NEWARK, NJ — Heavy rainstorms may have poured down Monday morning on the Brick City, but nearly 14,500 Newark Public Schools students returning to the classroom for the first time in over a year wouldn’t let the wet weather dampen their excitement.
Joined by district officials, educators and support staff, pure elation could be seen on the faces of students, particularly at First Avenue Elementary School, as they waited in line to return to their desks, giddily jumping up and down, laughing and speaking with their classmates.
“It’s really exciting. It has that first-day-of-school feeling in September about it,” said Elena Baer, a literacy coach at First Avenue School.
The return to school marks the district’s implementation of a hybrid/in-person instruction model that will have students come to campus either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, and learn remotely on Wednesday.
Holding a bottle of hand sanitizer, Baer dispensed gel into the hands of each student before they were admitted into the school’s main entrance as part of the district’s new ingress procedure, following strict safety COVID-19 protocol.
As they stood outside the school, students partook in a symptoms screening, temperature check, footwear sanitizing and hand sanitizing process in order to be admitted. This procedure is just one of various protocols district officials have undertaken to ensure a safe return to school buildings.
Greeting the staff and students at First Avenue who opted for the hybrid model starting this week, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León said that while he was happy to finally see students back in the buildings, their response to the new adjustments will also provide the district with critical information moving forward.
Among students’ response, the superintendent explained that district officials will be watching for certain behavioral patterns and assess how each child benefits from tutoring, direct educational services, and resources to help determine how schools adapt during the pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to do quality control for us to see where we are and assess what other things we need to,” he said. “How we prepare for summer and next school year — all of this gives us enough data to see what adjustments will have to be made, what’s working, and what needs to be clarified.”
With strict safety protocols and procedures to adhere to, the superintendent noted that the district will be ready to shut operations down by closing an office, classroom or whole school if need-be.
“There are precautions in place to protect all of the students and staff, and we don’t have any problems enforcing that,” he said. “What lies before us are the unknowns. The realities of having the children in front of us to see what each child’s needs are.”
However, as long as schools remain open, the chance to work in-person again provides vital one-on-one teaching for educators.
Separated from her students for over a year, First Avenue Pre-K teacher Diana Laracuente-Stecz said that being back in the classroom will be crucial for her students as they work to interact and engage while following COVID-19 protocol.
“I was nervous this morning, but I’m so excited to finally be here with my students,” she said. “The main focus is the social component… Even though they have to stay six feet apart, having them socialize and cooperate, take turns, and collaborate together is the goal I have for them until the end of the year.”
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