Edward Simon Cruz
When this school year started on September 8, many students had not taken a class outside their house in five hundred forty-four days. There were not only freshmen but sophomores who had never taken a class within the High School North building. However, after Governor Murphy ended the executive order allowing for remote learning, all of them would need to transition back into full-day, in-person classes.
One of those students was freshman Jessica Li. When asked about her feelings heading into the new year, she said, “I was excited, but also hesitant — were we doing the right thing by returning to in-person learning? There are always possible challenges and I would’ve liked to know more about the district’s plan to resolve these.”
Administrators sought to create a year as close to “normal” as possible. At the same time, mask mandates, temperature checks, and some degree of social distancing all remained as per current CDC and state guidance. To allow for more distancing between students, administrators revised procedures for lunch, study hall, and periods with absent teachers. However, they along with students and staff have found themselves adapting to other uncertainties and changes. For instance, there have been delays in receiving additional tables for the lower dining hall; these delays were one reason that Study Hall was temporarily moved into the theater in the first days of the year.
During the pandemic, the district provided staff members with additional training to support social and emotional wellbeing in classrooms, which has become more important than ever. “Health and safety is first and foremost, but we also recognize that building connections with students is a priority,” said North principal Dr. Jonathan Dauber. “Everyone has a lot going on this year with themselves and their families at home. We are all affected differently by the pandemic, and it is critical that staff recognizes this as they interact with students and develop lessons.”
With the return to in-person schooling for all students, teachers no longer have to form connections through black boxes on Zoom. Extracurricular activities provide more opportunities for students to build in-person experiences with each other. However, the new environment is still different from the pre-COVID one, and students in at least one sports team have already needed to quarantine following a positive case. The threat of COVID-19 lingers over the year, as positive cases could prompt additional quarantines or closures. Still, staff and students alike remain at least somewhat optimistic as North navigates another unprecedented year.
“I’m a tad bit concerned about potential hazards in school related to the pandemic, but I’m also incredibly hopeful that we will get a bit of a piece of mind going into the spring,” said senior Kavin Haldo. “We’ve already made an adjustment back in person, and it looks to me like we may be slowly but progressively returning to as close to ‘normal’ as we can get.”