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From July 6 until July 30, the Special Education Department at Mainland Regional High School ran an extended year program. The ESY program is designed to help students avoid summer slide, or losing what they may have gained during the school year.

This program was even more important this year because of the pandemic and school being closed since March 13. The ESY staff consisted of four subject area teachers, eight teaching assistants, the school nurse, a speech therapist and the director of special education. The MRHS custodial staff was also instrumental in allowing this program to happen. Beginning in May, special education Director Jo-Anne Goldberg began leading video meetings with members of the ESY staff to discuss options for the summer program. After New Jersey entered later phases of reopening, Mainland was granted the ability to meet in-person, at the high school. After receiving an in-service from a certified CDC Infection Preventionist and creating a plan for drop offs, social distancing, mask wearing, cleaning and hand washing, and a video meeting with staff and parents, the program was ready to welcome a select group of 17 students back to Mainland for the first time in months.

After some initial growing pains and acclimating to the new normal, the program was a resounding success. Students received instruction in English, math, physical education and socio-emotional skills. Throughout the ESY program, students engaged in journaling in order to share their feelings about what quarantine life was like as well as what the returning to school meant to them. Here, some of the students from Mainland Regional High School’s ESY program — one of only two such programs to meet face-to-face in Atlantic and Cape May counties — use their voices to give perspective on the challenges of quarantine and the joys of being amongst friends and even teachers and teaching assistants, while returning to school after a four month hiatus.

The Struggles of Quarantine

Rising senior Kayla Carmen says of being quarantined at home, it “was very boring because I couldn’t find something to do. I couldn't see my friends and teachers.” Lydia Leidy, a rising sophomore, enjoyed walks with her dog, Spice, and her father to keep occupied. Being bored was not the only thing that plagued the students; a sense of loneliness set in the longer quarantine lasted. Yianna Michaelidis reflected, “I really missed being with my friends ... because I like eating lunch together.”

Importance of Returning to School

Jessica Carmen was excited to return to school because she could “see her friends and teachers in person,” instead of on FaceTime and video chat. Being back at school made Kevin Mittleman feel, “happy hanging out with (my) friends.” Rising sophomore Lukas Englert agreed by saying, “I just missed my friends.” Also, Mattie Traa was glad to see her teachers and teaching assistants again because, simply put, “I missed them,” she said.

Favorite ESY Activities

Victoria Poley’s favorite activity during ESY was “making tie dye T-shirts with different colors!” Another favorite activity was learning to write a haiku, as Emily Flatley said, “I love writing haikus.” Other fun activities included learning yoga, eating water ice on Thurdays, making homemade soap and soap dishes, and learning parts of speech through Mad Libs.

The New Normal

Dimitri Michaelidis understands the importance of wearing masks, but he doesn’t like that it is “uncomfortable ... makes (me) very hot, and covers up my handsome face.” Williams Barka was glad he could wear a face shield in place of a mask because the mask fogged up his glasses. Dale Martin helped keep his classmates on top of handwashing when reminding them to use the hand sanitizer once per hour (at least) and to wash hands for 20 seconds after using the restroom!

All in all, the ESY students had an amazing four weeks back at school; they got to see friends and faculty again, had fun making crafts while socially distanced, and even practiced consumer math, social skills, active reading, computer skills and physical fitness. In going the extra mile for this special group of students, Mainland Regional truly showed what is possible when adhering to the school’s motto: One Family, One School, One Community.

ESY Staff: Jo-Anne Goldberg, director of special education; Andre’ Clements, math teacher; Kristen Bianco, socio-emotional skills teacher; Ed Rubbert, physical education teacher; David Kallen, English teacher; Judi Latina, school nurse; Monica LaSalle, speech therapist; and teaching assistants Erika Melhorn, Allison Riseden, John Lombardelli, Debby Off, Veronica Fath, Andrew Monroe, Jeff Nelson and Juan Rodriguez.

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