Families stay positive as they keep close eye on school reopening plans
As Catholic schools around the Diocese continue to plan for the 2020-2021 academic year, parents are faced with a lengthy list of questions, considerations and concerns about what to expect and how best to prepare for the return to school – whether in person or online.
Cara Lynch is the mother of two daughters in St. Paul School, Burlington. She served on her school’s task force to help determine back-to-class readiness, evaluating issues such as health, safety, technology, needed equipment and transportation. Each Catholic school in the Diocese of Trenton was asked to create a task force consisting of principals, staff, parents and others and work with the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools.
“Knowing how much time has been spent addressing the many concerns that have been raised provides me with a great level of comfort leading up to the new school year,” Lynch said. “I am hopeful that the students will be able to return to in-person teaching and continue learning with their classmates in a stable environment that they enjoy.
“I also hope that parents understand that patience, positivity and flexibility will be the best way for all of us to get through whatever challenges we will be facing in the coming months,” she said.
Meredith Socha, who has three children in St. Ann School and a daughter entering Notre Dame High School, all in Lawrenceville, said that while the school year may look different than years past, she hopes it won’t “feel different for our kids … and that the new safety protocols and procedures won’t change the school’s community. Kids are so resilient and adaptable.”
MaryBeth Green remains upbeat that her two children, Bobby, a seventh-grader, and Jayson, a third-grader, can return in person to St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin. “I am hopeful that the students can settle into a new routine and maintain focus on their schoolwork in the supportive environment.”
Among parents’ top concerns in the upcoming year: maintaining social distancing on school buses.
“This is part of the transition back to school that I do think about often, as I do not have any alternative transportation options at this time,” said Lucy Tomczynski, whose daughter, Emma, is a junior in Camden Catholic High School, Cherry Hill, and her son, Sean, an eighth-grader in St. Paul School.
Barbara Vidal shared similar apprehensions. Her two daughters, Emma and Gracie, attend Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, with another daughter and son, Hailey and Charlie, attending the Manahawkin school.
“I have mixed emotions about transportation,” she said. “My older daughters need to take the bus to school, since Donovan Catholic is 20 to 25 minutes from our house, and I’m concerned that social distancing may not be able to be maintained on a bus.”
Green agreed. “Students of this age won’t always have the self-control to stay apart from their friends. I am concerned about the risk of exposure from other students and staff and the exponential risk of any one person coming to school when they are positive and don’t know it.”
Added Socha, “I think it’s going to take a lot of reminders both from us as parents and from [school] staff to remind the kids that they can’t hug their friends and teachers.”
Faith in Schools
Returning to school will bring about new rules, as parents are well aware.
“We are already preparing the children for the new protocols by mask wearing, talking about the safety protocols, destigmatizing the protocols themselves and giving them the reasoning,” Green said. “We talk about the pros and cons of being in groups, and we are very conservative with exposure.”
Lynch expressed similar sentiments. “My husband and I have been discussing the pandemic in the simplest of terms [with their children] while continuing to practice good hygiene and working toward getting them used to wearing a face mask for an extended period of time.”
While there are a number of challenges, parents continue to have faith in their Catholic schools.
“Our school’s ability to maintain social distancing, clean surfaces and stay vigilant to changing conditions provides a much-needed sense of relief,” Lynch said of St. Paul School.
Vidal believes the Catholic schools her four children attend will do their best to keep everyone safe. “I believe that in-school learning cannot adequately be replaced by remote learning, especially for my younger children,” she said.
“It is my firm belief that students need their teachers in person to guide, teach and nurture them into who God created them to be,” Vidal said. “We believe Catholic schools educate the whole child academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually, keeping God at the center of who they are and what they do.”