KEYPORT, NJ – It has been almost a year since schools across the nation had to leave behind traditional teaching. Over the past eleven months, schools have grappled with remote, hybrid and in-person learning. The Keyport Board of Education met on Wednesday, Feb. 17 for a regular action meeting inside the high school’s cafeteria at 5:30 p.m. With residents in attendance, board members discussed the school district’s next steps in navigating education among COVID-19.
The rate of transmission of COVID-19 according to the NJ COVID-19 Dashboard, is .91. This means that the coronavirus is receding. During the pandemic height of last spring, the rate of transmission was 5.31. The rate of transmission is now down over 80%. The increase in school districts who are back to in person education, like Keyport, Holmdel, Hazlet, Middletown and Colts Neck, is increasing weekly.
In late January, Keyport’s public schools returned to a five day, in-person, early dismissal school week. Superintendent Dr. Lisa Savoia announced at the meeting that the school district is currently in its third reopening phase. She said they are planning to enter the fourth reopening phase in the fourth marking period, which begins on April 22. The fourth reopening phase would bring students in for full 5 day, in-person learning. Full days would include both lunch and recess.
Socialization can be key to a child's successful learning experience. Board member Jennifer Tevis shared her children’s personal experience of returning to in-person learning.
“Now that they’ve been back at school (in-person) for a couple of weeks, at dinner, they have so many stories,” Tevis said. “I didn’t realize how much of that was taken away from them.”
Savoia said transitioning to the fourth reopening phase will require a lot of work and pivoting. The school district will survey families of all virtual students to see how comfortable they feel about returning. Savoia announced the district will also be attending a pandemic response team meeting, so they can ensure that they will continue to meet health and safety guidelines in this next step. Social distancing will play a large role in determining how many students can return. Since COVID-19 continues to evolve, the fourth reopening phase is susceptible to change.
“We’ll be as creative as we’ve always been,” Savoia said. “We’ll do our very best to get them (students) in (full day).”
While preparing for the next phase in reopening, the school district is also continuing to tackle other challenges. Joseph Palumbo, the guidance director, shared results from a survey at the meeting. The Modified Learning Environment Survey was completed in January and is part of the Rutgers School Climate Transformation Project. It was taken by students, staff and parents involved in the Keyport public school district.
In the survey, students, staff and parents shared what they believe the district is doing right and how the district could improve. Both students and staff agree they want the school district to prioritize stress management. Social and emotional learning is more than a buzzword in New Jersey public schools. It is becoming part of annual goals and objectives in the curriculum to ensure that students have a well-rounded education. SEL, as it is called, has become critical for many students who have suffered the ill effects of remote learning, being away from their peers and unable to enjoy many extracurricular activities such as sports.
Keyport’s public schools currently have some resources for mental health. Staff are provided with a support forum where they can voice any concerns they have. There are daily counselor office hours available to students, as well as classroom lessons and virtual rooms to practice mindfulness. Palumbo also created the podcast, Raider Radio, to share resources with the community.
“There are some mechanisms that we have in place to address those needs,” Palumbo said. “Now, we have a little bit more of a focus going forward.”
Keyport Board of Education’s next workshop action meeting is on Wednesday, March 3. Its next regular action meeting is on Wednesday, March 17. Both will begin at 5:30 p.m. inside the Keyport High School cafeteria.