SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Gearing up for a new academic year is stressful for any new principal. This year in particular, the administrators are tasked with keeping students, faculty and parents safe in the middle of a global health crisis.

Joel Castillo, principal at St. Bartholomew Academy in Scotch Plains, is the former principal of Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence. He also jumped right in to create a reopening plan.

The re-entry committee he assembled over the summer included Assistant Principal Janet Ramos, three faculty members and two parents with experience in the medical field. The team consulted various state and archdiocesan guidelines along with several medical journals.

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“We want the faculty and staff to feel safe along with the children,” Castillo explained. “We want to put the faculty at ease so that they can focus teaching the kids.”

Some of the new protections include a COVID-19 triage on every floor, a full-time nurse, masks and shields provided to all faculty and a protective barrier between the teachers’ desks and the students.

About 15 percent of the 235 children enrolled at St. Bartholomew Academy will attend remotely. Castillo explained that the teachers will be “doubly focused” on both methods of learning.

“In this new normal, we can still have some of the school’s traditions and sense of community, but we have to be creative,” the principal said. For example, he plans to have the annual Halloween celebration outside and tents are being constructed so some of the students can eat lunch outdoors.

Castillo and his staff have been flexible to the ever-changing rules to begin the academic year. He calls it a “team effort” aided by the “blessed donations” of families.

“[Catholic education] is a ministry—that’s why we are all here,” Castillo said. “We want to be an example for the children so they grow up in faith and when they leave, they will continue to be faithful Catholics.”

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