Fall: reimagining what school can be
March 30, 2021
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.