NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More students are returning to the classroom. But with masks, social distancing and random COVID-19 testing, school is now a very different experience.
CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez has more on how students, parents and educators have adapted and, in some cases, struggled to make it work.
For most families like the Lees of Manhattan’s West Side, working and learning from home has become the norm. They were adjusting when we CBS2 met them at the start of the pandemic.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Schools: The New Normal
Now, one year later, 5-year-old Kady Lee joins thousands of New York City public school students who are back in the classroom full time. Her 8-year-old brother, Shane, is hybrid. Both are following strict mask and social distancing rules.
“I had to look at a screen all day and now I have a neck problem,” Shane said.
“I just really want everything to go back to normal,” Kady added.
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Getting back to normal has been challenging for the Department of Education and its more than 1 million students, primarily bridging the digital divide. Private and public partnerships allowed the DOE to distribute more than half a million devices with internet.
When schools reopened in the fall, air purifiers were distributed to classrooms with poor ventilation, including teacher Alexis Neider’s classroom at the Neighborhood School in PS 69 on the Lower East Side.
But her classroom and many others are still relying on open-window ventilation, even during the freezing winter months.
“If we have to be there, we have to be cold,” Neider said.
Parents must consent to random weekly COVID-19 testing to return to in-person learning, with only 20% of students tested.
High schools remain fully remote.
“We are really advocating for 100% of children and staff to be tested every week,” Neider said.
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Joanna Tsimpedes is the assistant superintendent for Paterson, New Jersey schools, which have been fully remote since the pandemic began.
“To be honest, we never thought it would be March 2021 and we would still be in the same situation,” Tsimpedes said.
Thanks in part to funding from the CARES Act, all 26,000 of its students from pre-school through high school are equipped with a Chromebook with internet.
St. Francis De Sales Catholic Academy in Belle Harbor, Queens was able to safely reopen in the fall for all of its 560-plus students — K-5 full time, 6-8 hybrid. Despite its reopening success, Principal Chris Scharbach said his students, like many others, are still making up for lost time.
“There are definitely academic gaps that have to now be filled in this school year and beyond,” Scharbach said.
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Some schools have adjusted well to this new normal, but there is still much to be done to make sure children can succeed moving forward.
Educators say the key will be investing in remote learning, training and technology, and possible in-person summer programming.
“And really not just tackling the academic piece, but the social emotional as well — extracurricular, fitness, getting these kids up and active,” Tsimpedes said.
With the resignation of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, New York City public schools will now look to his successor, Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Porter to lead students into the new normal in education.
“I see so many opportunities to leverage the work that has started to really move our school system forward,” Porter said.
COVID-19 uncertainties have left so many lessons to learn along the way.