With a backpack full of mixed emotions, kids are going back to school. Some students on the UWS have returned to in-person classes while others have started distance learning. The number of UWS students who have opted to go back to school in person is the highest anywhere in the city, Patch reports. Schools around the UWS are doing their best to prepare and communicate to families as to what they should expect going forward.
Erica Gerson, mother of four children who all attend in-person classes at Rodeph Sholom School on 79th and 84th Streets, said that “About 90% of our school opted to be back in person rather than participate in distance learning. I think we all feel confident sending our children back to school because of both the careful planning and the consistent, transparent communication we’ve received from Rodeph Sholom School throughout this pandemic.”
Larry Berman is the Head of Operations at BASIS Independent Manhattan on the UWS, and the parent of a Pre K student. BASIS has started the year with distance learning, and Larry said that so far things are going well for the school. While the school started the year remotely, they will be moving to in-person and hybrid learning starting on September 29th.
“We have heard from our parents that distance learning has been going extremely well right from the start. With the use of our new learning management system and the improvements we made from last year, the teachers put every ounce of themselves into preparing for this school year. They are showcasing their creativity and passion in a way that engages the students and has created instant connections,” Larry said.
Like other school administrators, Larry is going to have to wait and see how things evolve when the time comes for in-person learning. Planning for school to start was nothing short of a herculean effort for schools on the UWS. Preparing for students to be physically and emotionally ready has been tougher than usual. Schools like BASIS and Manhattan Day School have implemented phase-in programs for younger students so they can get used to their new environments and get the support they need.
One UWS parent of two, who is also a doctor specializing in pediatric infection diseases, noted that there are many ways schools can prepare to safely open. This includes making sure mask wearing and social distancing is strictly enforced. Another important aspect to keep children safe is parental responsibility.
“Parents being responsible will decrease the risk that children will become infected. [If parents are good role models] then children can go to school and be in a safe environment. If parents are wearing their face masks, keeping social distance, and not attending large events, especially indoor events, that would be a good example to set,” she said.
Being aware that kids can become infected with the COVID-19 virus is important and should not be underestimated. While the rate of infection in New York City is currently low, it is still a risk and there are known complications for some children who contract the virus.
“Some children came in to the hospital with multisystem inflammatory syndrome. That was pretty scary because those kids were really sick,” said the UWS doctor.
Schools are doing the best they can to prepare for worst-case scenarios, and while there are many challenges, parents have been impressed with the communication coming directly from schools.
UWS parent Melanie Wesslock plans to send her 14-year-old son back to school in hybrid fashion.
“His school has done an amazing job so far in communicating how to access the “live” online instruction. All of his classes will have live zooms. The school is small, has working windows and outdoor space. We were pleased with the school’s plan and communication. We were displeased with DOE’s lack of planning. But the individual school’s approach gave us confidence in planning,” Melanie said.
Parents like Melanie have had to think about the many factors before sending their children back to school. One major concern is testing.
“I’ve asked for months how the DOE will handle timely testing for students and staff. If it’s currently taking 5-15 days for results, how can an infected student be detected before a full outbreak? On a separate note, I’m most concerned about students who are falling through the cracks. I’m not sure how the city is addressing this, and how other parents can possibly help those students if DOE can’t,” she said.
Schools may be put in a no-win situation. Teachers, staff, and administrators are working around the clock to make sure they are up to code and ready for students.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution here and everyone in our community comes to our school with their own unique circumstances, which make it all very personal. The unpredictability and ever-changing landscape is fear-inducing, but we cannot let that emotion fuel our decision-making processes. We have had to utilize data, information, creativity, and humility, all while being flexible and having compassion,” said Larry.
There are things that you can do to protect yourself and keep others safe. For example, making sure you are going to your routine check ups and getting your flu shot are very important this year according to the UWS doctor.
Overall, the feedback for those who have started schools seems to be positive and hopeful. Schools are planning for worst-case situations, but are also stressing the importance of parents and students being part of keeping everyone safe.
“We are just hoping and praying we can keep transmission rates low enough for our children to continue learning in person for the rest of the school year. We are taking it one day at a time and feeling grateful for each and every day of live school,” said Erica.