EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - At the forefront of the conversation was a question the world is now asking: When will we reopen, and how? Unity in the Community, a virtual component of the East Brunswick Human Relation Council’s ongoing community engagement program, Coffee and Conversations, is answering these questions and more with their bi-weekly Facebook live streams.
Though the future remains uncertain, Dr. Victor Valeski, Superintendent of East Brunswick Public Schools, addressed the precautions the district is taking in light of a possible reopening.
“None of us could have expected that we were going to be in this position when we left on March 12th,” Valeski said. “But we’ve been planning since we’ve been out about what the recovery is going to look like.”
Creating a safe environment for students and staff, above all, is a priority. But when students do go back, things are going to be different. The district must both rebuild and refocus their approach, taking into consideration both the deficits that must be accounted for and the support students may require, Valeski said.
“We want to support the whole student. Educationally, socially, and emotionally,” Valeski said.
For staff and students, distance learning started March 16, with teachers and administrators running a regular school day. According to Valeski, the Board of Education has converted to virtual meetings, and essential workers have been in the buildings to make sure equipment is functioning. As far as what a possible reopening will look like, Valeski is awaiting directives from Governor Murphy to be announced May 15.
“All of us didn’t think about this until we got into the nomenclature of social distancing, but schools are the very contrary example of social distancing,” he said. “Going back to school is not going to be just like when we left it. It’s going to be modified in some way.”
Currently, the district is looking at the possibility of a hybrid learning environment with both face-to-face and remote learning.
“We’ve proven we can do distance learning, so we’ll keep that active even when we return so we can do a modification or hybrid of the two,” Valeski said. “But I think the highlight of our return is that we remain, first of all, safe, and then be flexible to the conditions we have at the time.”
To-date, Child Nutrition staff, bus drivers, and Joseph Crotchfelt, EB Director of Financial Services, have served over 15,000 meals to eligible students in East Brunswick in a grab-and-go format. On May 11 this service will be expanded to every student in East Brunswick, regardless of eligibility, as part of a new directive from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Meal distribution will be from 7:30-11:30 am at support operations buildings, and parents need to go online to pre-order meals. Information will be going out on the town website.
Keeping residents safe is also a priority for Chief Frank LoSacco of the East Brunswick Police Department. The EBPD, along with the Department of Parks and Recreation, addressed residents continuing to discard personal protective equipment in shopping centers and parks.
“In a situation like this, we want to keep everybody safe. We’re dependent on people taking their own personal precautions as well as doing it for the good of others,” LoSacco said. “We’d like you to take your precautions, and we’ll help you with that, but we have to be friendly. We have to get through this together.”
With programs like the "Blue Delivery Program,” the EBPD has been able to provide support to residents at risk. The program, initiated by the police department’s new Community Response Unit in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, ensures residents in need can receive free grocery deliveries for people in need of assistance.
“These people include those that are at higher risk of illness that have absolutely no other means to obtain groceries and essentials,” LoSacco said.
The Community Response Unit partnered with Shop-Rite of East Brunswick to provide grocery deliveries, at no additional cost to eligible participants twice a week. This Friday they will exceed 400 deliveries since the program has begun. Officers making the deliveries are donating their time to help residents.
The goal of Unity and the Community is not only to keep residents safe, yet connected. And thanks to virtual programs run by Melissa Kuzma, Assistant Director of the East Brunswick Public Library, Parks and Recreation Director Michael Reissner, and Danielle Micale, Director of the Department on Aging, residents can continue to stay involved and engaged.
“It’s not so much about COVID-19, but the people who are helping us adapt to a new way of living,” Hollie Cerame, a member of the Human Relations Council said regarding the goals of Unity in the Community. Cerame, along with Council members Nusrat Sohail and Dovey Sawhney-Gill, moderated Thursday night's meeting. The Human Relations Council is looking to do at least two more interactive Facebook live sessions thanks to Joseph Criscuolo, who manages tech behind the scenes.
“We shouldn’t be socially isolated. Physically isolated, yes, but not socially isolated,” concluded Micale, whose programs for seniors continue to provide necessary emotional and physical support. “We live in a community where we all work so well together and collaboratively. This pandemic, if nothing else, has brought us even closer.”
For more information on programs available from the East Brunswick Public Library, Parks and Recreation, and Senior Center, see the links below:
East Brunswick Public Library:
- Virtual Programs:
- Important Updates:
EB Parks and Recreation:
- Upcoming Events:
- Virtual Recreation Center: https://www.eastbrunswick.org/606/Virtual-Recreation-Center
EB Senior Center:
- Updates from Danielle Micale:
- Department of Aging Facebook Page:
Township Alert Center: https://www.eastbrunswick.org/AlertCenter.aspx
Blue Delivery Program: https://www.eastbrunswick.org/579/Blue-Delivery-Program