NEW BEDFORD — At 7:20 a.m. on Thursday morning, the front hall of the Alma del Mar charter school hummed with barely-suppressed anticipation.
Will Gardner, the school's executive director, stood at the front door, keeping an eye out for students; Principal Rolandria Justice and some of the school's teachers waited in the hall behind him.
Then, the first student appeared, and the school sprang into motion.
Gardner bent, greeting that student and all the others who followed in the next 15 minutes with a handshake, eye contact and a few words.
The greetings continued in the hallway where Justice also shook the hand of each student entering the school. Students who didn't make eye contact, or didn't have a firm enough grip, were prompted to repeat the greeting: "Can you squeeze a little bit?" Justice asked one student. "There you go."
Many students arrived for this, their ninth day of school, with enthusiastic smiles, but the faces of other students were solemn and a few children were even in tears, like one small girl who received a huge hug and a few private words of encouragement from the principal.