Lenape Regional board of ed addresses pandemic’s impact on schools

Superintendent praises nursing staff, faculty for pivoting to COVID practices

The Lenape Regional High School District (LRHSD) Board of Education convened at Seneca High School Nov. 18 for its most recent regular meeting, which Superintendent Dr. Carol Birnbohm began by addressing the recent uptick in confirmed COVID cases. 

“The second wave of COVID-19 is among us here, across the nation and, in particular, Burlington County,” she said. “The numbers are rising all around us, but here we are, offering one of the safest places for our kids to be: our schools.”

Birnbohm added that, thanks to the schools’ medical staff, the district has been able to operate with safety as its priority and react quickly to confirmed cases.

“For the second month in a row, I need to give a shoutout to our school nurses, who are instrumental in providing all the necessary information to the county health officials to make sure that all the close contacts are properly notified and all the quarantining requirements, which are different for every situation, are fully explained to all those involved,” Birnbohm noted.

She drew attention to how most of the district’s employees of the month are on the nursing staff.

“Recognizing that their jobs pre-COVID were already demanding, but now that the number of positive individuals is climbing, their job is even busier and even more important than ever before,” the superintendent said.

Regarding confirmed COVID cases in the schools, Birnbohm explained that the district’s sites have dashboards updated every Friday afternoon that reflect  positive counts among students and staff.

Making it through 47 in-person education days despite a pandemic is an impressive accomplishment, she added, as well as a privilege and a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

“Each day we’re here, to quote one of our principals this week, is a gift,” Birnbohm observed. “It is a necessary function of making sure our teenagers are not only provided with academic support but also much-needed social and emotional support that we offer here.”

Should there be a return to an all-virtual instructional model, the superintendent expressed her gratitude for the schools’ full marking period of face-to-face connection. 

Birnbohm recognized and thanked district employees for their efforts in making this most unusual school year a success so far.

“I would like to commend and highlight members of our faculty who are working extremely hard to make school relevant and interesting to our kids, to get them to turn on their computers, to tune into Google Meets and to come to school,” she said. 

The superintendent spoke of the schools’ collective efforts to have ongoing dialogues about the importance of social-justice movements, as well as learning to listen before talking when it comes to having productive conversations about controversial topics.  

She addressed teachers’ creative approaches to instruction, especially in terms of overcoming obstacles and distractions to craft impactful, dynamic lessons. Among those approaches were a World War I virtual escape room where students had to navigate their way out of a trench as a team, as well as creating a podcast series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment and women’s right to vote.

A trio of Lenape High foreign-language teacher James Goetschius’ Italian students were among 23 high schoolers in the country selected for scholarships allowing them to “immerse themselves in the Italian culture” with a three-week trip to Italy in the summer of 2021. The three were selected for their AP assessment scores and commitment to studying the Italian language. 

“Let’s just say that again: Of 23 kids in the country, three of them are from Lenape High School,” Birnbohm emphasized. “That’s a tremendous feather in Mr. Goetschius’ cap, the program he’s presenting, just the enthusiasm he sparks in the students and the love for the Italian language and culture.”

The board also recognized a number of donations to the district, such as Lockheed Martin’s monetary gift to the Cherokee and Lenape robotics team and the Medford-Vincentown Rotary Club’s donation to the Seneca food pantry.

The next Lenape Regional board of education meeting will be Dec. 16 at the district administration building in Shamong.