Students haven’t been inside a classroom since last March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak shuttered school buildings.
At Blessed Sacrament School in West Brighton, students were wearing their backpack and greeting friends they haven’t seen for months -- all while wearing a face covering.
Joseph Cocozello, principal of Blessed Sacrament School, told the Advance/SILive.com that it was “absolutely wonderful” to reunite as a school family.
“While we have a fair amount of students who will be fully remote, the large majority of our families very much w...nt to have their children in school as much as possible,” he said. "Our parents have been patient and supportive of all we are trying to do. Our staff is a nice cohesive group. While we are all new as the educators we are called to be this year, we will work with one another for the benefit of each and every student.”
The school day begins with a temperature check at Blessed Sacrament School, West Brighton. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
While masks covered student facial expressions, many said they were happy to return -- to see their friends, their teachers, and to learn in a classroom again.
But some parents expressed concerns about returning to school buildings amid a pandemic.
Talking through tears, parent Tara Tomasulo said all she wants to is “keep her babies safe.” But she added that the safety measures the school has implemented have “eased some of her anxiety.”
Her fifth-grade daughter, London, said she is ready to go back.
“I’m really, really happy, because I get to see my friends in person,” London said, explaining she hadn’t seen her school friends since March.
Cocozello said the safety of students and staff is the school’s “ultimate priority.”
“The Archdiocese has been very proactive in guiding us and supplying a tremendous amount of supplies and resources for us. Obvious differences will be temperature checks every day, the wearing of masks, desks socially distanced," he said.
Parents Nicole Favuzza and Theresa Farina both said it would be a “challenging year,” especially with students wearing a face covering all day. Farina said her fourth-grade son has been experiencing panic attacks about returning to school and wearing a mask.
Fifth-grader London Tomasulo said she hadn’t seen her school friends since March. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
But Cocozello said he knows Blessed Sacrament school will be able to overcome the new challenges it faces in this unusual school year.
“...Because Blessed Sacrament School is a loving school community where all are loved and treated with kindness. That has always existed, and it will continue to be at the forefront of all we are and do,” he said.
HEALTH FORMS AND TEMPERATURE CHECKS
Families in Catholic elementary schools across the borough were required to submit a health form upon their child’s arrival on the first day of school to indicate their child doesn’t have the coronavirus, wasn’t near someone who tested positive, and hasn’t recently visited a state listed on the U.S. travel advisory.
Before school every day, parents are required to complete a checklist regarding coronavirus symptoms.
Principal Joseph Cocozello directs a parent during the first day of the 2020-2021 school year. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
On Wednesday morning, students at Blessed Sacrament School patiently waited to give their health form to staff members at different designated school entrances. Clad in a face mask, they then had their temperature checked.
A student has his temperature checked at Blessed Sacrament School. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
And wearing a mask all day while in class wasn’t easy, students told the Advance/SILive.com. At dismissal, some seventh-graders explained that wearing the mask made it feel hotter than normal.
Fifth-grader Juliette Papa called the first day “really fun.” Only about nine kids were in her classroom, with desks socially distanced. She said there was a mask break, during which students were able to take off their face covering momentarily.
To ensure safety, talking wasn’t allowed during the mask break, and students were required to stay at their desk.
Eighth-grader Peter McLauglin said his classmates all behaved appropriately and followed the rules -- especially when it came to wearing a mask and social distancing. He said it was good to be back in a classroom, “instead of being online on Zoom."
Payton Kelly, also in fifth grade, told the Advance/SILive.com she is happy “just to be back in school and being with my friends.”
Kelly’s mom said she has confidence in the school -- a common sentiment many teachers and parents expressed upon returning to campus.
Second-grade teacher Marie Reistad said Cocozello has “worked really hard” to prepare for the new school year.
Moms fixes the mask of her son Devin Damora, a pre-k student, on the first day of school. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
Students arrived at Blessed Sacrament on the first day of school on Wednesday. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
RETURNING TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL
The Archdiocese of New York unveiled a framework in July of plans to return students to Catholic elementary schools during the pandemic on an alternating, staggered schedule -- blending in-person and remote learning.
unveiled a framework in July of plans to return students Students will attend school two or three days a week on an alternating schedule, with plans created by principals. Parents could also choose full-time remote learning for their child.
All students in Catholic elementary schools overseen by the Archdiocese of New York -- in grades kindergarten through eighth grade -- will receive five days of classroom instruction with live streaming of lessons to provide synchronous learning to both in-person and remote students.
will receive five days of classroom instruction The instruction will be delivered in-person or remotely through the video conferencing platform Zoom.
The instruction will be delivered in-person or remotely through the video conferencing platform Zoom. Monsignor Ferdinando Berardi of Blessed Sacrament welcomes students to the school. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
Cocozello said that while teachers are instructing in the classroom, at-home students will be required to participate in live lessons via Zoom.
“Like their counterparts in the classroom, at-home students will be given the opportunity to ask questions and participate in discussions,” he added. “It will be new for all involved, but I am confident that the partnership between our school and our families will help us in the transition to what will be our new normal for the time being.”
Early morning drop-off and after-school programs won’t be available until a later date.
You can view the photos below for more scenes from the first day of school at Blessed Sacrament.
Leo Balaj and his daughter, Eleanor, after her first day of kindergarten. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
Annie Falcone is greeted by her dog after her first day of school. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
School begins with a temperature check at Blessed Sacrament School. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
Students line up on the first day of school at Blessed Sacrament. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
Students arrive for the first day of school. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
Grandma Santina Boccanfuso gives a kiss goodbye to Payton Kelly before the start of fifth grade at Blessed Sacrament School. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hamel)
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