【N.J】 We’re back to school but are we back to normal? | Opinion – New Jersey News

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By Ellen S. Wilkowe

This year, the only back-to-school woe in my house consisted of non-stop nagging by yours truly as I tried to pressure my 12-year-old daughter into finishing her summer reading.

The only back-to-school crisis, which is actually a more intense woe, was COVID, contracted also by yours truly, while on vacation with my family, a friend and my daughter’s two besties, all cohabitating in harmony on a one-floor condo overlooking the ocean in Wildwood.

After testing twice, I made sure to stay far and away from the middle school vacationers who actually put out into the universe how excited they were for school.

To that effect, I masked and basked in the sun far and away from everyone with the best view that COVID by the sea could offer: The beach.

We arrived home several days before the start of school and hopefully left any remaining covid and covid fears to wash out with the high tide.

With clean bills of health, the mounting excitement in our household felt, how shall I say, “cautiously normal.”

I was still nagging my daughter to finish her book or suffer the wrath of losing her phone. Yet, she was still more concerned over what to wear vs. what to read.

This year’s back-to-school outfit would fall short of one major accessory that ruled the school’s students and teachers alike since 2020: masks. The fashion police could now get back to issuing summons for basic infractions such as wearing white after Labor Day.

This “cautiously normal” theme was also reflected by the school in their latest summer newsletter titled “Getting back to Normal.”

The narrative read the equal and exact opposite as it did in previous COVID years.

Mandatory testing for school staff? Done, as per Gov. Murphy’s order issued on 8/15/22.

Contract tracing, tracking and reporting? Gone. (However, parents will be notified if several students in the same class contract the virus.)

School activities? In-person.

Got COVID? Please stay home for five days.

Quarantines? Nope.

Virtual learning for students with COVID? Deleted.

The kids were free to move about their school and socialize less than six feet apart.

This pales in comparison to just one year ago when we were settling into our new school district uncertain of the roads ahead in regard to starting middle school and whether school would continue full-day, half-day or hybrid. We would experience all three depending on the variant du jour and the number of infected students and staff.

The weekly newsletter last year would always offer detailed accounts regarding the number of students/staff infected and quarantined and the data was further classified according to each school. My daughter would eventually become a part of those statistics and participate in virtual classes which were specifically reserved for COVID students.

In resuming what is shaping up to be a cautiously normal school year, the district removed all virtual learning options as if to distance itself from the experimental experience that turned learning and home lives even more upside-down than usual.

The alarm chirped at 6 a.m. sharp and my daughter set out for the first day of seventh grade. There were rumblings about the rain wreaking havoc on her hair but at least she decided on her wardrobe ahead of time. Our neighbor showed up at 6:30 a.m. sharp. It was her first day of public school and my daughter had taken her under her wing, and eventually under her umbrella as well.

The punctuality and preparedness definitely fell into the cautiously abnormal category.

The door flew open at approximately 2:40 p.m. and my daughter briefed us on the first-day frenzy.

School was just OK. She had three classes with our neighbor but had no friends in lunch (yet). Math was the most fun, courtesy of Jenga. The kids were even allowed to push their desks together to work as a team. (This got me thinking: What ever became of all those plexiglass dividers. Are they recyclable?)

We are now into our third week, which is so far just as uneventful as the first and second. COVID has spared my family, my daughter’s friends as well as my friend. School is still in session full-time and homework is finally strewn across my kitchen table.

This is a refreshing change compared to prior pandemic years when homework went the way of full-time in-person school. The complaints over too much work are music to my ears and I do hope they continue along with other sordid drama expected from the seventh-grade contingent.

On another cautiously normal note, I have my first in-person back-to-school night in years to prepare for and what in the world should I wear?

Ellen S. Wilkowe is a former journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Denville with her husband, daughter and cat.

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