A Year Like No Other

Central looks back at a year with Covid-19 and looks forward to what may be ahead

March 30, 2021

Friday, March 13 was the last time Central’s campus was full with students and staff. As we approach the one-year anniversary, the following stories attempt to provide a glimpse into the impact the pandemic has had on our school community.

Spring: shutdown and figuring it out

Attempting Online Learning

Without much warning, schools were forced to adapt to a new way of learning in March of 2020, here is what people have to say about it now almost a year later.
By Peyton Brownlie, Jack Menichillo, Ryan Maurer, Hailey Gaibor, and Bryan Aguilar

 

Central’s Covid Graduation

All high school seniors hope to have a memorable graduation day. But not quite like the one in June 2020.
By Alex Scheetz, Claudia Langenfeld, Lorenzo Sanelli, and Elizabeth Edwards

 

Summer: a season of reflection and change

Photo+by+Sara+Beyer

Photo by Sara Beyer

Students Fight for BLM

With the increased attention of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S, a protest in Flemington sparked attention to students

By Dylan Marra and Jacob Tulli

The death of George Floyd sparked awareness all across the United States for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Protests and marches were being held at major cities spreading through the country and BLM was gaining a lot of attention.

These massive protests were reported by many major news networks, but some of the most influential gatherings were held at smaller towns, including one in Flemington, NJ where students from the local high school Hunterdon Central Regional High School organized and planned the incredible event.

Held on the small town’s Main Street, hundreds of Flemington residents gathered to support BLM. People held self-made signs promoting their beliefs, speeches were given by students, and songs were sung to deliver hope for change in the future.

The protest, held on June 26th, raised lots of coronavirus concerns for locals who wanted to attend. Mary Woods, English teacher at Hunterdon Central shared her worries about the pandemic at the BLM protest in Flemington.

“I was worried about feeling safe in terms of the pandemic, and I ended up seeing a lot of demonstrations of humanity,” she said.

“There were all these demonstrations of humanity and kindness… and in a time of such darkness, frustration, and tension, seeing people rise to the occasion made me proud of my community””

— Ms. Mary Woods, English teacher

Being reluctant to attend the protest due to COVID, Mary Woods explains that she went anyway because her students were actively participating. “The driving force (in participating) was the fact that some of my students were not only participating but were running the event,” she says.

One of her students, Jordan Caldwell, organized this event and sang songs to make a difference.

“I used platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. I use my big following to speak not only about the protest but just speak about the causes that I love,” she said.

Jordan isn’t the first in her family to attend a protest. She has activism in her background.

“My mom was a big inspiration for the protest. She went to protests when she was younger,” Jordan said.

This was an act of pure kindness and hopefulness. Jordan wants to see a change, so she must do her best to be the change.

“I wanted to help bring unity to Flemington,” she said.

Ms. Woods also mentioned unity as the biggest takeaway she experienced from the BLM protests in Flemington.

“There were all these demonstrations of humanity and kindness… and in a time of such darkness, frustration, and tension, seeing people rise to the occasion made me proud of my community,” she said.

Fall: reimagining what school can be

Free food for all students

Due to the pandemic schools are providing meals to students as they leave the building each day

By Drew Cohen

As Covid-19 numbers surge, many households are struggling more than ever to put food on the table and students are having to deal with more financial problems than ever before. 

“My family has never struggled financially before, but after March my mother lost her job and there has been less and less food in my house,” says a student (‘23) who prefers to remain anonymous. 

This student is not the only one. Jill Komosinski, a mother of four with one child at Central, said, “Having my work hours cut due to the pandemic, knowing that some of the cost of my weekly grocery bill has been cut using this helpful school resource has been a relief,” she said. 

Millions of students in the U.S. have gone from normal lives to be financially unstable. According to Pew Research Center, the U.S. unemployment rate has gone from 3.8% in February to 13.0% in May. That rate was the second-highest, only behind April, which was 14.4%. 

Unemployment has always been a problem, but the pandemic forcing businesses to shut down and workers to get laid off has been a driving factor for the increase in unemployment this year.  This has forced financial problems for millions or more people than before the pandemic leaving people not being able to provide for their families. 

Although the unemployment rates have dropped since April, the U.S. is still at a higher rate of unemployment than the average from over the years.  

Due to the pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided a solution: free breakfast and lunch in school available for students. At Hunterdon Central Regional High School and many other schools throughout the country, the USDA provides these meals to all students, no matter what the students’ financial situation. 

Having my work hours cut due to the pandemic, knowing that some of the cost of my weekly grocery bill has been cut using this helpful school resource has been a relief”

— Ms. Jill Komosinski

Laura Rosman, Food Service Manager at Hunterdon Central Regional High School says, “We have the lunches right now because there are a lot of people hurting out there right now, unfortunately, and times are so different. A lot of people are working from home and struggling to get out to grocery stores. We are just providing a service to all students just to make life easier for everybody.”

It’s not only Hunterdon Central. Many schools have received grants from the USDA to provide meals to their students. These breakfasts and lunches consist of a variety of food. In the lunches, students can expect to receive two frozen meals for lunch and two breakfasts that come with milk, cereal, crackers, and a juice box. 

On the last day of attending school for the week, students can expect three frozen lunches along with three of the breakfast packs of food, along with milk and a bag of fruit. The purpose of this is to provide them with enough food for the rest of the week while they attend school virtually. The anonymous student (‘23) continued, “It’s a lot of food they give us and it has really been helping me.”

Making the lunches and getting them to the students is a several step process. It starts with the food getting imported into the school or getting made at the school. After this, the food is bagged. Next, it is set up at the tables and handed out to the students. 

It is optional for the students to take these meals on their way out, and fully remote students can pick them up from the school at a designated time. Given the fact that taking these meals is optional, some meals will be leftover. However, these meals do not get thrown away, they get stored for later use. 

Parents and guardians have been struggling during this pandemic and the USDA has provided a very helpful solution. “Knowing that my kids have healthy meal options, they can prepare themselves while I’m at work has been a priceless resource during these difficult times,” said Komosinski. 

 

One Way Hallways Got September Underway

Students at Central may like long walks on the beach, but they definitely do not appreciate long walks to class. But with the introduction of one way hallways to maintain social distancing in school, long walks to class are exactly what they got.

By Isabelle Conklin, Rachell Aquino, Madison Quinones, Samantha Bussinger,and Pat Monus

 

Despite Challenges, Students and Staff Continue to Succeed

Hunterdon Central Adjusts to the new hybrid/remote learning

By Emmett Fitz and Shaun Verma

The COVID-19 pandemic, among many other things, made the reopening of schools around the state a challenge. For Hunterdon Central Regional High School things were no different. But unlike many schools, Central has been able to stay open for in-person learning since the opening in September.

Over the summer, they made the decision to open with a hybrid/virtual format, where the school population was split into two groups. Group 1 would go into school for a half-day on Mondays and Tuesdays (group 2 would be virtual those days), group 2 would go into school for a half-day on Thursdays and Fridays (group 1 would be virtual those days), and Wednesdays would be a full-length remote day for both groups, while the school got treated to a deep clean.

Students also had the option to attend school virtually every day.

This new format has affected all members of the Hunterdon Central community, from students and parents to teachers and administrators, and all of us have had different experiences.

Senior, Brady Quintard, having been both fully virtual and in-person, has gotten the full spectrum of learning experiences this year. 

Comparing this year to the end of last year, he noted that the focus has shifted to actually learning new material, and so is better overall. However, there are still downsides to this year. There is an important difference between being fully virtual and hybrid. “In general the less in-person school you have it seems like the more filler work you’re getting and the less content you’re being presented with,” says Quintard. 

Virtual students are missing out on the same depth of content, and while there may be upsides to virtual learning, Quintard doesn’t think they are widely available. “The benefits of virtual learning and of that filler work are only accessible, I personally think, with discipline,” he said. In addition to this, it is harder to communicate with teachers and classmates the more virtual you are. 

But this also ties back into the idea of discipline, something that Quintard emphasized greatly. “My biggest takeaway would be that the options to do what you want to do are going to be there if you look for them,” he said. Whether it be getting in touch with a teacher or peer, or keeping up with a new topic in a class, if you have the discipline, there is the potential to get the same thing out of a virtual experience as one would in person. 

On the whole, Quintard expressed that he thought this system was the best it could get, and that the teachers were doing their best. 

From the teacher perspective, there are different challenges. When it came time to prepare for September, teachers had to think outside the box in order to come up with an effective plan for teaching during the pandemic. They had to work around safety regulations, as well as constraints on the learning itself. Things like labs, a critical part of teaching science, were not allowed for safety purposes.

Science teacher, Victoria Grasso, found that beyond the difficulty surrounding planning, once school actually started, the social differences of hybrid and virtual learning were hard to adjust to. 

“You could be home, by yourself, on remote instruction, and have your camera off the entire day–do you truly have some sort of interaction with somebody during the day when you just sit there in front of your virtual classroom not talking? You’re looking at someone, but that person isn’t looking back at you, they’re looking at a box. Is that truly a connection?” said Grasso. 

She doesn’t think so, and even for the in-person students, she feels that the masks change e social climate both between her and her students and between the students themselves. It’s harder to read people’s expressions, and students don’t talk as much.

Ms. Jessica Cangelosi-Hade, Director of Curriculum and Instruction”

— The big thing to always remember is that our teachers didn’t sign up to be online teachers, and we know students didn’t sign up to be online students

In terms of the difference between teaching virtual students and in-person students, it took Grasso some time to learn how to split her attention and give both groups an equal experience. In the beginning, all of this was tiring for her, especially since she is a parent, but it’s getting easier.

Teaching during the pandemic has drawn Grasso’s attention to something that’s been under our noses this whole time. “Technology is awesome,” she said. Because of the virtual circumstances, teachers have had to make use of things like edpuzzles, virtual notes, and other tools for things like planning lessons that they weren’t before, and seeing the benefits therein. 

“I should have done more of it in my previous 9 years of teaching, but didn’t want to recreate things because they already existed,” she said. Being forced into a virtual medium has made us realize just what we can do with the technology we have.

On the administrative level, a lot of work went into orchestrating the reopening. Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Jessica Cangelosi-Hade, outlined the work that was going on behind the scenes over the summer, and even now, to create the best learning environment possible under the constraints of the pandemic. She went into detail about the planning that happened over the summer. 

In the safety-department, there were efforts made to reduce everyone’s movement throughout the day, and unit lunch had to be removed, so school would have to reopen on an early dismissal schedule.

Because of this, classes would need to be shorter, and that meant revising the curriculum. Certain things needed to be replaced or completely removed; one thing that was implemented was more projects instead of tests. 

On top of changes to the curriculum, they knew it would be harder for teachers and students to connect through masks and over zooms. “We knew that we had to really prioritize the relationship building,” said Cangelosi-Hade. Many teachers did relationship-building exercises. Grasso, for example, made a video introducing herself to her students without a mask on so that her students get to know her better.

After being open for some time, teachers noticed that there was a huge benefit to virtual Wednesdays, because not only were the blocks full length, but everyone was in the same virtual medium with no masks. This was something that was stressed as something to take advantage of.

Over the summer, staff would meet and discuss reopening plans, and they continue to do this even now, more than halfway through the school year, and now are even meeting interdepartmentally.

Cangelosi-Hade concluded that we were built to learn in an in-person environment. “The big thing to always remember is that our teachers didn’t sign up to be online teachers, and we know students didn’t sign up to be online students,” she said. We really need to be face to face with others to learn most effectively. Cangelosi-Hade acknowledged that some students have struggled with virtual learning, and expressed her understanding of the difficulties of this abnormal school year.

By and large, this virtual and hybrid learning experience has been a challenge, but we’ve learned from it. Moving forward, we can expect to be teaching and learning better, and in the meantime, we are all doing our best to keep up with the challenges presented to us.

 

Winter: working towards a new normal

Covid demands impact school nurses

Nursing at Central and beyond stretches into the frontlines of healthcare work.

By Jack Deminski

With a soft creak, the heavy door to the 9/10 nurse’s office swings open. Jennifer Amato, the Sophomore Nurse at Hunterdon Central, enters the dreary office and lets the door ease shut behind her. It could’ve been just like any other start to the day, but Mrs. Amato knew it wouldn’t be. She glances back at the door, thinking how it used to open and close hundreds of times a day, just like that. 

Today, that door would only open and close a couple dozen times. “The amount of students that stop by nowadays is considerably less than what it used to be,” Mrs. Amato says. It’s a concept that saddens her, but there isn’t much to be done about it.

2020’s COVID-19 pandemic has been a gateway to all sorts of challenges. Social distancing and constant mask-wearing have become a part of everyone’s lives. But as a school nurse of Hunterdon Central, Jennifer Amato has to endure much more than that.

At the beginning of the year, the nurse’s office received many more student visitors. Nonetheless, these students only visited to get temperature checks required by the school in order to attend in-person hybrid schedule learning. Parents have now gotten into the routine of filling out the school-distributed student health screening form every day their child attends in-person. 

“We only see around 40 kids a day,” Mrs. Amato says. “For example, today in this office we saw 26, in the other office we saw 28.”

Without students to work with, much of the work school nurses perform revolves heavily around contact tracing, assessing symptoms, making phone calls to parents, and even keeping track of attendance. 

“My job has changed from school nursing to public health nursing,” Mrs. Amato says. “It’s less nursing per say and more public health work.” While most of this work is done during school hours, it is common for school nurses to get additional work done at home. 

Dr. Jeffrey Moore, Hunterdon Central High School Superintendent, says the school chooses to pay nurses extra when completing work off hours. “We weren’t expecting to be doing this much contact tracing ourselves. At first we were in touch with the department of health, but over the past month or so we’ve had to do a lot of it ourselves,” he said.

Hunterdon Central nurses aren’t the only staff that have been pushed to the front lines in health care work. Other school nurses across the country have been struggling to keep up with their newfound tasks and responsibilities. 

But to make matters worse, a study by the Education Law Center found that roughly 300 schools don’t have a nurse. Nurse shortages such as this have caused schools to raise their student-to-nurse ratio above the national standard of 1 nurse to 750 students. Additionally, many school nurses have expressed frustration with certain procedures their schools have taken during the pandemic that put staff and students in harm’s way, such as a lack of resources to keep the schools sanitary. School nursing has always consisted of tending to students and assessing factors such as potential child abuse or mistreatment, and now many school nurses now find themselves being looked up to by their fellow staff for guidance and assistance in terms of health and safety.

My job has changed from school nursing to public health nursing”

— Ms. Jen Amato

“The nurses are really helpful for us in the front line and in a lot of the work we have to do to keep everyone safe,” Dr. Moore says. “We rely on them to give us good information on the latest symptoms and concerns and to stay in touch with other nurses in the county and hospitals. I’m just really appreciative of all that they do, they’ve been a big part of all that.”

Due to the overwhelming responsibilities school nurses have taken, Hunterdon Central takes advantage of the Employee Assistance Program to help supply staff with optional wellness counseling and therapy sessions. Workshops that help with mindfulness, breathing exercises, and yoga have also been provided. 

“The workshops have been popular, but the EAP is confidential,” Dr. Moore says. “We want people to feel free to use EAP without any worry of embarrassment — and they shouldn’t, it’s a good tool.” 

Nurses and other staff of Hunterdon Central aren’t the only part of the high school who practice mental health nowadays. “Before Covid, we would have students come in for all sorts of reasons,” Mrs. Amato says. “A mental health break, just to visit to say hi, to rest from a bad day. We’re not seeing any of that anymore. Students are opting to stay more in class and seek other avenues for mental health.”

Mrs. Amato reminisces about the past often, back when the nurse’s office door would open and close more than just a couple dozen times a day. “I do miss seeing the kids,” she says. “I think hybrid schedules are a good compromise to have kids in school, but now it’s only on an emergent basis where I see kids.” 

Despite it all, Mrs. Amato still puts in the effort to remind all the students she cares for to continue wearing masks and following other health guidelines. It’s with the hope of beating COVID-19, and being able to see those heavy office doors open the way they used to again, that Mrs. Amato and other school nurses persevere.

 

Hunterdon Central Plans For a Vaccinated Future

Who gets the vaccine and when may change the school environment.

Maximilian Sleczka, Duncan Abbott, Zack Hoyvald, Grace Greenwald, and Chuck Cowart

 

 

How has virtual school changed our snow days?

Have snow days become a thing of the past?

By Kristina Adamo and Amaya Salazar

As we get adjusted to our virtual learning during the winter, the question of if snow days will remain the way we know them has crossed many students’ minds. For many years snow days meant sleeping in and having a relaxed day to take a break and enjoy the weather, but now they could mean waking up at 7:00 am and attending online class. There are many reasons why this could be beneficial but does the bad outweigh the good?

Hunterdon Central prioritizes students learning and well-being. Dr. Moore, HC’s superintendent, shares how they determine whether to call a virtual or normal snow day.  “As far as on any given day the decision to do a full closure versus a remote day, that was based on whatever the situation was during the day,” he said. So if the snow were to be detrimental to power, or left effects that needed to be fixed, then the day would be given off so that students and families can deal with the effects of the snow.

Whether it’s a zoom call or you’re doing work, if the snow is coming down outside, I’m sure that’s a distraction”

— Dr. Jeffrey Moore, Superintendent

The real question was when learning during a virtual snow day are students too distracted to learn. No matter what age and grade, distraction can get the best of you when learning. So when there’s snow outside the temptation to be daydreaming instead of doing algebra, can be overpowering.

According to Dr, Moore distraction during a snow day is inevitable. “Whether it’s a zoom call or you’re doing work, if the snow is coming down outside, I’m sure that’s a distraction,” he said. With or without a virtual day, snow days are still distracting to students.

We asked a freshman to see how it felt as a student to be missing out on the snow, during these virtual days. The student interviewed expressed his feelings about online snow days, “It gets me distracted and it just makes me wonder why am I here, why can’t I just be going out in the snow,” he said. If virtual days in general are hard to focus on, can missing just one day for snow be detrimental to our learning for the week?

This year Hunterdon Central is doing half days for the time being no matter what type of learning you do, in person or online. Because of this change, things like delayed openings and early dismissals are not plausible. This creates a difficult situation because since the only way for students to have a snow day would be to take the whole day off, the school would have to take days off of students’ mandatory breaks for holidays and weather.

Dr Moore says that he was prioritizing the time students get off to celebrate holidays or spend time with family and friends, “I wanted to make sure that we could still preserve, if it was safe and we could pull it off, we could still preserve the days off that we have for everybody when the weather is warmer,” he said.

Overall schools are changing, whether you’re virtually learning through zoom, or socially distancing in classrooms things are new and changing fast. A freshman student expressed an overall feeling about what is happening virtually, “It doesn’t seem right or ideal, but again it’s the way things are going to work,” he said.

This student was not alone in the way he felt about this new online learning.

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