Students, teachers return to school following six-month shutdown

Among the school supplies in backpacks were varieties of face masks.

School was back in session on Sept. 8 in Tabernacle Township, and  administrators hope to improve the new learning environments.

Superintendent/Principal Shaun Banin said during a board of education meeting on the same date that students in cohort blue were in on the first day, and cohort gold students the next. Most students were in for a half day, while kindergarteners and those requiring special accommodations stayed a full six hours.

A few mishaps with virtual learning created problems with families. Parent Jennifer Tyler spoke during the board meeting’s public comment about login issues her son had, though they were quickly resolved.

“So many awesome little masks that kids had,” Banin enthused. “I saw so many superheroes, different pictures and this, that and the other. They were all very proud of their masks throughout the day, and it was great to walk around the buildings and check in classrooms and see students back in our schools and see learning happening.”

Banin watched some virtual lessons and first-day procedures addressed by teachers. He asked some parents about distance learning, and acknowledged a learning curve for everyone.

Grounds and maintenance employees received plaudits for keeping all common and high-touch areas as clean and sterile as possible. Banin  humorously noted how the floors sparkled as he walked the hallways and saw socially distanced desks in classrooms.

Board member Dan Dilks questioned if parents will be surveyed about their children’s experiences in the first week of school. Banin replied that guidance counselors are compiling a survey form of their own and the administration is working on another to gauge feedback and learn about  areas of improvement.

“We want to be careful to not survey them to death,” Dilks cautioned. “By the same point, I heard some very positive things on the first day, and things that definitely need to be addressed.”

Board member Col. Stephen Henske sought elaboration on areas that  need improvement and how they correlate to survey responses. He opined that reopening during the pandemic necessitates thorough updates.

Banin agreed and informed meeting attendees that the federal Department of Agriculture announced on Sept. 8 an extension of the free lunch program, through Dec. 31. All students 17 and younger are eligible for a free lunch and no applications are necessary. The USDA and New Jersey  fund the program through grants.

Parents who want the program to continue beyond December can apply for free, reduced lunch with the school nurses. Those who have paid for lunches can request refunds from the schools.

The board will next meet on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., over Zoom video conferencing. For details, visit TabSchools.org.