be in for.

"I thought it was really nice," DeGrenier said of the random act of kindness devised by the Mount Everett staff, in the spirit of the heartfelt holiday. "You don't really hear much from teachers like this. I know there are students here who think teachers are just here to teach, but maybe this could help kids with finding a connection with teachers."

A few rooms down, in F-1, more than a dozen teachers and staff members sat around a big conference table set with an intercom linked to the phone in the booth. There, art and design teacher Kari Giordano, who coordinated the booth and staff participants, was on the other end of the dean's radio, announcing to teachers the next student who walked into the booth.

This was a new effort for the educators, too, some choosing to listen rather than speak. They looked to each other and improvised cues as an average of four adults chimed in per student caller, sharing detailed reflections and observations of the individual student, assuring the teens that their efforts over the course of their school career have not gone unnoticed.

"This is a really creative confidence booster," said Brenda Ullrich, a school adjustment counselor for the district.

"I'm so excited about this," said Wendy Casey, who teaches Grade 12 English classes.

The teachers' time and attention to detail did not go unnoticed by the nearly dozen students who ventured into the booth.

Junior Nolan Dupont heard from four teachers, including Spanish teacher Angela Spitia, who has known him since the third grade. "Keep working hard," she said, "I'm really proud of you and who you've become."

Equally and pleasantly stunned after his call as Chandler DeGrenier was, Dupont said, "This blew my mind. It's actually really motivating and made me really want to do more with my life. I didn't think teachers actually noticed me that way."

Sophomore Tori Seward, who, like other classmates, emerged nearly choked up by the genuine gesture, echoed the above sentiments. "It's really cool. We don't do this a lot, talking like this."

Asked what she would say if she could return the gesture to her teachers, Seward said, "I would thank them for helping me achieve my goals and let them know how kind and respectful they are to students here."

Reach staff writer Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239 or @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter.


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