NEWARK, NJ – A mix of joy and nerves resonated throughout the crowd of Achieve Community Charter School students and staff on Monday as they waited to re-enter their classrooms for the first time in over a year.
Nearly 178 students at Achieve who opted for in-person instruction this spring were welcomed back to the building with upbeat music, high-fives from the school mascot and the delighted faces of teachers to see their students once again. However, shortly before the children walked back into the school, they were admitted via stringent COVID safety protocol measures which included a symptoms screening, temperature check and hand sanitizing.
Among the lines of students gathered outside the school building, two Achieve students, Serenity and Emily Arthur, stood beside their father, Anthony, expressing some anxiousness to go back.
“I’m just scared for some reason,” said Emily, a third-grade student, as she clung to her father’s hip.
“At first when I woke up I was excited, and now I’m just a little bit nervous with all of this going on,” said Serenity, a sixth grade student. “It’s going to be different.”
The return to in-person instruction for Achieve comes as Newark district schools citywide last week put 14,000-plus students back at their desks.
Much like the district schools, Achieve allowed students to return only if they opted for in-person instruction via a hybrid learning model. Under the hybrid model, students will attend school four days per week while Fridays will be designated for virtual learning in order to do a deep cleaning and sanitizing of the school.
While students K through second grades will learn solely via live instruction each day, students in the upper grades will learn through a mix of live and digital instruction, according to Achieve Community Principal Mandisa Brudey.
Greeting the large crowd as they walked through two main entrances at the front of the school facing Clinton Avenue, Brudey said it felt amazing to finally see students seated at their desks once again.
However, she explained that planning for the return came off the heels of several months of planning to ensure each student’s safety with strict protocol in place.
“I think everyone feels safe,” the principal said. “We put the safety procedures out there, and it’s very clear. Once everyone feels safe, the only feeling left to feel is excitement.”
Once students entered the hallways and made their way to their respective classrooms, that excitement could be felt among the teachers at Achieve.
Gleaming through her transparent face mask as she watched each of her students walk into class, Jenniffer Veras, a second grade teacher, was overcome with joy on her first day back to in-person instruction.
“I was nervous because we have never done this before, but it feels good. As soon as you see kids waiting outside on the sidewalk, it reminds you of that first day of school,” Veras said. “In that sense, it feels the same because it’s our first day together. They’re excited and we’re excited.”
With the opportunity to provide live instruction to her students for the first time in over a year, Veras explained that the remote barrier will no longer limit her interaction and engagement with her students.
“I’m looking forward to just being able to walk around and feel the room with positive energy,” she said. “The kids feel that presence. It’s more powerful when they see how passionate you are about a lesson.”