Photo: Eastern Christian High School Principal David Intlekofer takes the temperature of a student.
By Jack Skywalker
Standing on the concrete steps before the front entrance, he waves at students as they say goodbye to their parents and step out of the car. With his charming smile now hidden behind a white face mask, Eastern Christian High School Principal David Intlekofer patiently takes the temperature of every student who walks past him.
While more than 241 school districts across New Jersey have opted for all-remote learning in the fall, with another 434 reopening with a hybrid model, Eastern Christian School (EC) has fully reopened for close to a month of in-person instruction.
EC’s campus sites include Midland Park (preschool and elementary), Wyckoff (middle school) and North Haledon (high school).
“The reopening has gone very smoothly,” said Ruth Kuder, the assistant head of school at Eastern Christian.
“I really want to acknowledge the teachers’ role in all of this. They are working exceptionally hard to meet the needs of both the students that are in their classroom and the students that are logging in remotely.”
According to a survey sent out by the school after the first week of classes, 98.7% of respondents were confident that health and safety protocols are being followed by staff; 89.7% were confident that students were following the same protocols; and 94% of parents believe their child’s learning needs have been supported in the transition back to school.
“The vast, vast majority of students responded pretty well, respectfully [to the guidelines],” said Mr. Intlekofer.
EC senior Emmanuel Dyer said, “Being away from people for so long and finally getting to see them in the flesh again really, really impacted me. It’s really is a nice thing.”
While a majority of the students returned to campus, remote learning continued to be an option for families who are not yet comfortable returning for in-person instruction.
Emma Robinson is a senior who opted for remote learning.
“My mom works at a hospital in Teaneck, which was one of the epicenters in N.J. I just heard a lot about how horrible it was. [We are] playing it safe…and seeing how everything plays out.”
Robinson is one of roughly a quarter of the students at EC who opted for remote-instruction, according to school officials.
“I just miss being around people,” Robinson says. “I will be on Google Meet, and in the background you can hear everybody laughing about a joke or something like that…”
Getting remote students to feel like part of the community will continue to be a challenge as it not only requires a technological solution but a whole different approach to teaching.
Despite its overall smooth reopening, EC continues to listen to feedback from students and parents and strives to improve the overall experience.
“You can never please everybody,” said Mr. Intlekofer, “I have parents on both sides. Some said the rules are too strict, take it easy. Some said they are not strict enough. There are still kids that are too close to each other.”
“We tried to make everyone as safe as possible. And we try to listen to feedback that involves both parents and students.”
Aside from health and safety, schools are also confronted with racial tensions amid the upcoming election.
In response, teachers at EC were trained over the summer to help students with difficult conversations that may be occurring in the classrooms, according to Mrs. Kuder.
“Scripture talks about concepts like justice, mercy, and grace. If those concepts can inform the conversations that we are having, we are at a tremendous advantage over people who don’t have the same hope that we do,” said Mrs. Kuder.
Seeing young people in the building again has been the most rewarding part of reopening, for both students and teachers, says Mr. Intlekoder. And Mrs. Kuder agrees.
“I’m going to be really upset if we go fully remote,” said senior Will Critchfield, “It’s so nice to be in school. While there are things I like about being remote, it was hard not being able to see anybody.”
Jack Skywalker is a student at Eastern Christian High School.