Last year, 80% of the students in 5 Public School and half of its teachers learned and taught at distance.
Danielle Keane, principal of Public School 5 in the South Bronx, spent months preparing on Monday morning, the first day of school.
Everything was in place: the bagpipes and drums group from the department of police hid under a balloon arch otidy and black - the colors of the school - and went around the concrete yard playing a song by Bruno Mars. The teachers, wearing matching black T-shirts that read “Let the good times roll,” danced. Inside, the school building shone bright, with desks three feet apart and masks for anyone who needed them.
" Now all we need is children, "Ms. Keane said.
She was not sure how many people were coming together. would actually present.
The past 18 months have been exceptionally difficult for the school, which welcomes low-income black and Latino students in elementary and high school. a neighborhood ravaged by the coronavirus.
Last year, the vast majority (around 80%) of the 600 or so primary and secondary students inthe school have chosen to learn remotely. About half of the teachers in the school received medical exemptions to work from home. The cavernous building seemed empty and a bit dark, with just over 120 students and a few dozen teachers and staff crowding the hallways.
For the past few months, Ms. Keane has been on a mission to bring all of her students back to the building, and to make their families feel comfortable coming back after so many months of absence. Its work is put to the test this week, as New York 's largest school system in the country reopens fully for the first time since March 2020 - with no distance learning option.
Throughout the summer she has been telling parents and her staff, "Life will go on, let's keep going.
Monday, nearly 90% of the students registered onMs. Keane's ledger returned to class, a higher percentage than the city average of just over 82%.
L ' school was as vibrant as Ms. Keane had hoped. "What a beautiful day," she said.
A version of Ms. Keane's push is played out in every 1800 sch in town ools this week. New York City educators are meeting with families concerned about returning to class amid the spread of the Delta variant, with all elementary students and many older children still unvaccinated.
Some parents across town refused, opting to home school their children instead, enrolling them in charters with e-learning options , or simply to keep children enrolled in public schools at home until they feel more comfortableto return to class.
Ms. Keane believed his students, many of whom struggled with distance learning, needed to return to class this fall. But she knew she couldn't just hope that her families would suddenly feel comfortable sending their children away. Image "We'll dive into it, and we'll find out how you get where you need to be, but we 're not going to cherish you, "said Katherine Keller, high school special education teacher at PS. 5. Credit ... James Estrin / The Hfrance.fr
So Ms. Keane came up with a plan: she would do whatever she couldto make school a place people wanted to be. In addition to getting ready for the start of the new year, Ms Keane has become a de facto event planner for her school, imagining ways to engage more families. As with so many other things in the city's educational landscape, the success of the school year largely rested on the shoulders of one principal.
She has handled crises large and small. Just an hour before the start of the back-to-school carnival in mid-August, Ms Keane learned that two of the dozen goldfish she was hoping to give away as prizes later that day were floating face down.
She calmly arranged for the dead fish to be removed from the aquarium with a net, and crossed her fingers that the rest would survive. 'sweltering afternoon.
The summer carnivalhad a climax ng back-to-school time for Ms. Keane, which began even before the official end of last school year. In June, P.S. 5 scrapped its planned Zoom graduation ceremonies and held six in-person events for college graduates, with caps, dresses, and red carpets rolled out on the school's playground. In July, the school welcomed more than 300 children from all over the city, including many PS 5 students, for summer classes.
Mrs. Keane has initiated 'come home' sessions twice a week, to allow families who stayed at home last year to re-enter the building and learn about safety measures. There were comedy evenings for families as well as literacy classes for parents who were still learning English.
But it 's only after PS 5 organized a movie nightmy outdoors in the park adjacent to the school and Mrs. Keane saw that her plan was working. Over 200 people showed up for one of the films, by far the best turnout the school has ever seen for any of its events. Ms Keane returned home that night wiping tears of joy and relief from her eyes.
But as news of the Delta spread Across the country increased concern about returning to classrooms, Ms. Keane saw carnival as her best bet for gauging how families were feeling. As soon as she entered the park, she was instantly reassured. Image Ms. Keane hired P.S. 5 alumni who are now in high school to help organize the carnival and other events this summer. Credit ... James Estrin / The Hfrance.fr
Parents and children she had not seen in months lined up for kiss her. The children, masked despite the stifling humidity, slipped between the inflatable slides with their friends. Hip-hop music blared from the speakers, and teachers and volunteers handed out popcorn. Doctors at a hospital handed out masks and gloves, and one briefly took the microphone to encourage everyone in the crowd to get vaccinated.
During the afternoon several hundred people came to the park.
Linnette Maestre, who has two children and five nieces and nephews who attend PS 5, spent the afternoon kissing teachers and friendsis that she had not seen for months.
Ms. Maestre, who works for the New York City Housing Authority, felt her children would be safer at home last year, especially as she walked in and out of public housing complexes every day. But her daughter struggled to learn to read during distance learning. Ms Maestre hired a tutor, but said her daughter didn't start making real progress until she signed up for summer classes at PS 5.
Ms. Maestre said Ms. Keane's enthusiasm boosted her confidence to return to school. And she appreciated the way the principal looked after her children, even when they weren't physically in the building. “You have the best manager who does her job,” Ms. Maestre said. "I can't complain n.
" It's time, "Ms. Maestre added, for her children to go back to school." Oh, they're ready. It's going to be good. "
Henry Gomez, a PS 5 parent, began working at the school during the pandemic, replacing as a crisis paraprofessional because so many teachers were working from home. He became deeply concerned about children's mental health after so many months of distance learning. Carnival and all other summer events, Mr. Gomez said, were a way to signal a new beginning.
"It 'sa village that is comes together to tell everyone they can feel good, tell everyone: "We're fine, we're in a different place," he said.
Ms. Keane sought to maintain this feeling of joy until the first day of school.
TheFriday before the start of the school year, his teachers were compressing notebooks and pens into cool backpacks embroidered with "Homecoming 2021". Ms. Keane handed out chalk and spray paint, and her staff drew sidewalk messages in preparation for the first day: “We're so glad to see you! and "second grade rocks ". Image Teachers, many of whom had not returned PS 5 for a year and a half, packed backpacks with school supplies for the students last week. Credit ... James Estrin / The Hfrance.fr
Lawn signs were strewn on the grass outside the school. All werejoyful, with rising suns, flowers and spirited messages. But one of them stood out, a sober reminder of the time New York students wasted: the words "two years later" were scrawled in blue bubble letters.
Getting the children back to the building after a year and a half of absence took all the creativity and determination that Ms Keane and her team could muster.
But this is just a first step towards achieving something like a normal school year.
There is so much that the teachers in the school do not know about the experiences of hundreds of distant children last year. The academic and mental health challenges that will unfold in the days and weeks to come could be enormous. Image Hundreds of children and parents showed up at the back-to-school carnival in August, despite a sweltering heat and humidity. Credit ... James Estrin / The Hfrance.fr
And the school staff members have had to grapple with their own traumas and fears. Last week Ms Keane gathered all of her teachers in the building for the first time in a year and a half. They kept a moment of silence for everything they had all been through . Staff and teachers who came to work every day over the past year received a standing ovation.
Isabel Calderon was one of the highlights. these teachers. Some days she only had four students in her class.preschool for 3 year olds.
"This is not a life, this is not a school life", she noted. "You need people, you need this energy, and we didn't have any.
But PS 5 teachers know that school may not feel like it has been for a long time. Positive cases and classroom quarantines are inevitable. No one can guess how disruptive the next few months will be.
"I just want everyone to be happy again " said Simone Shenloogian, a kindergarten teacher. "I think we will create a new normal together.