HAMILTON, NJ -- Mom. Teacher. Wife. Councilwoman. Hamilton’s Nancy Phillips wears many hats especially during the days of the coronavirus pandemic. When schools across New Jersey moved to virtual leaning in March, Phillips started pulling double-duty teaching her class of sixth graders in South Brunswick Township and helping her children with their school work.
Like many educators, she’s preparing for school to return for her two daughters Rachel, almost 15, and Maggie, 12, who will be on different class schedules. And then Nancy’s teaching schedule in South Brunswick will be a totally different schedule.
Three different educational plans for one family is going to be daunting, but many households of teachers are also preparing to juggle when school returns in September.
Phillips talked with TAPinto Hamilton/Robbinsville about her concerns as a teacher and a parent with students potentially heading back to school.
“Because I have gotten information and have been involved in this from three different angles, I have the understanding on both sides,” said Phillips, who has been a teacher for 17 years. “People have reached out to me and shared their concerns with me.
“Teachers are willing to put their lives at risk for their students. They are worried though about everything from classroom ventilation to how they would be able to take time off to quarantine at-home if they are exposed,” said Phillips.
“It’s not going to be school as we know it. But, I don’t believe that right now, with COVID, that we can be confident that we can keep kids safe and healthy in a classroom every day,” worries Phillips. “If government offices are still closed, how can we expect schools to reopen?”
When school districts closed abruptly midway through the spring semester, schools had to quickly move to remote learning which proved challenging for educators with school-aged children.
“I would be up at 6:30am answering emails from the laptop sitting on my bed. Communication with students, parents and colleagues often didn’t stop until 11:00pm. Many teachers are just burning out,” said Phillips.
Hamilton Township Education Association president Frank Gatto recently echoed concerns that many teachers are worried about returning to the classroom and balancing their family responsibilities and safety.
"This isn't like a game of horseshoes where close is good enough," said Gatto. "You can't go have a sandwich somewhere, but we're saying kids have to go back to school. A lot of people are anxious. We are concerned about the safety of the students and our staff is willing to do anything to help protect the kids."
“Consistency is the most important thing. Right now, it’s a moving target that doesn’t work when you’re trying to educate,” said Phillips. “We have an opportunity to create a well-developed plan.
“Hybrid plans don’t work for families who have to work, but there’s no easy answer” said Phillips who noted that the coronavirus exposed inequities in society especially for children who may not have had access to computers or other tools for remote learning.
“Closing the digital divide is so far behind. COVID has magnified any gaps in disadvantaged people even within towns,” Phillips said. “We need a plan for those who need assistance.”
Phillips is worried that children with learning challenges are going to miss out on normal therapies that they receive in school. She believes those students should be given first priority in planning the return to school.
“Kids will catch up, they are resilient. They will heal with the right support. I’m just not sure how much students are retaining or gaining if they are socially and emotionally in so much stress,” said Phillips.
The Phillips family is still being very cautious about who they are interacting with and places they go in order to limit their exposure to the virus.
“Do my kids miss their friends? Absolutely. We’re looking at balancing everything for our kids,” said Phillips.
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