Kicking Off the New School Year Amidst COVID-19

Guanyi Cao '21

The year 2020 is quite unlike any other. With the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like all sense of normalcy had vanished. All over the world, people’s lives have been impacted in nearly every aspect.

For students, school is one of those routine aspects of their life that has been greatly altered. This is no different for Township students and faculty; for the 2020-2021 school year, WTHS has undergone great changes to make the return to school a safe and smooth transition for everyone. Here are six important things to take note of:

1. Prominent changes in regards to safety and health have been implemented to aid the return to school.

As students re-enter school, one of the largest changes they will notice are the specific walking paths through the majority of hallways. To avoid crowding, there will be a one-way traffic system for everyone traveling through the halls. Walking paths and signs will be planted throughout the building to remind students and faculty in maintaining safety guidelines, such as for washing hands, symptoms to report to the nurse, walking paths, etc. An abundant supply of hand sanitizers, wipes, and other cleaning supplies will be placed throughout the halls and in classrooms as part of the increased safety protocols.

Additionally, more precautions have been made to avoid contact amongst students and the touching of surfaces. For instance, the hybrid schedule and Cohorts will limit the number of students and desks in each class. Drop-off plans have been changed so that there can be extra entry-points, and propped doors can be seen everywhere to minimize the touching of door handles. Students will no longer be able to utilize water fountains, and a strict limit of two students can be allowed in the bathrooms at a time.

Another huge change for students is the complete lack of lockers. For the 2020-2021 school year, there will be zero lockers distributed. In addition, students will no longer be entering locker rooms to change for Physical Education. Lockers have often been associated with high school life; with the elimination of such a constant fixture in students’ lives, it will be a change that will take time getting used to. However, such changes are necessary. As said by Mrs. Kathleen Luckiewicz and Mrs. Theresa Cotton, “Mitigation is key to decreasing the spread of the virus… Utilizing these methods will aid us in stopping the spread and keeping our students safe.”

2. There were many challenges and difficulties in designing new back-to-school plans.

It was no easy feat creating and carrying out these new plans. Although it was different for everyone, many faculty members agree that one of the largest difficulties is keeping up with the constant changes that come up. Though everyone is staying flexible and positive with each passing day, each new day comes with a new challenge.

For teachers, it could be implementing successful methods of instruction and communication to students, regardless of in-person or remote learning. It was not rare to see curriculum being altered to fit the new mold shaped by the hybrid schedule, which has also eliminated marking periods. Flexible learning plans and curricula were required to fit the new two-semester structure, and many teachers are trying their best to do so while delivering what they believe are the most important components of their courses. Many teachers also took time to participate in professional development in order to learn about navigating Schoology, as well as taking part in online programs and collaborating with each other to best plan and adapt teaching methods for hybrid/remote learning.

In spite of the hardships, positivity remains a primary focus among teachers. “I have been trying to really focus upon ways to build a class community and a positive environment,”says Mrs. Kathy Sandusky, a 12th grade English teacher, “despite our challenging circumstances.”

For the nurses, the challenge was keeping up with the New Jersey Department of Health and CDC guidelines. Nurses Mrs. Kathleen Luckiewicz and Theresa Cotton remarked that COVID-19 guidelines continuously change, and they must constantly be updated and educated with such a fluid environment. For instance, both nurses stated that they have taken a six-hour long contact tracing course from Johns Hopkins University, as well as many webinars throughout the spring and summer. They’ve also collaborated with the local health department, taking part in the district’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Finally, one must not forget the custodians, IT personnel, maintenance teams, secretaries,  counselors and administrators that have devoted so much time and hard work in making the return to school a success. Creating and carrying out plans for Cohorts while ensuring the safety of everyone is no small achievement, just as it was no small task limiting the furniture and desks in classrooms. Large amounts of additional furniture had to be moved into storage. In addition, lots of effort was also put into creating and posting the signs throughout the building.

3. Despite putting the best possible efforts into the new back-to-school plan, there are still many concerns.

The chief concern is, of course, the health and well-being of all students and faculty. However, another main concern is when everyone will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy. Many teachers worry about not being able to establish the same rapport with their students and offer adequate assistance. “I worry that I will not be able to connect and build relationships with my students in the same ways that I did pre-Covid,” Mrs. Kathy Sandusky remarks. “Of course, I want everyone to remain safe and healthy,” she adds.

WTHS principal Mr. Jonathan Strout also expressed concerns regarding clubs, activities, and social events. “Providing our students with extracurricular opportunities such as sports and social events is very important to me, as this is so critical to the overall high school experience,” he states. “ We’re going to do whatever we can to give our kids a chance to make positive memories while learning this year, regardless of what is coming our way.  But we will always put everyone’s safety first!”

4. Important resources and information students should keep in mind:

Of course, students should always be aware of safety and sanitation protocols. For the betterment of all, everyone should commit to washing hands properly, remain socially distanced and six feet apart, and wear masks at all times when in the building. Whether it’s on the bus, waiting for lunches, walking in hallways, etc., students should make their best effort to follow these protocols. As per the advice of our school nurses Mrs. Luckiewicz and Mrs. Cotton, students and parents should also monitor the daily signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and take their temperatures.

Additionally, to help make the hybrid schedule a success, it’s important for students to utilize available online support for Schoology, the main platform that will be used for both in-person and remote learning. As the new hybrid model greatly limits student and teacher contact, students maintaining regular communications with their teachers is also key.

5. This unprecedented school year will leave many effects on the future.

When asked whether this school year will leave an impact on future years, there were a variety of answers among teachers, but a consensus in that there will generally be positive effects and advancements.

Though some effects might not be felt for years to come, this school year is a reminder to us all that online instruction, platforms, tools, and technology in general will continuously play a larger role in education. Many facets of traditional school activities and customs will be compelled to change. However, there are also emerging concerns regarding e-learning. “I can’t help but wonder about gaps in learning,” Mrs. Kathy Sandusky comments. “I worry about the emotional and mental health of young people.”

On the other hand, living through a pandemic will, of course, give insight and experience for similar situations in the future. “We have assisted in developing the plans for a pandemic response team that we will utilize in the future if need be,” says Mrs. Luckiewicz and Mrs. Cotton. Additionally, due to the many events of the past year, there will undeniably be students that will need increased support in terms of academics and social and mental health. It should be noted that the counseling staff will always be available to provide support if a student needs it, but it also “…will remain a challenge that we have to focus on,” Mr. Strout adds.

6. Among the significant changes to the school year, there are also aspects that have stayed the same.

Though there have been immense changes this year, students can count on some things to stay the same. For instance, all students will continue to have eight classes (many seniors and freshmen will also have a study hall). Everyone will still be learning, and the commitment of teachers, staff, and administrators in preparing for the school year is unwavering, regardless of what comes our way.

Words of Advice

It’s important to remember that we are all in this together. Despite not knowing what will be ahead of us, students are not alone, and will always have the support of teachers and faculty. “We will all do our best together to navigate these unchartered waters,” Mrs. Kathy Sanduksy says. “I hope students reach out to their teachers and counselors for support, and I think we all need to give ourselves some grace and take some time for ourselves.”

While the new changes can be daunting and stressful, the top priority among everyone is safety. “‘While it might not be convenient, it might not make sense, it is all in the name of safety,’” Mr. George Passante quotes. “I hope we’ll all just remember that.”

“Remember, Covid has no age limit,” says Mrs. Luckiewicz and Mrs. Cotton. “Young teens are not exempt from this disease.  We need to stop the spread. Stay safe and healthy!”

“We have to commit to the safety measures,” Mr. Strout states, “but we will all get through this together!”