SOUTH PLAINFELD, NJ – On March 16, South Plainfield School District ventured into new territory, launching its online learning plan for all students in pre-K through 12th grade. Over the first week and a half, nearly every one of the district’s more than 3,000 students was ‘present’ for online learning each day.

“I would like to take this time to thank our students, parents, faculty, staff, transportation, food service, IT department, and administrative team for all they have done to make the transition into our online learning as smooth as possible,” said Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak during the South Plainfield Board of Education’s March 18 virtual meeting.

“The first week went as smoothly as possible and that’s thanks to everyone involved. I know it was different and difficult…and new territory for us,” added Lishak in a recent Facebook message. 

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In less than 10 days, the South Plainfield School District, working closely with state, county, and local officials, updated, submitted and implemented a revised pandemic influenza plan to include the coronavirus and allow for offsite learning. Under the adapted plan, the district is working on a modified (early dismissal) schedule. 

Students must log in each morning and fill out an attendance form before ‘attending’ classes, including specials, as they would if they were in school. Work is being assigned and completed through Google Classroom and educational websites with teachers providing live instruction as well as answering questions and interacting with students through various virtual learning platforms. 

“It has become obvious from speaking with people, teachers, and friends, from other towns that South Plainfield Schools are leaders and an example on how to prepare for and execute an emergency educational plan,” stated SPBOE President Doug Chapman during the March 18 virtual meeting. “The entire educational team – every single employee, every one of them – has gone above and beyond. Because of their efforts, our children continue to be educated seamlessly…each and every employee, we notice the effort, and we applaud each and every one of you. Thank you very, very much.” 

Residents – including parents and teachers – agree. 

 “Think about it. Almost overnight, principals and teachers throughout this nation are now leading virtual schools and teaching virtual classes with[sic] hardly any guidance, just a few days of planning and little to no training, all the while continuing to teach [and] somehow get it done and done well,” South Plainfield resident Cate O’Connell Bonanno, a fourth grade teacher at Riley Elementary School, stated on Facebook, adding #teachersrock to her post. “Tell me what other profession that can make that happen at such a massive scale in such little time.”

“Our schools are so prepared due to the amazing job our teachers, principals, staff, BOE, administration, etc. have done and our students are learning,” stated Lori Zielinski on her ‘You know you're from *SOUTH PLAINFIELD* when...’ Facebook page. “Kudos to all the parents and kids who are making this work too! You are all awesome.” 

Over the past week and a half, residents of the community have taken to social media to express how impressed they are with how things have been going the past two weeks. 

“…Well done SP teachers, administration and staff. You all aimed high in an unprecedented situation and proved to us all that the students come first,” stated Roberta Hunter on the ‘WE are South Plainfield’ page. 

“…Let’s all thank our schools, the teachers, principals and administration. The job they are doing is impeccable for not ever having to do this in the past. They are keeping the kids as active as possible,” Jon Dean posted on social media, adding. “Also, the parents. God bless you as tough as the times are and still keeping the children engaged in schooling as well as activities.”

Bella Rowlands added, “So proud of SP! We were ahead of all the other towns! Our kids were ready and excited! Hiccups were expected, but there [were] none! Great job!”

While teaching virtually is unchartered territory, Jessica Ross, a second grade teacher at Kennedy School, told TAPinto that she is ‘extremely impressed’ with how her students are handling online learning. “They’ve been doing so well with it. We ‘talk’ constantly through comments too,” said Ross. 

According to Chris Cassio, who teaches Broadcast I and II at South Plainfield High School, ‘online learning is a new animal’ and a challenge for a course of this nature. However, Cassio said his students have risen to the occasion. Despite being at home with limited resources and limited tech, his students have chosen to push forward, responding with a ‘resounding, overwhelming yes, when asked if they wanted to continue producing daily segments of Tiger TV from home. 

“They felt they needed it for themselves and for their school community,” Cassio told TAPinto, adding, “These kids aren’t letting the new realities of the world and this virus take away something they care so much about and I wasn’t going to deny my students, especially my seniors, that. I owe it to them for the years they have given to me and the work they have put in.”

While teaching online isn’t anywhere the same as being live and in person in a classroom, Cassio said that being able to interact with the students in some way – even virtually – has been therapeutic. “We can talk, share ideas, discuss what we can do and what we can’t do over the next couple of weeks in light of the current situations, and how to adapt to the new realties and limitations of the program,” said Cassio. “This class is more like a family than a course and, for me, over the past two weeks, it has been somewhat of a therapy session, too.”

In effort to provide students – and their teachers – with ways to interact with one another outside the virtual classroom, the South Plainfield School District this week also announced several upcoming events and activities (https://bit.ly/2wARBNR). 

“This has been a learning experience for all of us, and we continue to work on our services to ensure that our students have a sense of normalcy during this health crisis,” stated Lishak, adding, “Again, thank you for everything you have done to make this as smooth of a transition as possible.” 

“The public has been overwhelming supportive and very vocal of their approval. This is very much appreciated…” added Chapman. “We will all get through this together; we will have a stronger and more capable school and community in the end.” 

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