GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The end of a bizarre school year is approaching, and the Ridgewood Avenue School staff is hoping to celebrate their students as much as they can in the coming weeks, particularly the ones who will be moving on to middle school at Glen Ridge High School in September. Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone home and to their screens for virtual learning in March 2020, group activities haven’t been quite the same.
“Our school has been fortunate to have been in person in some way since September, we didn’t shut down unless it was after the holidays for precautionary reasons,” Samantha Odell, a sixth-grade English teacher at RAS said in a phone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on May 28. “That’s been crucial to the students’ happiness and normalcy. So we thought if we’re going to get to September and make it feel normal again, then we should make this feel normal too.”
Last year’s sixth-grade graduation festivities were postponed because of the pandemic; this year the RAS students can celebrate leaving their school and moving up to the middle school with their friends. Seventh-graders who missed out on their end-of-year field trip and party last year will be invited, too.
“We’re doing as many things for them as possible,” Odell said. “That will be the first official event in a long time, so they’re excited about it. Coming off of this school year, our school wanted this to feel as OK as possible. The fact that we’ve been able to do it is great for them.”
The orthodontists at Papasikos Orthodontics, which is based in Montclair, usually work with the school in Glen Ridge on a few dental education events throughout the year. But with the hybrid schedule and pandemic restrictions, the money the business usually earmarked for these events just sat untouched. So the business is donating the money to the RAS end-of-year activities, making goodie bags with sunglasses, beach balls and Frisbees. It will also pay for an ice cream truck to be at the school on June 15.
“Normally we do dental events, but we haven’t been able to do any of that this year,” orthodontist Jacy Papasikos said in a phone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on June 1. “So we have a backlog of the money we would use for it.”
Papasikos Orthodontics also sponsors events with the local theater company the Gas Lamp Players, and will be helping them ramp up their theater productions this summer. Papasikos is glad to be able to help as things start to look more normal again.
“In general, our goal is to sponsor community events,” he said. “We’re all about supporting the community, so if anyone wants help, we’re happy to do it.”
At the beginning of the school year, students rotated in and out of the building on different days for in-person learning alternating with virtual learning. Now all of the students are back five days a week and can see one another in person again, although there are still some COVID restrictions in place.
“They don’t even think about masks and plexiglass anymore,” Odell said.
Some old school traditions are working their way into the classroom: She gave a test on paper instead of a computer last week.
“I gave a paper test yesterday and it was so exciting,” Odell joked. “I was saying, ‘You have no idea how excited I am to give you paper!’”
The sixth-grade barbecue will give students a chance to celebrate not only the end of their time at RAS, but also the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
“Now that they’re able to have lunch together, it’s like they took a breath and jumped into the pool,” Odell said. “You can see their personalities come out more.”