WEST ORANGE. NJ — As the Sept. 14 countdown to the start of the new school year in West Orange continues, students and staff are preparing for a unique start to the semester via Zoom and in-person orientations.

Middle school students at Edison, Roosevelt and Liberty have already or soon will be holding in-person orientations at their schools. West Orange High School held their freshman orientations last week, all following safety protocols.

The orientations served as a way to begin integrating students new to schools and create connections for them so that when schools moved away from virtual learning and into the hybrid model (two mornings in school, three virtual days) they would have a sense of familiarity with the process.

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“We wanted to give the kids a head start,” said Stephan Zichella, who orchestrated the Freshman Orientation events.

There are 525 students registered to begin their careers at WOHS. With the help of the Mountaineer Mentors, Zichella and his team split the orientations into groups headed up by a mentor. Mountaineer Mentors are high-achievers that will work with the students in their groups, following up via video conferencing, and emails.

“Students and mentors held icebreakers, discussed policies and protocols, reviewed school culture, and were able to share their fears and concerns,” continued Zichella.

Students toured the campus with their mentors, including the interior of the buildings. Orientations for elementary school and new transfer students are planned.

“The orientations are important,” Zichella said. “They help to start relationships, build a bridge, and help students attain success.”

Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone welcomed teaching staff via Zoom Conferencing last week.

“We enjoyed a tremendously successful and positive opening to our school year at yesterday’s convocation,” said Dr. Cascone on Sept. 4.

“We have put together a well-organized and thoughtful week of professional development in order to prepare all of you to begin the virtual school year with the highest level of quality and efficacy,” he explained.

Eveny de Mendez, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said, “We have missed all of our staff and students beyond measure and are ready to get back to our passion: teaching and learning and caring for our students.”

“Our new school year will begin with much-needed time together as a school community, unpacking the Road Back, Health and Safety Protocols, Social and Emotional Learning, Instructional Expectations, and the Integration of Technology in order to provide effective and engaging instruction to all of our students in a virtual setting,” she added.