Meeting in the Middle at PS/MS 114


 The announcement of middle schools (MS) reopening is a hallmark moment for a city overwhelmed by the pandemic. On Thursday, February 25, the New York City school system, the nation’s largest, will finally reopen its doors to thousands of students in grades 6 through 8. PS/MS 114 - The Belle Harbor School is among the many public schools ready to open its doors to its middle schoolers.

After their schools were ordered closed on November 5 following a citywide uptick in coronavirus cases, middle school students who had opted for blended learning at the start of the school year, will be able to return to their school buildings next week. Officials have asked MS educators to return the day before, February 24, and are promising them priority for the vaccine over the mid-winter break through February 21.

The decision to reopen was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on February 8 after they were made aware of damage brought about by student isolation.

"Our public schools coming back strong is going to be one of the foundations of everything that happens going forward," de Blasio said during the announcement. "Our educators have done an incredible job supporting students remotely, but as we've said from the beginning, nothing can replace in-person learning and the support our students receive in person. We're so thrilled to be able to provide that," Carranza added.

Elizabeth Welsome, Principal of PS/MS 114 agrees. “When we learned the MS students would be returning to the building, there was a sense of relief and excitement. We are providing quality remote instruction to our MS students, however, we believe that nothing replaces the ability to interact live with teachers and classmates,” she told The Rockaway Times. “We know that conversations and social interaction will improve with the ability to be in person. In addition, so many families and caregivers have shared their concerns about the MS students being home for so long. We knew that this was important for students as well as families.”

Public schools switched to fully remote learning after Covid numbers increased in the fall, but the trajectory has changed since. Dr. Ted Long, who oversees the city’s Test and Trace Corps, said “We’re very confident we can do it” regarding the reopening.

PS 1114, which like most public schools, has had in-person instruction for its elementary school students since December 7, says it’s ready. “We are following all safety protocols that are necessary for buildings to remain open in a safe manner. All individuals wear face coverings. Classrooms follow social distancing guidelines, bathrooms are monitored to limit the number of students using them at one time. All individuals complete a daily health screening to be cleared for building entry, we continue to have temperature checks upon arrival, and we limit exposure to the amount of in-person contact by keeping students in classrooms and limiting movement in the school building. We have increased the number of opportunities for handwashing and hand sanitizing and we leave common area doors open to minimize contact on common surfaces. We have staircases designated for up and down to keep classes from passing one another. The custodial staff has increased the number of times they're wiping down common surfaces in addition to nightly disinfecting of the school building.”

Welsome believes having students back in the building will have positive effects. “We believe that there are so many benefits to in-person learning,” she said. “In-person learning environments are designed to limit distractions and enable students to focus on their teachers and learning. In-person learning enables students to interact in a more organic and natural manner. Conversations and discussions flow easier, and students are able to interact with one another and their teachers more naturally. In-person learning allows for more social interaction. Teachers are able to provide feedback in real-time.”

Upon return, students will be subjected to random weekly coronavirus testing. Those who opted for remote learning will continue to learn remotely. For the time being, high schools remain fully remote. The ultimate goal remains:  to get through the rest of the school year and through the pandemic, safely.

 Best of luck to all of the middle school students returning on February 25. Welcome back!

By Daniel Lynch