EAST ORANGE, NJ — Six months in, COVID-19 continues to plague the nation, and children are continuing their virtual learning at home. As many school buildings in New Jersey remain closed, Cicely Tyson Elementary School in East Orange held its back-to-school night in the schoolyard.
Able to reconnect with students and parents after months of quarantine, staff members were overjoyed to see students again, face to face.
“We’ve been virtual since last year. So, now for the COVID system, we kind of came up with an idea of how we can still do a welcome and still show the community that we still care for our kids. No matter what, this is what we’ve signed up for and we have to do it,” teacher Simplice Avit said at the event. “I’m excited about the connection we’re about to have tonight, so that teachers and parents can connect and for a community to be created, so we have a way to talk to the parent. This is a way for us to connect and then show the public that we are still together, no matter what.”
School staff asked East Orange Mayor Ted Green to stop by the event, too.
“I was out earlier today, and I saw a faculty member who had asked if I can come here this evening. I said that I didn’t know about it because I had my weekly meeting tonight that we do every Wednesday. So I told him I would drop by for a few minutes and say hello to the faculty and the students because I know how important this school year is and I know how difficult it is that our young people had to go virtual and work from home remotely,” Green said. “So, I just wanted to commend everyone, because we’re entering into unprecedented areas of teaching, and we have to commend the teachers for being in on that effort.
“I know that parents are very inquisitive because they’re still trying to figure out if either we are going remote or if some of the students are going to be in the school,” he continued. “I know that the Board of Education and I, we have been talking, and I know for a fact that they didn’t think that it was right to open schools until everything is in place. They want to protect teachers, the principals, the students, the faculty, and I agree with them. All over New Jersey, people are still trying to figure this out. I’m trying to figure it out as the mayor. We’re still at a point where City Hall isn’t open. So, I commend them for even coming up with this, because, that way, they can really tell the parents what’s going on.”
School counselor Allen Ashby was thrilled that Green accepted his invitation.
“I was going to LeRoy’s, which is an East Orange community-based place where we order our T-shirts, and I saw the mayor on Main Street,” Ashby said. “I walked up to him and asked him if he could come tonight. I told him it’ll be great for the parents, the community and students to see him, especially during everything that’s going on, and he agreed to come. He understands the people need to see us. We need to be tangible leaders, and that’s how we’ll get through this situation.
“I’m excited because I know the origin of where this idea came from and for us to see it and for it to come to life is truly spectacular to say the least,” he added about the event. “I wanted an opportunity for our community, parents and students to meet our new administrators, because I think that’s very important. Being an educator is about building relationships, and if we can’t do that with our students, they won’t succeed and learn.”
Many attendees were just grateful to get out of the house and have the opportunity to connect with the school community.
“I feel honored to be here,” school nurse Assumpta Ekeh said. “All our parents are here, the mayor was here, the new administration and teachers are here. Everyone is here and coming to get information that they need. It’s amazing to be here this evening.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman