Delays in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are a problem for public schools, but not at any school run by Rabbi Aaron Frank.
The last time the private school administrator saw his students in person was in March, before Kinneret Day School — and the entire city — closed down because of the public health crisis. Now, school is back in session, as Kinneret reopened its Netherland Avenue doors for a new year Sept. 8.
For those students walking inside, it will be classes as usual, five days each week, while some of their peers continue to learn many miles away in their own homes.
Frank had waited for the first day of school at Kinneret for months, even though the pandemic for him felt like it started a lifetime ago. He remembered when both SAR High School and SAR Academy shut down March 3 — the first schools in the state — maybe even the country — to do so under the threat of COVID-19.
When that happened, Frank knew Kinneret’s own closure wasn’t far behind.
The school shifted to a remote education model fairly quickly, becoming even more needed when Kinneret shuttered its physical campus March 11. The very next day, teachers spent a full day training on remote teaching, and just a day after that, the entire school had moved its classes completely online.
Shifting to a remote model was a new world for nearly everyone at Kinneret. But it also presented some unique challenges for nursery teacher Ally Glassman. Her class of 3-year-olds led her to get creative, becoming the popular animated television series character “Dora the Explorer, if she grew up and became a teacher.”
“I downloaded and bought some fun clip art and made slideshow presentations,” Glassman said. “But I also did the low-tech version of it, and I had hand puppets to do songs, and I read them stories.”
A pandemic isn’t easy to talk about, especially for younger students. But Glassman says talking about the health crisis wasn’t much of an issue for her students, seeing her role mainly as a diversionary one.
“I wanted them to feel like even if we have to be in our homes, we’re still going to see bright, colorful pictures and sing songs and have fun,” Glassman said. “If it came up, they’d show me their masks and they told me about it.”
To reopen Kinneret, Frank had to ensure nearly every room on campus was being used as a classroom. Most classes were divided in order to prevent overcrowding and to allow for physical distancing.
Remote students log onto the online videoconferencing app Zoom when it’s time for class, seeing their classrooms through “caterpillar cameras,” allowing them to raise their hands and participate in real time from home.
All students stay in just one classroom at all times, desks pulled at least six feet apart from each other. Kinneret also installed new air filtration systems, and is using UV equipment to kill potential pathogens in the air.
And of course, anyone in the school must be masked at all times.
Returning to the classroom was always the goal, but Frank said it was difficult tailoring and then re-tailoring plans as the virus ran its course through the city.
“This has been very much like a moving target,” the rabbi said. “The state of COVID in New York changed. So we’ve had to … make changes each time.”
But even in wake of these new challenges, teachers like Glassman approach the academic year with a can-do attitude.
“I keep telling them that we’re going to have fun,” she said of her nursery class. “I think for a lot of these kids, they’re just going to be happy to be back in school, be around different toys (and) be around other kids.”
And Glassman’s attitude toward reopening is universal, Frank said, recognizing the onus of reopening is not on himself, but on those standing in front of the classes each and every day.
“Our teachers are what’s making this happen,” Frank said. “They all understand the need to reopen. I think, as a whole, they are all very, very focused on teaching and being there for their students.”
Ruby Shamir has been a Kinneret parent for more than a decade, putting all three of her children through the school. And it’s Kinneret’s close-knit community that keeps her coming back.
“The whole thing about the school that I’ve always loved is that it’s very kid-centered,” Shamir said. “They were always thinking, ‘What’s best for the kid?’ and sort of building out from there.”
Shamir is less apprehensive about sending her children back into a school building than most parents, largely because of what she describes as the constant communication and information she’s received from Kinneret’s administration.
It’s allowed Shamir to be excited about Kinneret’s reopening. But, of course, that pales in comparison to what she says her children are feeling.
“They can’t wait,” Shamir said. “They come up to me randomly and they say, ‘I can’t wait for school to start! I can’t wait for school to start!’”