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Princeton schools react to extended closure

The Princeton Public School District welcomes the possibility of students returning to the bricks-and-mortar school buildings as soon as May 15, but it won’t be as simple as opening the schoolhouse doors, Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said.

The public schools were slated to reopen this month, but Gov. Phil Murphy has extended the school closure to May 15, which leads to the hopes of a possible return to the school buildings before the end of the year, Cochrane said.

But if the schools were to reopen next month, it would present a “myriad logistical and health related changes (that) we would have to implement to make sure that bringing thousands of students and adults back into our schools in four weeks’ time could happen safely,” he said.

“The governor’s announcement places us in the position of needing to plan for that possible re-entry, as well as for the still more likely scenario that schools will remain closed through June or beyond,” Cochrane said.

Meanwhile, although the schools have been physically closed and remote learning has been put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, steps have been taken to provide some opportunities for the students to recapture at least some of the experiences that make up a high school career.

So as much as they can, coaches and advisers are working with students to enable them to participate virtually in extra-curricular activities – even though the school closures have thrown a wrench into many aspects of the school experience.

On and off the athletic fields, students have been equally engaged in extra-curricular activities, said Diana Lygas, Princeton High School Dean of Students. She is coordinating remote advising for the clubs.

“Many clubs are doing good things. The yearbook staff just completed their 2020 yearbook and sent it off to the press. That was a huge undertaking to do from home, and I am super proud of them,” Lygas said.

The Tower, which is the Princeton High School newspaper, is publishing its next edition online, Lygas said. It is actively seeking new members.

The Mental Health Coalition and the Numina Gallery are working on coordinating an online art gallery, and the Stress Relief Club is meeting every Wednesday on Zoom, she said.

The Princeton High School track coaches have kept in touch with the student athletes several times a week through the Remind app, by sending updates and messages of inspiration and positivity and organizing group activities, Assistant Coach Ben Samara said.

“We are doing bi-weekly, full-team Zoom meetings, and organizing other fun activities on Zoom on off-weeks. Distance runners have been using Strava to track their runs and filter that information directly to Assistant Coach James Smirk, who can then provide feedback,” Samara said.

The spring track coaches have been in daily, one-on-one contact with many of the athletes, Samara said. They have been fielding questions and helping with workout modifications and even directing them to helpful videos, Samara said.

“Competition is just one part of our season. We have made it clear to our athletes that even if we remain in remote learning through the rest of this year, we will continue to support them athletically and emotionally through the remainder of the spring to set them up for future success,” Samara said.

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