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North Shore High School students to return full-time this month

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North Shore High School students are expected to return to in-person learning this month, Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo announced via a district-wide email on March 26. The proposal was brought up by NSHS principal Eric Contreras at the March 25 Board of Education meeting, during which Giarrizzo said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its social distancing guidelines from six feet to three feet in schools.

Seniors and juniors will return on April 19, and sophomores and freshmen will follow suit on April 26. Contreras said the timetable was chosen based on providing students with two full weeks after they return from spring break, as Covid-19 cases tend to rise following school breaks. He added that seniors and juniors are returning first because they could use the extra preparation time for AP and IB exams, as well as to allow students to gradually adjust to their new schedule

NSHS students have been operating on a hybrid learning model since the beginning of the school year. They were split into two cohorts based on last names in alphabetical order, alternating between being in school or remote every other day Monday through Thursday. All students have been remote on Fridays. Students can remain fully remote throughout the rest of year, and the district will send out a survey to find out which students would need such accommodations.

The students and staff have done about as well as possible throughout the pandemic, Contreras said, which is a testament to the courage and creativity of the teachers. Students have missed over a year of schooling, he said, and if the district does not take deliberate action soon, students could go through further emotional struggles and learning loss. He added that NSHS has the lowest rate of all-remote students in Nassau County at 10 percent, something which he said shows that students want to be in school.

“Our kids actually want to come in, they value the in-person experience,” Contreras said. “They think that school matters and to see teenagers express with their actions that school matters [shows] they want to come into the building. I believe there is no place like brick and mortar schools and there is no learning experience like actual teachers in front of you five days a week.”

Contreras said students will be separated by at least three feet in all rooms and that outdoor learning will be strongly encouraged for all class types. Assistant principal Jennifer Imperiale said classrooms are being adjusted to accommodate more students per room. The school is doing its best to keep teachers in one room as much as possible, she said, but some classes may have to switch to larger spaces to bring in more students. She added that in some cases, the rooms themselves may have to be remodeled in minor ways, such as removing furniture to fit more desks.

Dan Doherty, the district’s director of counseling, said there are likely going to be differences in how certain students react to coming back to school full time. He said some will hit the ground running with no issues. Others could be more hesitant to return, he said, and certain students could be very anxious as a result of the change. He said the district’s counselors and social workers are prepared to work with students on all levels of return-preparedness. The district also plans on running a parent program during the week of the return to work with students on adjusting to their schedule, he said.

“As we return, the counseling department and social workers are here to work with you and support students and staff in any way we can,” Doherty said.

Senior Jules Firouztale said she is excited to return to school full time. She said it will bring a sense of normalcy back into students’ lives. School spirit will also return, she said, something which most students have not felt throughout the year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in the halls that we haven’t seen for the entire beginning of the school year,” Firouztale said. “We’ll be reunited, which will be nice.”

Fellow senior Jack Levin also said he is excited to see his all classmates again, as he has only been around half of them throughout the year. One of the biggest enjoyments of high school is seeing friends every day, he said, so students have been missing out on a sense of unity.

“I want the last half of my senior year to memorable and I think this will be a big part of that,” Levin said.