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Education Prevailed

      “EDUCATION  PREVAILED!” AFFIRMS  RAHWAY

         SUPERINTENDENT  OF  SCHOOLS

 

Story by:    Rob Kinch

Photos by:  Joseph Mudrak

 

       Uncharted waters, indeed.  Their navigation, a challenge which would test the talents, diligence, creativity, and stamina of all those adrift in them.  Listening to the concerns of parents, teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, to the science, common sense, and her heart, Rahway Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia Camp charted an adroit and efficient course to lead her district, its teachers and its students, to successfully realize educational goals uncompromised by the myriad difficulties imposed by the 2020-2021 Covid health crisis. 

Temporary Changes to School To Accomodate COVID Restrictions

       Reflecting her customary pragmatic realism, Dr. Camp understood, “We couldn’t control or influence this Covid Pandemic; what we could do was address it with a series of positive measures.”  With the district’s need to move forward academically with totally virtual instruction, she successfully arranged to provide one-to-one support for all the students in her district by making Chromebooks available to whoever needed them.  “We have talked about ‘one-to-one’ for five years… and now it is a reality.  We have also managed to provide hot spots for on-line access.”

       In addition, Rahway District’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Tiffany Beer broadened her program of teacher led professional development opportunities to assist in equipping all teachers with strategies and resources to maximize the effectiveness of virtual instruction on student learning.  She explains, “Teachers were able to present and attend PD sessions throughout the summer, on district scheduled professional development days, and after school hours.  They were able to learn from their colleagues, ask questions, and support one another in new ways.”  “What’s so great,” notes Dr. Camp, “is that these PD sessions are recorded and archived, making them available to any teacher six months or a year down the road.”  She continues, “We have also seen the reactivation of monthly evening workshops for our parents highlighting topics such as general literacy and technology.”  Social Studies teacher Michael Clark underscores the inherent value of that technology to Rahway families, claiming, “the importance of digital literacy and being connected to what students and teachers are doing every day helps bring the parents directly into the classroom.  That should be here to stay!”

 

Virtual & In Person Instruction

       Still, understandably, remaining in the minds of so many district parents is the concern that, with the educational challenges imposed by the Covid crisis, ‘learning’ has been lost.  “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” emphasizes Superintendent Camp.  “Our 5th graders have not forgotten how to read, nor have the younger ones forgotten how to add!”  She continues, “They have learned different things in a different way.  The creativity and professionalism of all our teachers will ensure that our students know what they need to know.  As our students return in the Fall, they will be pre-assessed by their instructors to measure where they are and, moving forward, their teachers will then get them where they need to be.”  RHS Principal Dr. Cary Fields lauded her teachers who, she noted, “stepped up and found ways to interact with our students and engage them using technology in a brand new way.”

       The teachers and students interviewed apparently appear to agree.  Mr. Clark noted, “Although virtual instruction was such a departure from the norm and difficult for everyone to adapt to, including adults, the students still showed up, they worked and they tried to remain engaged, and they wanted to be engaged.  I can guarantee that the students who worked earnestly, and did what they could given the circumstances, will tell you how much they’ve learned and I’m proud of them for that.”  Math teacher Toni Robertelli stands firm that, “Learning is never lost, unless the child gave up completely and never attended any class.  Each moment of the day with the child being in the classroom, whether virtually or in person, they are gaining something.  Granted, students may not have received a full year’s worth of content material in some of their classes, but I can guarantee that what they did learn in my classroom was worthwhile and the content they learned, they learned it well.”  Computer Science/Math teacher John Marks “verified” that learning happened through direct conversation with the students.  “Those who can communicate to me and the class what this or that function does, or why the answer to a math question is what it is, I know they understood and that they learned.”  Biology teacher Adrienne Barnes notes, “Although students may have missed some learning in various content areas, they have gained an invaluable life experience and skill set in dealing with the challenges presented during the pandemic and while learning virtually.”

       Perennially honest, direct, and open, English teacher Sonia Saadeh sums up the ‘lost learning’ concern both realistically and reassuringly.  “I think this is a concern that affects not only parents, but us teachers as well.  Teachers have the same worries about next year, and because of this, I think teachers are going to make adjustments to their lesson planning next year.  We know to expect students to come in September at a level that is different from previous years.  We are ready to accommodate that.  Starting in September as if the last year did not happen would be ridiculous, and I think teachers are going to be in the classroom with full awareness that students need more help than usual, more reinforcement and more support.  I am ready to give that to them.”

       Despite 9th grader Emanuel Cooper’s first year of high school being solely from his home, he affirms that, “I was able to relate to and learn from a lot of my teachers.  The only difference was that I couldn’t interact with them in person.  I had opportunities to use their office hours and participate in after school clubs and activities.”  Fellow 9th grader Astin David honestly admits, “The most challenging part of this year was the increased load of homework and assignments.  Nonetheless, I just continued to trek through it and I think it was effective.”  12th grader and Top 10 graduating senior Stephanie Ferreira recognizes, “My teachers put a lot of effort into their instruction and into making sure the students learned.”  Adding a philosophical note, senior Jamarlia Fuller believes, “It depends on the child and his or her motivation to take advantage of the teacher’s willingness to meet his or her personal learning needs, and every one of my teachers was willing!”  Senior Scott Nwosu recognizes that, “A part of education was lost this year but there is no one at fault.  Our teachers were forced to engage their students by adapting their lessons to a virtual setting and the majority of students still chose to be present and turn their work in!”

        When asked with what she had tasked her school administrators as the return of students and staff grew imminent, Dr. Camp responded with her usual directness, “to ensure that both students and staff were comfortable with their safety and security within their environment (my decisions will always err on the side of staff and student safety), to be positive and welcoming as students return to the buildings, and to protect instructional time by making changes in ‘little’ things that would maximize time for learning, such as more efficient dismissal times for example.”  Rahway High School Principal Dr. Cary Fields was quick to organize a re-opening team consisting of herself, Vice Principals Chey Rivera and Maria Hennessy, CST Psychologist Greg Provenzano, secretaries Palma Pizzi and Michaela Kallinosis, and school custodians who worked diligently to ensure that each classroom’s desks were marked to reflect proper social distancing and that each classroom was equipped with cleaning kits and with the proper ventilation.  With regard to welcoming the students back, Dr. Fields added with a warm smile, “that’s nothing out of the ordinary for us…it’s common practice.  We are always eager to see our students again!”

        Are there any hopes that students will be bringing something particularly special with them upon their return in September?  Absolutely.  Their Superintendent envisions them bringing back “a resiliency and perseverance and a true sense of who is truly there for them…not a ‘yes’ person but someone who has their best interest at heart.”  More specifically, Ms. Robertelli is confident her students “will be equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed in their upcoming classes, to create math content virtually, and to share their math work in any online format.”  Ms. Barnes believes that students “have gained strengths that a traditional educational setting is unlikely to provide.  In the long run, they will be better equipped to deal with crisis and unexpected changes in all aspects of life.” 

       “What I hope my students will come back with in September,” offers Ms. Saadeh, “is gratitude.”  “As American students, we are so lucky to receive a free public school education, and I think students around the country took that for granted.  Being in a classroom with peers and a teacher who is on call to teach, assist, and guide is a blessing that I hope students will recognize and realize.”