While conditions are different in every school district in the state, in my home district of Maple Shade, about half of our students have opted to spend time inside the classroom, two full days a week.

We have divided the student body in our schools into two groups. One group attends school on Monday and Tuesday; the other group is in the classroom on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, everyone attends schools virtually, and the buildings are closed for cleaning.

The health and wellness of our students and staff is our priority. I think the children who are attending in-person classes are thriving. I fear that many students were not getting all they needed last spring when all instruction went virtual. For many students, there was a feeling of isolation that is inherent to remote learning.

In class, they are making friends, establishing relationships with their teachers, and learning the social-emotional skills that are so important for young people to develop.

Our high school sports programs are up and running, including football, field hockey and soccer. That too has been beneficial in every way. I have found it interesting that it is the high school seniors who are stepping up and displaying leadership, urging their fellow players to abide by the health and safety recommendations.

We have learned that many athletes who are contracting the coronavirus are doing so at out-of-school activities, like parties. The high school seniors on the sports teams are determined not to have any players jeopardize their senior year season, and the younger athletes are listening to them. “You’d best behave,” is one comment I have heard that an upperclass student-athlete said to his younger counterpart. In addition to the social-emotional advantages of playing sports, there are physical ones, as well. These kids are keeping fit, and continuing to develop their skills, something that wouldn’t be happening if sports teams weren’t practicing and competing.

As I mentioned, the health of our students and staff is our top priority, so we are keeping a careful watch on conditions in our district. But we are hopeful that we can continue, and even increase, our in-person instruction in the months to come.

In the meantime, the NJSBA Health and Wellness Task Force is hard at work on another report—this one on the psychological impact of isolation on students resulting from the pandemic-related school closures. We will look forward to sharing that report with the NJSBA members early next year.

Until then, enjoy this issue of School Leader magazine, with its timely special section on social-emotional learning.