LINWOOD — Local schools are shuttered until at least April 20 due to the new coronavirus, and while the district is following Gov. Phil Murphy’s guidelines, Mainland Regional High School Chief Administrator Mark Marrone said the five school districts of Mainland Regional, Linwood, Northfield, Somers Point and Charter Tech High School are in almost daily communication so all districts remain unified and informed.

Marrone said the April 20 date is an extension of the current closure by two weeks and it would back into the districts' spring break, which was already on the calendar for the week of April 13-18. Marrone said they will continue to plan for that date as the return to campus.

Meanwhile, make no mistake about it, there is a lot of learning going on.

At Mainland, Marrone said, they began planning for the possible need to educate their students at home in January. A districtwide student accessibility survey was done, which identified students who did not have access to the internet. The district allowed students who did not have access to use one of the Chromebooks owned by the district.

“Those students signed paperwork acknowledging that they would have to return those computers when the coronavirus is behind us and we are back to school. We also went into negotiations with T-Mobile for internet hot spots and purchased those and provided them to students who needed them,” said Marrone. In total the district has roughly 125 computer and 80 hot spots in use in the effort to have all students connected.

For anyone who thinks students are just doing a few papers in a packet and that’s it for the day, think again. At Mainland, students are accountable, attendance is taken and they have to be logged on and “in class” by 8 a.m.

“We have a running bell schedule and our teachers are using multiple platforms to teach and to stay engaged with their students. We have tech advanced classrooms utilizing Microsoft Teams, Infinity and Google docs,” Marrone said.

There is also time for additional help if it is needed. Students are able to email or call their teacher or guidance counselor. Marrone said parents and students can leave a message and someone will call them back. “We want all of our kids moving forward together, and we are all ready and willing and here to help.” 

St. Joseph Regional School

At St. Joseph Regional School in Somers Point, Principal Janice Fipp is keeping all of the school’s students connected. “I start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, daily news and a prayer, and I close the day with a prayer just as we would do at school. It is so important to continue the rigor of a four-hour school day while being reasonable to our teachers and our parents,” Fipp said. “This will help with the anxiety level that our students and our families are experiencing right now. We understand it and we are working through it the best we can.”

The SJRS principal said all of the Catholic schools in the Camden Diocese are working together with the help of Zoom, sharing best practices that are helping all the schools achieve successful remote learning despite the challenges.

“Our students are doing remote sharing through Google Docs using our Super Kids curriculum and workbook. They took all their books home with them on the last day so they have what they need. Our middle school students are using Edmodo that allows teachers to share content, distribute quizzes, assignments and manage communication with students, parents and fellow teachers. And it is working beautifully.”

Somers Point

In Somers Point the teachers are conducting class but also making sure their kids have nutritional food to help them. District Superintendent Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder along with volunteers delivered 546 meals to Somers Point families that were prepared by NutriServe, the district food service provider.

Linwood

In Linwood, Belhaven Principal Jennifer Luff and Seaview School Principal Lori Care are starting each day online with their students to keep the schedule and routine consistent as well as fun for all students. Packets handed out on the last day of in-school classes have kids busy but there are science, engineering and math projects going on at home with cooking, Legos and many other projects. To keep that sense of camaraderie going, families are sharing pictures and videos of students working and exercising. Principals are creating videos with plenty of students working but also trying new projects together as families.

Mainland breakfast and lunch program

At Mainland Regional, making sure education is delivered is job one, but Marrone said making sure the students have the fuel to get through these days is also paramount. “We are delivering food to our eligible kids at their bus stops Tuesday and Thursday. If the bus normally comes at 7:15 a.m., then look for the bus with food for several days to arrive at 9:15 a.m. For those students who do not use the bus, we have set up pick-up locations. Between 8 and 10 a.m., students may pick up breakfast and lunch for several days at three locations: the loop in front of Mainland in Linwood; in Northfield, pick up is at the Mill Road parking lot; and in Somers Point, at the Kmart Shopping Center,” he said.

The high school runs the transportation of all students coming from Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point, and that includes students of Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts and other choice schools. Marrone said his cafeteria staff is preparing about 300-350 meals.

Two teacher aides in the district, Erika Melhorn and Veronica Fath, have taken it upon themselves to help with the delivery of meals in some sections of Somers Point. “This is such an incredible gesture on their part. They are seeing their kids face to face and helping to maintain that relationship with the kids and checking in with them when they drop off the food,” Marrone said. “It really speaks to caring about our students.”

Marrone said his entire team is working very hard to make sure every student is getting an education, and, moving forward, ready for the day they return. He has used Facebook to stay engaged and keep his student’s attention — it is “One Family, One School, One Community” whether the students are in the halls or on the other side of a computer screen.

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