MILLBURN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — In this new normal, students across the tri-state area are getting ready for a first day of school like never before as districts adapt to virtual learning.

The days of summer are dwindling and while students are bracing for a brand new back-to-school experience, it’s the districts getting ready for their biggest test ever.

“What happens in a virtual world is not the same thing that happens in brick and mortar,” said Dr. Christine Burton, superintendent of Millburn Schools in New Jersey.

Their school year will begin 100% remotely.

“You have to compact the curriculum,” Burton said. “What are the most important standards that you want students to be able to come away with? Particularly in the elementary levels — your reading, writing, mathematics.”

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In middle and high school, there’s no question that hands-on learning from a child’s living room will be hard.

“There are challenges in labs, anything whereby we need to use the equipment, the resources, the material that in our classrooms. We do anticipate having labs, but there’s something again that you’re watching something as opposed to being part of,” Burton said.

“Is it realistic to expect that our kids will get as much virtually as they will in a classroom?” CBS2’s Jessica Layton asked.

“The community that you’re able to build in a classroom, there is something that you can’t replicate through a digital modality,” Burton said.

CBS2 asked the same question in Paterson, where the pandemic forced district officials to fast-track technology plans, getting a Chromebook into the hands of every child. Still, the district has no doubt teachers will be dealing with learning loss.

“Students have probably lost, it could be, you know, a quarter of a grade level,” Paterson Assistant Superintendent Joanna Tsimpedes asid. “What we’re looking to do is to build that gap and to continue building our students.”

Tsimpedes is the head of curriculum.

“I think right now, we have to teach to our students and not to the test because we have so many varying abilities in our classrooms because of what has happened in the last few months,” she said.

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In most schools, both urban and suburban, the focus at the start of the year will simply be on how kids are feeling, making more room for what teachers call social emotional learning in just about every subject.

“Making them feel more confident as students,” Tsimpedes said. “Even our curriculum itself, our math, our ELA curriculum, has social emotional activities built into it.”

It’s a similar approach in nearby Newark.

“September, October, November, we are building confidence,” Newark Superintendent Roger Leon said. “So there’s a human approach that needs to look a little different than perhaps we’ve done before.”

No matter where you live, help and patience from parents will be key.

“We will monitor and adjust,” Burton said.

Learning through a laptop lens won’t be the same as getting one-on-one warmth from a teacher, but it’s a new world, and both kids and adults are still learning to navigate it.

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