Day of casual conversation, work aimed to promote staff, student wellness

A day of collaboration and support comes to the Lenape Regional High School District as staff and students become more comfortable with remote learning.

Staff from Lenape High School volunteer to pack boxes of meals for the high school students on April 24 (Carol Birnbohm/Special to The Sun).

Noticing the dedication and efforts of staff and students alike, the Lenape Regional High School District is treating its community to a day away from instruction. 

Once every fifth school day, educators and students are encouraged to use the six-hour time slot to catch up on school work, collaborate with others to generate new approaches to learning or simply have a conversation with classmates or coworkers. 

“Getting to spring break and getting to the reality of not returning right after spring break, I wanted to make remote learning more attainable,” Superintendent Carol Birnbohm shared. “All of our teachers, counselors, and then our students sometimes are working with both parents who are essential workers. Or some have multiple students online at once in one family.”

So, the flexible fifth day schedule came into play after the district returned from spring break on April 20. 

Education in New Jersey has shifted immensely since Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders closing schools until at least May 15. Learning in the LRHSD has shifted from classrooms at Seneca, Cherokee, Lenape and Shawnee high schools, to kitchen counters, bedrooms and living rooms. 

Students log on to their Google Classrooms where educators post assignments, videos and assessments to continue reaching learning standards amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“Some of our teachers are parenting and taking care of their household and their families at the same time,” Birnbohm continued. “I wanted to make sure we had a day where our staff could connect with each other. They’re recording videos at night and this will allow them to reflect, connect with their colleagues and collaborate with one another.”

And so it has. 

Shawnee’s community has shared Zoom video conference screenshots of students and their respective teachers sharing advice to one another and opportunities for career growth. 

Lenape educators lent their time to packages and deliver a weekend’s worth of meals to students’ doorsteps via school buses.

“They (district’s teachers) miss their students terribly,” Birnbohm explained. “Every teacher I talk to says they cannot wait to see their students, their colleagues and be in their buildings.

“The teachers this morning (April 24) at Lenape were so happy to see each other.”

Students and staff at Seneca participated in MD Anderson Cooper Cancer Center’s fundraiser during National Volunteer Week during the week of April 20. 

Cherokee had fun with their fifth day to create a compilation of students singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Sequoia Alternative Program students submitted haikus to the L.A. Times as part of a project coordinated by Los Angeles sound artist Alan Nakagawa.

A period for casual learning or conversation is not new to the district. All four high schools and Sequoia have a 50-minute community lunch and learn period during the school day where students can visit classrooms to receive additional help and teachers meet to collaborate. 

“It’s the same wording we use for lunch and learns for the flexible fifth day,” Birnbohm noted.

Shying away from speaking directly on students’ emotional feelings, she admitted they are all still teenagers and the feedback they have shared on their assignments or social media showed students are managing remote learning well. 

“They’re reaching out for help when needed,” she clarified, pointing to the resources teachers and support personnel had made available on their Google websites.

“Any type of individual help the student needs, they’re receiving it.”

Administration has created the schedule format as a way to also extend gratitude toward the teachers who Birnbohm described are making themselves more available to students as they make every possible attempt and solution to educate them. 

Remote learning, however, is not feasible for every aspect of education. But in dire times such as during the pandemic, educators reach their students in various avenues to support students in all aspects of education. 

“Education fills so many buckets for students — academically, emotionally and everywhere,” Birnbohm clarified. “I don’t think this will be a shift to remote learning for everyone across the board.

“This shows instead what we provide to educate the whole child.”

The importance of educators’ role in a student’s life has been in the spotlight for the past nearly two months as stories and images emerge regarding teachers going out of their way for students.

Across the country, praises are shared on social media for their efforts. Holding teachers to a high regard, Birnbohm emphasized, should remain throughout the year as more recognize the impact educators have on a child. 

“I would hope that the staff feels this is a move to support them,” she added. “Our staff feels they have enough time to focus on their students and reach them in any way they can.

“Instituting the flexible day is our way of saying ‘you’re doing a great job and if you can take care of yourself, you can help your students.’”