School district keeps spirits soaring

Palmyra Public Schools finds ways to boost morale

Palmyra High School seniors went all out for Virtual Spirit Week! (Special to The Sun)

Who’s got spirit?

They do, they do!

School may be taking place in kitchen classrooms around the borough right now, but that isn’t stopping Palmyra Public Schools from sending out virtual cheer and doing what it can to keep students’ spirits soaring. From a social media-driven Spring Spirit Week to participation in Chalk the Walk, the staff members at Charles Street School, Palmyra Middle School and Palmyra High School are brainstorming ways to engage with their students outside of mathematics and language arts lessons.

“I think it’s important for kids to feel connected to their school, to feel a part of something,” Charles Street Principal Chris Tracey said. “That’s important under the best of circumstances; it’s vital right now.”

Like many of the schools throughout Burlington County, Palmyra Public Schools closed its doors starting March 16 at the recommendation of the county health department due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With an initial aim to reopen on April 18, last week Gov. Phil Murphy announced schools would remain closed until at least May 15.

Despite the shock and difficulty of the sudden departure from typical schooling, district staff throughout South Jersey rose to the occasion. Palmyra was no exception.

“I’m incredibly proud of our staff and students,” high school Principal Lisa Sabo said. “This transition was not easy, but our staff and students hit the ground running and haven’t stopped. We are constantly trying to iron out the wrinkles, but overall, I could not be more proud of our teachers and our students.”

Tracey echoed those sentiments.

“I am so proud of my staff at Charles Street School! They sprung into action early on and put a plan in place almost immediately. From what I have heard from colleagues in other districts, we are in better shape than most,” Tracey said. “Our students seem to be rising to the occasion, too.”

The week of March 30, the district held Palmyra Spring Spirit Week. The event worked the same as typical spirit weeks, giving students a chance to show off their Palmyra pride by following themed days throughout the week. The only difference this time was that everything would be shared virtually through the school district’s website and social media platforms.

“The virtual spirit week was the brainchild of our admin team,” Lisa Jablonski, administrative assistant to the superintendent and school social media guru, said. “They were hearing from the faculty side how much they missed the kids.”

Themed days included We Miss Sports Monday, Super Tuesday, Rock Your Reds Day on Wednesday, Thankful Thursday and Fancy Friday Finale. Jablonski said the turnout was higher than expected.

“It was just nice to see faces. It was nice to see some of the more personal things kids did,” she said.

Sabo said she was glad to see the spirit week bring a bit of normalcy back to the students and teachers.

“The most difficult aspect of this online transition is the lack of interaction with classmates and teachers,” she said. “I hope this spirit week has made the kids feel a little less isolated and help them to know that we’re truly in this together and will get through this together!”

At the same time as Spring Spirit Week, two teachers at the high school — math teacher Nick Nahrwold and social studies teacher (and girls basketball coach) Ken Miller  — hosted a March Candy Madness bracket with the student body.

“They had a whole spread. You name it. It was all the non-chocolate versus chocolate candies,” Jablonski said with a laugh. “After everything was said and done, Kit Kat won.”

Taking part in Chalk the Walk NJ was another social distancing-friendly spirit-building activity for the district, an initiative to get New Jersey sidewalks covered in positive chalk messages and pictures. Jablonski and STEAM teacher Renee Hoffecker decorated the sidewalk in front of Charles Street, and district students were encouraged to chalk the walk at their own homes.

“There’s been a lot of chalk getting used in Palmyra,” Jablonski confirmed.

The school district is small, and Jablonski credits the size as one of the reasons remote learning is hitting school spirit especially hard.

“We’re such a small school district. It’s a family atmosphere,” she said, “and it’s hard not to see (each other).”

For now — thanks to Jablonski and Palmyra administrators and staff members — the school community can at least see each other in the virtual realm.