Over the summer, the New Jersey School Boards Association issued a call to K-12 public school districts and students soliciting videos and images demonstrating their pandemic-related experiences in education to create a historical record of the times that we are all living through.

Plainfield Public Schools in Union County submitted a video discussing how its administration and staff worked to educate students via a virtual platform for the first time, played online games with students and experienced unexpected benefits from that trying experience.

“One of the biggest challenges at the beginning of the pandemic was not knowing,” said Mark A. Williams, assistant superintendent for Plainfield. “Not knowing how long it was going to last. Not knowing a lot about the disease itself, and how it was going to affect our families and staff. When we look at the transition from full-blown instruction to virtual, that presented many challenges.”

Silver Linings  Williams added that there was a positive side of remote learning realized. His school district no longer must close for storms or struggle with instructing students who cannot be on campus.

Now, every student has a device at home instead of only high schoolers, and teachers are trained to better use technology in their teaching, which makes instruction more engaging and effective.  He also learned that different modes of communication, including superintendent videos and messages, a newsletter, and notifications on the district website and school messenger system, were vital in keeping the community and staff informed.

“That was huge during the process, just so people could understand what was going on. Some of the decisions we made weren’t popular, but we had to hold firm and the decisions we made…were in the best interest of students. No one had a blueprint for how to manage through a pandemic,” Williams added.

Essex County’s Bloomfield Public Schools shared a video dubbed, “Bring the Bengals Back,” created in April 2021 that featured superintendent  Salvatore L. Goncalves, one year after the COVID-19 outbreak sidelined New Jersey schools.

“A year ago, we sent teachers home and we had a one-to-one initiative. No way did we think we were going to be out for a year and that’s what two weeks turned into. To go from a one-to-one to a virtual all-day, every day for a year — with no preparation, no staff development, no time to prepare, was an amazing feat and that’s where my confidence comes from that we’re going to be successful in this second phase in the hybrid,” Goncalves said.

Impact on Athletics  Eighth graders from Markham Place Middle School in the Little Silver school district submitted a video featuring students and their basketball coach discussing the hardships that COVID-19 placed on their Monmouth County league last spring. Those experiences ranged from having to wear masks while practicing and playing intense games, to missing out on team-bonding experiences, discussing possibly losing their live audiences and having to livestream games.

“COVID has really had a very, very large affect from the way we practice,  to the way we play and the teams that we play,” said Donald Nolan, Markham Place basketball coach and physical education teacher. He explained that out of nine teams total, two modified their schedule and three dropped out for the season. “In a normal year, we play about 20 games, we’re on track to play about eight this year.”

Showing Appreciation  The Midtown Community Elementary School from the Neptune Township school district, Monmouth County, submitted two heartwarming entries. The first is a staff appreciation video containing uplifting quotes combined with images of masked teachers, school staff and students in remote learning sessions and in their classrooms, against a backdrop of an emotional Alicia Keys song, “Good Job,” with lyrics about their honest and selfless work.

The second Midtown video features a school staff compilation video for students. It features teachers at home holding homemade signs, playing instruments and sharing their endearing notes with students. Among them: “You can count on us…Midtown cares about you” and “We’re still here to help your kids blossom!

Marking Milestones Door-to-Door  For Sean Cassel, assistant principal and instruction supervisor at Seneca High School in the Lenape Regional School District, Burlington County, personally delivering diplomas to students’ homes during the pandemic scored as a fond memory.

“I remember showing up at each of their houses and you know, just having not seen students in months, this was an opportunity to get a chance to celebrate them in a way that we just unfortunately couldn’t because of the pandemic,” Cassel said.

“Kids were surrounded by their families, small and large, friends and neighbors, and the joy and the excitement of a typical graduation was still there,” he added. “But, it was much more personal and unique to each house that we delivered a diploma to.”

Virtual Pep Rally Hackensack Public School in Bergen County created a “virtual pep rally” video. A music teacher from Fanny M. Hillers School and a computer teacher from the Hackensack Middle School created their own lyrics to the famous Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believing” and changed it to “Don’t Stop Achieving.”

Students performed the song and dedicated it to “Educators Everywhere Teaching Virtually During the Pandemic,” and posted it on YouTube in May.

“What a year it’s been. Taking classes on a screen. With our teachers’ help, we’ll go anywhere,” they sang. “Can’t wait til we’re all back. Back to school in Hackensack. But for now, we can learn anywhere.”

Links to access the videos are below: