SALEM — “Hocus pocus everybody focus” rang throughout the cafeteria at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School Monday as students gathered together to welcome 85 new kindergartners on their first day of school.

“Welcome to school,” assistant principal Susan Carmona said to the young newcomers. “We are so excited to have you here.”

Students in grades one through five lined the hallways to excitedly wave to kindergartners as they made their way to the morning assembly.

The start of the new academic year also kicked off the school’s new mission statement, which spells out the word “Magic” — Model Curiosity, Act Safely, Give and Receive Respect, Include Everyone, and Continue to Persevere. The new motto was printed on red T-shirts for all teachers and staff to wear.

The new changes came about from a yearlong effort to welcome 100 new students to Witchcraft Heights last September from the Nathaniel Bowditch Elementary School, which closed in the summer of 2018. 

“We went through the growing pains,” said principal Leanne Smith, saying the year was spent re-establishing their core values and reinvent “who we are now.”

“We did a lot of work last year,” Smith said of the transition. “This year is starting fresh as a whole community that has already come together.”

While classes began last Wednesday for all other grades, this was the first time the entire student body was together, averaging to more than 500 children with the kindergarten students. Together, they practiced the three assembly rules: I am safe, I am respectful, and I try my best.

Kindergarten teacher Kim McCarthy says the new “Magic” mission statement focuses on social-emotional learning for students. Once they feel safe and comfortable at school, she says then they’ll be able to excel academically. 

“We’ve started this year more positive than ever before,” said McCarthy, whose daughter will enter kindergarten next year. The five “Magic” concepts, she added, were created by collaborating with teachers, staff, students and parents in the community.

Continued transition 

Smith, who enters her third year as principal, is also a Witchcraft Heights alum. Having worked as a kindergarten teacher for 18 years, she tapped into her knowledge of the developmental needs of kindergarten students and their teachers to develop the school’s new vision.

In the upcoming months, she says they’ll continue practicing the school pledge each day in addition to having monthly “magical meetings” as a school to review each part of the acronym.

“We’ll keep it going all year,” Smith added. As students master each of the five parts, they’ll receive a different colored ribbon to tie onto their own magic wands — living up to the school’s slogan of “Where the Magic Happens.”

Outside the cafeteria, fifth-grade teacher Kristen Swanson spoke of the student-friendly language of the new mission.  

“The phrases give direction of what students should be actively doing,” she said. She hopes the initiative informs every child of their expectations and enables them to learn to advocate for themselves.

Stopping in before the assembly began, Salem native and mother of two Katie Quin is excited for her youngest child, Ronan, to begin the year as a kindergartner at the elementary school.

“It love it here; it’s going to be a good year,” added Quin, a Witchcraft Heights alum.

“The community is going through a transition,” she said of the atmosphere circulating around the city of Salem. “Everyone’s doing what they can to make it the best it’s going to be.”

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.

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