Daniel Kean, director of the South Bronx Public Schools, spent months preparing for the first day of the school Monday morning.
Everything was in place — a band of drums and drums from the police department surrounded the concrete school grounds with an orange and black balloon arch – the colors of the school — and Bruno Mars singing. Teachers danced together in matching black T-shirts that said, “Good times roll over.” Inside, the school building was divided into three feet, with a mask for the needy.
“All we want now is children,” said Kean.
She is not sure exactly how they look.
For the past 18 months, serving low-income black and Latino elementary and middle school students in a neighborhood affected by the Corona virus has been particularly difficult.
Last year at the school, an estimated 600 elementary and middle school students – about 80 percent – chose to study remotely. About half of the school’s teachers have been given medical treatment to work from home. As more than 120 students and a few dozen teachers and staff entered the mall around the corridor, the cave building felt empty and a little tired.
For the past few months, Ms. Kean has been on a mission to bring all of your students back to the building and to make them feel comfortable returning to their families after months away. When the nation’s largest New York school system opens for the first time since March 2020, her work is being tested this week – with no distance learning options.
Throughout the summer, she tells parents and staff, “Life goes on, we go on.”
On Monday, according to Kenny’s record, 90 percent of students returned to class, with the city average more than 82 percent.
As expected by Ms. Kean, the school felt bright. “What a beautiful day,” she said.
Ms. Kenny is playing the push version in all 1,800 city schools this week. Teachers in New York City are facing families worried about returning to classrooms in the wake of the delta expansion, not all elementary students and many older children are still unvaccinated.
Some parents in the city have refused, preferring instead to go to school for their children, and have refused to enroll in public schools at home until they are more comfortable with their online enrollment options in the charter or children returning to school.
Ms. Kean admits that many of her distant students need to return to class this fall. But she knew that her family would not be able to expect them to return.
So, Ms. Kean came up with a plan – she would do her best to make the school where people want it to be. In addition to preparing for the start of the new year, Ms. Kean has been planning events for her school, dreaming of ways for more families to participate. In the city’s educational landscape, the success of the school year was at an all-time high.
She deals with big and small crises. An hour before the mid-August carnival at the school, Mrs. Caan heard that she was floating in the belly of a dozen or more goldfish that she had hoped to give away later that day.
She calmly arranged for the dead fish to be snatched from the fish tank with a net net, and crossed the threshold for the rest of the afternoon to survive.
It was the last time Mrs. Kean pushed her back to school, even before the carnival officially ended last school year. In June, PS 5 dropped out of the planned magnification graduation ceremony and filled the school’s playground with cappuccino, gannets and red carpets and held six physical events for middle school graduates. In July, the school hosted more than 300 children from across the city, including several PS 5 students, for summer school.
Ms. Kean held a “return home” twice a week to allow families who had been home last year to return to the building to learn about safety measures. For English-speaking parents, reading and classrooms were still fun evenings for families.
But until the PS 5 hosted an outdoor movie night in a park near the school, Ms. Ken realized that their plan was working. More than 200 people showed the film in one go, the school’s best participation so far for any of its events. Mrs. Kean went home that night, wiping tears of joy from her eyes.
But as the news spread throughout the country that the spread of the delta had spread to classrooms, Ms. Ken viewed Carnival as her best option to measure how her family was feeling. As soon as she entered the park, she calmed down.
Parents and children who had not seen her for months lined up to embrace her. Even in humid weather, masked children slipped between their slides with their friends. Hip-hop music provided flame from the speakers, teachers and volunteers. Doctors from the hospital handed over masks and gloves, and one briefly picked up the microphone to encourage everyone in the community to get vaccinated.
In the afternoon, hundreds of people came to the park.
Lynette Mastre, who has two children and five siblings on PS 5, spent the afternoon embracing teachers and friends she had not seen in months.
Mastre, who works for the New York City Housing Authority, felt that children should be safe at home, especially as she enters and leaves public housing every day. But the girl struggled to learn to read during distance school. Ms. Masre hired a nanny, but the girl only made real progress when she enrolled in PS 5 summer courses.
Ms. Maestre said Ms. Kenny’s curiosity has helped her to return to school. She is grateful to the principal for testing her daughter, even though she is not physically present in the building. “You have a great teacher who does her job,” said Ms. Masre. “I Cannot Complain”
Mrs. Mastre added that now is the time for them to return to school. “Oh, they are ready. It will be good. ”
Henry Gómez, a parent of PS 5, started working at the school during the epidemic, becoming a crisis specialist because many teachers were working from home. After many months of distance learning, he became deeply concerned about the mental health of children. He said Carnival and all other summer events were a sign of a new beginning.
It’s a village that comes together to tell everyone that it’s comfortable, that it’s good for everyone, that we’re in a different place.
Mrs. Kean wanted to continue that feeling of joy until the first day of school.
On Friday, before the start of the school year, teachers were posting notebooks and pens in new bags labeled “Home 2021”. Ms. Kean painted live and spray-painted paint, and on the first day of the day, her staff painted messages on the street – “We’re so happy to see you!” And “Second Rocks.”
Grass markers bite grass outside the school. They were all overjoyed at sunrise and with flowers and bright messages. But one highlight stood out, reminding us of how much time was lost for New York students.
Getting the children back to the building after a year and a half requires every bit of creativity and determination that Ms. Kean and her staff can find.
But it is only the first step in achieving something like a regular school year.
The teachers at the school do not know what happened to the hundreds of children who were away last year. The academic and mental health challenges that will manifest themselves in the coming days and weeks may be enormous.
And the school staff had to deal with their own injuries and fears. Last week, Mrs. Kenny gathered all her teachers in the building for the first time in a year and a half. They paused for a moment. Last year, the staff and teachers who came to work every day were warmly welcomed.
Isabel Calderron was one of those teachers. Some days, the preschool class had only four students for 3-year-olds.
“It’s not life, it’s not school life,” she said. “You need people, you need that energy, and we didn’t.”
But PS 5 teachers know that the school may not feel normal for a long time. Positive issues and classroom isolation are inevitable. No one can imagine how disturbing the next few months will be.
“I want everyone to be happy again,” said kindergarten teacher Simon hen Nlogian. I think we can create something new together.