On a recent chilly morning, Jamie Greenstein dropped off her 3-year-old son, Aharon, at the integrated preschool at the Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. Aharon, who turns 4 next month, attends school there from 9 a.m. to noon five days a week, then goes to Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott in the afternoon.
After exiting the car, Greenstein placed a mask over Aharon’s ears. She then fitted him with his PAW Patrol backpack and walked him a short distance to the outdoor classroom.
“They have to wear a mask,” Greenstein said, “and they have specific times throughout the day when they have a mask break.”
Greenstein, who works as an associate director of marketing at Endicott College, said her young son is getting used to wearing a mask, including those of Spider-Man,
PAW Patrol and Mickey Mouse. To make him understand the concept of mask wearing during a pandemic, she tells him if he wears a mask, he won’t get the sniffles.
“If you don’t want to get sick or make other people sick, you wear the masks,” Greenstein said she tells him.
Such is life during the new back-to-school normal of the coronavirus pandemic, which some North Shore Jewish parents said involves a mix of in-person and online learning; masks and mask breaks; hand sanitizer; social distancing; Chromebooks and entire schools’ student bodies divvied up into cohorts.
Some parents interviewed said they like that their kids are going to school and are able to be with teachers and other students for the first time since March. They like the hybrid arrangement, even if it is only for two days a week.
When he arrived at school, Aharon did not go right inside the building, but to an enclosed outdoor playground with a tent over it at the front of the school. To limit indoor time, the school has various outdoor classrooms for the integrated preschool set up around the building. The students rotate around, including to an indoor classroom, Greenstein said.
“So far, going back to school has been really good for him,” said Greenstein, who grew up in Hamilton and attended Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.
Attorney Tracy Cranson of Peabody said her 12-year-old son, Jacob, is pleased with school so far. “Excellent,” she said. “I really have no complaints.”
Her son attends school both in-person and virtually at the Higgins Middle School on Perkins Street. As part of Cohort A, he attends school in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, and goes remotely the other three days.
“From our perspective, the social interaction for teenagers, I appreciate they are allowing it to happen,” Cranson said.
The unintended consequence of having half the students in school at any given time is her son is in a class of 12 students, instead of 24, a class size akin to a private-school education, she said.
“He’s getting much more attention than if he were going five days a week in-person,” Cranson said. The remote learning is much more structured than it was in the spring. One downside, she said, is that on virtual days, her son will get his work done by noon, which may be a result of her son being studious.
“I think it’s keeping him grounded and organized,” she said of the remote program.
David Kaufman and his wife, Alissa, of Lynnfield, have a lot to juggle as their three kids, fifth-grader Sarah, 10, third-grader Hannah, 8, and Ariella, 5, who is in kindergarten, go back to school.
That’s because in addition to being working parents, they both work as teachers.
Kaufman teaches computers at Revere High while his wife works as a preschool teacher in Salem. The family attends Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.
Kaufman said Lynnfield has gone back with a hybrid schedule, with their three kids, all in the same cohort, going to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, then attending remotely the rest of the week.
Because of their various schedules, with Revere going back remotely and Kaufman teaching from Revere High three days a week, the Kaufmans have opted to send their kids to a program run by Lynnfield Community Schools, an organization which offers before- and after-school programs for Lynnfield Public Schools. Their kids are enrolled in what is called the Remote Learning Child Care program run by Lynn Community Schools which is being run out of the Lynnfield Senior Center. The program is limited to about 40 kids who are separated into different rooms so they can attend their remote classes via Zoom, Kaufman said.
He said the most challenging aspect has been the logistics of packing what the kids need each day, including the Chromebooks and their plugs, masks, and towels to sit on outside.
“There is a lot of moving pieces to this,” Kaufman said. That’s in addition to making sure their kids are keeping tabs on their homework, clicking on all the links for their assignments and submitting the work on time. The two older children are fairly independent, but Kaufman said there still needs to be support for his younger daughter.
“My kids seem happy,” Kaufman said.
Attorney Jarrod Hochman is a School Committee member in Peabody who attends Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody. He has two children at the Higgins Middle School: Laney, 11, who is in sixth grade, and Sadie, 13, who is in eighth.
“The in-person school has been going very well,” said Hochman, who voted on the district’s reopening plan. “The administration is doing a great job of keeping our kids safe and healthy.”
His children are having different experiences when it comes to remote learning, however.
His younger daughter appears to be online and in Zoom classes a lot longer than the 13-year-old.
“She’s in front of the computer and doing school work for a longer portion of the day,” Hochman said. And that’s a good thing. The older daughter appears to be done by 11:30 a.m., and he said it’s a challenge to keep both engaged.
Hochman said the district has reported every time someone in the schools, be it a student, teacher or staff member, has tested positive for COVID-19, without identifying anyone, and as of early October there had been two cases at the Higgins and one at an elementary school, which Hochman said is a good sign.
He said if you had told him in June or July that four weeks into the school year during the pandemic there would be only three cases throughout a school district of nearly 6,000 students, he would have told you, “that would be a success.”
Associate Editor Ethan Forman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JJournalNews.