It’s deeply ingrained in most of us that Labor Day signals the switch from carefree summer days to the process of getting back to school. Even as adults, we mark this time on the calendar as a new starting point.
For children on the Island, beaches and backyards were places they could play in relative freedom, with parents overseeing social distancing as needed. The start of this new school year may be as big a change as any of them have experienced, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces adjustments to the “new normal.”
For Cayman and Larkin Morehead, heading in to 6th and 2nd grade respectively at the Island school, it means adapting to wearing masks along with their new set of back-to-school clothes.
Many families have prepared by watching videos distributed by the school to teach the children safe new routines (see page 1). The decision to open in person was made by Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., and the Board of Education once they had certain information in place.
The Long Island region as a whole had to have a sufficiently low infection rate that the governor deemed in-person schooling safe. And the school enrollment needed to remain at a level where class sizes could stay small enough to conform to the school’s safety plan. Now, even with 50 new students enrolled, the numbers will allow for children to return safely to the building where they haven’t been since March.
Cayman and Larkin’s parents, Nicholas and Paige Morehead, say they’ve had some mixed feelings about sending the children back but have “full confidence” that the administration, custodial staff and teachers are prepared for the children’s return.
“Mr. Doelger has done a fantastic job of keeping the families informed of the new procedures,” Ms. Morehead said, “and the kids are looking forward to seeing some new faces in class.”
Those new faces will be from families who’ve decided to stay on past summer in second homes, rather than return to the city. Many sought safety on the Island as infection rates spiked in the city, and while they are currently markedly lower, the Island has been chosen by many as a safer place for their family for the foreseeable future.
Other children will return to schools in the city with noticeably smaller enrollments as a result, in an atmosphere of considerable uncertainty.
Will Halloran is enrolled in a public school in Manhattan that was offering a hybrid program with two days a week in school and the rest of the week in distance learning.
Following a strong push by the teachers union, NYC’s mayor changed the starting date from Sept. 10 to 21 to allow more time for safety preparations. Whether that date will hold remains to be seen.
And as parents see their children off to school, what is the routine for them these days? A number of Islanders have adapted to working from home and will welcome the relative quiet with school children out of the house. For others, it may be the first time they are alone to confront the isolation of the home office and the lack of interaction with colleagues.
Others are still contending with the layoffs and furloughs stemming from the severe pandemic downturn, wondering what unemployment and other assistance will be coming from the government, and how long it will be needed.
For second homeowners preparing to winter on the Island for the first time, there will be new challenges. The usual activities that fill Island life with the arrival of cooler weather, like community events or fundraisers, won’t be happening or will move online.
As the pandemic forced Islanders to isolate starting last spring, a group of health and social work professionals began to offer online programs and Zoom meetings, often in conjunction with the Shelter Island Public Library.
They formed a committee, named the Shelter Island Health and Wellness Alliance, that includes Lucille Buergers, Jessica Colas, Laurie Fanelli, Nancy Green, Ryan Sultan, M.D., Bonnie Stockwell and Councilman Jim Colligan.
For children in the School, the social and emotional wellness team will evaluate all students at the beginning of the year and prepare to address emotional stresses that may surface.
For adults, the Health and Wellness Alliance and the Library will continue to offer online programming that offers social connections as well as emotional support.
As an example, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Library will offer a talk by Roberta Wall, a lawyer, mediator and mindfulness practitioner on addressing difficult situations and issues through nonviolent communication. To register, visit silibrary.org.