WARETOWN, NJ – Ashley Ernest attended Waretown Elementary School, starting in the early 1990s.  From an early age, Ashley found that she loved her school and her community. In fact, Ashley enjoyed it all so much that she and her husband, Cain, decided to raise their family in Ocean Township.  However, Ashely never banked on the fact that she’d need to repeat kindergarten.

As you might guess, Ashley isn’t showing up for remedial instruction at the elementary school. After all, Ashley has been a teacher herself since 2009. Truth be told, Ashley’s regular job is giving Spanish lessons to 650 third, fourth, and fifth graders.

Ashley and Cain have three daughters, who are five, three, and just a year old. Cain works in law enforcement and spends his day providing essential services. For that reason, it’s generally up to Ashley to keep things somewhat normal on the homefront.

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The oldest of the Ernest children is in kindergarten at Waretown Elementary School. When schools closed amid the coronavirus crisis, it didn’t seem so bad at first. After all, it meant she would have a chance to spend some time with Mommy and her two younger sisters.

Like many school districts, Waretown initially sent home review work for the children. The hope was that the delay in classroom instruction would be short term. However, today marks a new day. With new lessons, Ashley will need to return to help with the things she learned in kindergarten.

“The teachers must have spent tons of time in preparing for this,” said Ashley. “We first had to pick up packets at the Priff School. The school even gave us supplies, like glue sticks and paper.”

In the beginning, Ashley decided to mirror the things she knew were part of standard schooldays. She and all three of her daughters started off with the pledge of allegiance and looking at the date on the calendar. That lasted about a week.  The youngest was teething and needed Mommy hugs and attention.

“We tried working with a schedule at first,” Ashley shared. “However, that just added stress to the whole distance learning experience.”

During the initial review period, it wasn’t too tricky for the Ernest family. Ashely would teach her regular students Spanish using Google classroom. She didn’t want her pupils stressed, so she leaned more towards Spanish art and music enrichment activities.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s kindergarten daughter would focus on her own work. Since it was a review, the youngster was able to do it primarily on her own. Altogether, the school assignments took from ninety minutes to two hours. However, with the introduction of new materials, Ashley knows her daughter will need her help.

“I’ve never taught this age group,” said Ashley. “My concern is that we keep up with the work and that I am giving my daughter everything she needs to be fulfilled and educated.”

As far as Ashley is concerned, the Ocean Township teachers are doing a great job in a less than optimal situation. The gym teacher set up Facebook groups and posts challenges. Parents share videos and pictures so that children can see their friends. Technology allows the kindergarten student to keep in touch with the friends she made at school.

“My daughter’s teacher calls her once a week,” Ashley shared. “It’s something she looks forward to and makes her happy.”

Meanwhile, there’s also the issue as to why everyone is home in the first place. Ashley has had a discussion with her little girl. In a world where kindergarten is a place of innocence, it couldn’t be an easy one.

“She knows the virus is the reason she can’t have play dates,” explained Ashley, “She’s aware that everything she touches could have germs on it.”

The thought took Ashley back to the days when the family would walk together on the Barnegat Branch Trail. Ashley and her girls would pick up trash and dispose of it properly. It isn’t just the lack of access to the rail trail that makes that good deed a thing of the past.

The warmer weather promises some changes for the Ernest family. They’ll be able to enjoy taking their boat out into the bay. The girls will learn all about gardening and planting.

“Life is going to be different even when this is all over,” Ashley said. “However, I am a positive person and will find the best for my family.”