When Leslie Kornsgold, the associate principal of secular studies at Abrams Hebrew Academy, walked into her classroom in the beginning of August, she saw the last thing she had written on the board: “Homework, Week of March 6th.”
With Abrams announcing on Aug. 11 that it will be open for in-person school this year, that board will start getting regular updates again, with a little luck and a lot of precautionary measures.
“I just want to be here already,” Kornsgold said.
The school will open for in-person learning on Aug. 18, bringing students and teachers together for the first time since that tumultuous week in March. Though most families have chosen to begin the year by sending their children to school, the few that have decided to keep their children at home for Zoom-based learning at the start will be able to opt-in to in-person learning later in the year.
Plans for in-person school at Abrams have been in the works since the 2019-2020 school year ended in June, according to Rabbi Ira Budow, director of the K-8 school in Yardley. The success will depend on buy-in from teachers, parents and students, which Budow believes can be achieved.
“My teachers are great people,” Budow said. “They’re very loyal to the school.” Teachers and administrators have spent the summer familiarizing themselves with the new protocols they’ll be expected to adhere during the year, and parents have signed contracts that will govern their behavior throughout the school year, contracts that Budow says parents are on board with.
The measures are numerous. Rather than students going from classroom to classroom during the day, each class will stay in an assigned room, leaving only the teachers to roam the halls. They’ll be teaching to the classroom and to newly purchased cameras and microphones, reminding students to stay sanitized and keep their masks on, and taking new laptops from room to room, rather than logging on to shared computers.
Meanwhile, the school will be sanitized daily, and a school nurse will be kept on the premises. There are clear, strict instructions for how to handle positive COVID-19 tests within the school community, and Abrams will, in part, depend on parents to monitor each other’s behavior. In the most drastic change, some classroom walls were knocked down in order to grow the classrooms, which will allow class sizes to remain as normal.
Well, sort of. Twenty years ago, according to Kornsgold, Abrams routinely averaged around 40 students per grade level; in the last few years, the average has been 17 or 18. But the success of Abrams’ quick pivot to online teaching in the spring, combined with its decision to forge ahead with in-person learning, has led to an unexpected enrollment jump. This year, five grades have more than 20 students.
Ruti Stark’s daughters aren’t new to Abrams, but she was pleased with what the school put together online in the spring. The speed and capability with which that was done gave her confidence that Abrams would figure out how to have in-person school, if it chose to do so; assessing the steps that were taken — and those that the school will ask of the community — she feels even better about the decision.
“We are all excited about the kids achieving some normalcy,” Stark said. “We have a lot of confidence in the school and the administration.”
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