The first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in New Jersey was announced on March 4. It was only two weeks later, on March 18, when all schools in the state were closed, at the order of Gov. Murphy.   

Thus began public education’s unprecedented move to remote learning.

Educators and parents don’t yet know how effective the learning experiment was, and at this writing, districts are still figuring out what school will look like in September. But we do know that the pandemic closures prompted creativity and inventiveness on the part of both teachers and students. Nearly everyone became more familiar with videoconferencing systems and online learning platforms. Students reaching milestones like high school or eighth-grade graduation were celebrated in different ways. School districts reached out to their communities, honoring local volunteers and health care workers, providing donations of personal protective equipment and food and meals for essential workers.

Still, life looked a lot different. In this photo feature, School Leader provides a glimpse of how New Jersey carried on connecting with and educating its students.  NJSBA thanks local districts for providing the photographs in these pages.

Stepping Up in Ocean City Ocean City Intermediate School eighth-grade graduate Owen Gregorec receives a congratulatory elbow bump, a t-shirt and a lawn sign from teacher Sonja Parker.Spreading Love in Haddonfield As part of an elementary school principal’s challenge to draw something that depicts “love,” one first-grader in Haddonfield shows off a chalk drawing in front of her house.In Rutherford, Regular Read-Aloud Sessions In Rutherford, Brian Ersalesi, supervisor of English and arts, recorded two read-aloud sessions a day for district students — a picture book for younger students and a chapter book for older students, then uploaded the videos to YouTube, so parents could easily access them. Ersalesi was walking his dog one day in town when he heard a kid exclaim, “Hey…that’s the guy who reads to me!”Lawrence Township: Packing Lunches by the Thousands Districts throughout New Jersey continued to provide meals for students and families. In Lawrence Township (Mercer), the district prepared and delivered more than 2,500 lunches a week for about 503 students.Middle Township’s Prom King and Queen Middle Township High School in Cape May County held a “front porch prom,” and students dressed up, and danced to music chosen by them and broadcast on a local radio station. Teachers, administrators and prom organizers drove to homes and crowned the prom king and queens, and delivered prom favors and prizes that had been donated.Deep Cleaning the School in Glassboro Glassboro school district supplemented its cleaning services by bringing in a special service that specializes in electrostatic cleaning.A Virtual Graduation for Fifth Graders Students in Haddonfield got into the spirit of graduation ceremonies with balloons and graduation caps.Manufacturing Face Shields in Mahwah Several districts responded to the pandemic crisis in a way that would have been impossible only a few years ago — by using the district’s 3-D printers to create protective face shields for the hospitals, first responders and health care workers in their communities. These shields were made by Mahwah teacher Andrew Coe.Westfield’s Drive-Through Tech Help Westfield Public School’s technology team set up a drive-through station to assign devices to families who indicated on a district survey that they needed technological assistance during distance learning.Pledge of Allegiance in Warren Township Preschool student Addie DePersiis follows along as Scott Cook, principal of Mt. Horeb Elementary Schoool leads students in the Pledge of Allegiance during his virtual Morning News meeting.East Windsor’s Farewell Bus Tour East Windsor Regional School District teachers and staff participated in “Goodbye Wave Parades” to end the school year. Staff members drove through district neighborhoods to say goodbye to students, and celebrate the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.East Windsor appreciative students watching the parade and thanking their teachers.Sharing Best Practices in Cinnaminson Cinnaminson Middle School joined neighboring districts for a video chat about remote instruction. Using the hashtag #BurlcoKidsChat, students, administrators, teachers, and counselors exchanged meaningful dialogue with their counterparts in Burlington County on topics such as the differences between learning online and in the school building, how student leaders can support their peers and their schools, how to navigate the emotions associated with distance learning, and some positive learning experiences during the pandemic.Paterson Salutes its Food Service Distribution Team When school buildings closed, the Paterson School District distributed meals from eight distribution sites around the city; by early June the district had distributed more than 650,000 meals. David Buchholtz, district director of food services paid tribute to those who assisted in the distribution at a news conference in June. At his left is Eileen Shafer, Paterson superintendent.Words of Encouragement in Linden Linden High School Principal Yelena Horre holding a poster she hung in her front window. It was part of a program in which families were encouraged to post rainbows or other uplifting messages in their front windows and doors.Hopewell Valley’s Mobile Food Pantry Hopewell Valley Regional School District partnered with the leadership of its three municipalities, local faith-based organizations and local businesses to support individuals in need with a food pantry. School buses were used to deliver groceries to those in need.The Sounds of Evesham Evesham Township schools celebrated with a “Sounds of Evesham,” festival that included performances of the general and instrumental programs and the drama club. Following the performances, students selected an activity from a menu of options that celebrate the elements of music. Students posted over 1,500 responses, pictures, or videos to their school’s Music Padlet.Making Contact at Rancocas Valley With only essential staff on the campus of Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, seeing another human became a rarity once the school transitioned to remote teaching and learning. When RVRHS Principal Joe Martin saw Facilities Supervisor Scott Klein, he got his attention to chat safely in-person. It’s what they both needed to lift their spirits.A Shamong Student’s Best Friend Remote instruction didn’t stop students in Shamong from visiting with Rita, the district’s therapy dog. Rita provides support to students who read to her, earn a visit as a reward for good behavior, and who want her to attend their therapy sessions and IEP meetings. Rita, who had her own Google Classroom continued that work during the school closures. Nearly 100 students signed up to visit with Rita, whose owner is a special education teacher in the district.Union City’s COVID-19 Nurses Team School nurses in several New Jersey districts volunteered in their communities, including the Union City school nurses here, who volunteered with first responders. Left to right: Zulma Solis, of the Union Hill Middle School; Adis Oliva Torres from Thomas A. Edison Elementary School; and Joel Roca Ortiz, from the Academy for Career and Community Empowerment.Marlboro Township Spelled it Out From the ground, the arrangement of school buses in the Marlboro Township school district no doubt looked a bit haphazard. But a bird’s eye view —courtesy of a drone camera — revealed the image that commemorated the unique circumstances of this school year — 2020.Bergenfield: Celebrating with Lawn Signs Bergenfield High School celebrated its 292 graduating seniors with photographs of the students on the front lawn of the school. “We didn’t know what to expect as far as the public reaction to the signs,” says Chris Langschultz, special assistant to the superintendent at Bergenfield, “but we knew that we wanted to acknowledge our seniors. It seems like every time I drive by the school, I see parents there taking a photo of their child next to their sign, or tying balloons to their student’s sign, or a student taking pictures of their friend’s photos.”Somerset County Vo-Tech’s Online Cosmetology Classes Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools cosmetology students learned how to use common household items to practice on a mannequin. “We are just trying to help the students keep some dexterity with their hands and give them alternatives to help move them forward,” said cosmetology instructor Julie Francis.Lenape Regional’s Diploma to Doorstep Initiative Shawnee High School graduate Colin Hood celebrates after receiving his diploma, which was delivered to his doorstep through the Lenape Regional High School District’s “Diploma to Door” initiative on June 16.Ramsey Thanks Local Health Care Workers Ramsey Strong’s drive-by parade at The Valley Hospital celebrated local health care workers; the Dater School, an upper elementary school in the district, raised $100,000 to pay for meals prepared by local businesses and delivered to first responders and medical professionals.No Power? No Problem Dr. Carmen Henderson, the incoming director of special education in Haddonfield, did not allow a power outage to prevent her from reaching out to students and families. She put up a tent in her driveway, connected her laptop to her car and kept working.Face Shields for Municipal Workers Displaying face shields made for township municipal employees on Lawrence Township school district 3-D printers, left to right, Kevin Nerwinski, township manager, Jim Kownacki, mayor, and Dr. Ross Kasun, superintendent.An Online Guitar Lesson Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools instructor Charles Schade teaches a guitar lesson to student Nick Piano of Branchburg via Zoom.

Janet Bamford is NJSBA’s manager of communications and publications.