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Public or private, South Shore feels safe

Private school protection pleases parents

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In recent months, the Herald has taken closer looks at local public school districts that serve Seaford and Wantagh, and how they have provided safe environments amid a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. One of the keys to their successes has been stringent social distancing.

South Shore parents whose children are enrolled in private schools are also pleased with the protective measures those institutions are taking. “I have three children at Kellenberg Memorial High School,” Seaford resident Laura Barnjak said of her triplet freshman daughters, Paulina, Gabriella and Sophia. “At first I was very worried. The way I perceive it right now, as a parent, I think [Kellenberg] is doing an excellent job.”

Kellenberg is a co-ed private Catholic high school in Uniondale. This is the Barnjak triplets’ first experience in a private-school setting. They graduated from Seaford Middle School earlier this year.

One of their mother’s concerns at the start of the academic year was how comfortable her children might be attending in-person classes. She also wondered how the transition would go if they decided to learn from home instead, even temporarily.

Robert York, Kellenberg’s assistant principal for personnel and communications, laid out the school’s pandemic response, and how effective it has been up to this point. “We’ve not ever had to close down the entire school facility due to a positive Covid-19 test,” York said. “That is due to our cohort model, where our students are spending the majority of their day in their respective classrooms, while the teachers are really the transient ones, going from one classroom to another.”

Thus far, the school has offered a fully in-person curriculum, a hybrid option — in which students can come to school on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday — or a fully remote option. The Barnjak sisters are all attending in person.

“I feel pretty safe, generally, when I’m at school,” Paulina said.

“It’s a very safe environment,” Gabriella added.

“I really love going to class,” said Sofia. “They keep the windows open for airflow. I don’t feel uncomfortable.” She said that their cohort is one of the larger ones in the school, numbering 49, but they keep their distance using the band room.

Jimmie Price, who lives in Seaford, has lauded the efforts of both of his sons’ schools. His youngest attends Seaford Manor Elementary in person, while his eldest, James, does the same at Chaminade High School, a private, boys-only Catholic school in Mineola. James also graduated from Seaford Middle School earlier this year.

“He had a doctor’s appointment one day, so he missed in-class learning but he was able to jump right into his online class,” Price said. “I didn’t even have to think about it as a parent.”

Price also said that James told him that he didn’t feel that he lagged behind when transitioning to and from online learning.

Nicholas Perrotta, Chaminade’s compliance officer, said that remote learning can be an effective substitute for missing a day of in-class learning. For a school with a student population topping 1,700, according to Perrotta, only “30 to 40” students opted for full remote learning at the onset of the academic year.

Since opening for freshman orientation in late August, Chaminade has had nine Covid-19 cases that, according to Perrotta, have not resulted in further transmission on campus.

“I feel really lucky about where we live,” Price said. “Seaford has a really good handle on it, and so does Chaminade. “The communication has been key.”

Both Chaminade’s and Kellenberg’s technological proficiency could be the single most important factor in their navigation of an unpredictable educational environment. All of the students’ study material is offered on iPads that they take to and from school. This has been both schools’ standard for six years.

York said that Kellenberg did upgrade the campus’s technological infrastructure — most notably by purchasing more TV’s for classrooms to optimize its remote-learning capabilities.

The two schools have also utilized tents outdoors to hold masses attended by small groups.

Both were also able to play an abbreviated fall sports season. Brady Schmidt, a freshman at Kellenberg who lives in Wantagh, played soccer.

“The kids wore masks during tryouts,” said his mother, Noel Schmidt. “They were careful. They formed the team, were able to play six games and livestreamed all of the games for the parents.” She added that Brady said he was never uncomfortable having to stay after school for practice or taking a later bus home to Wantagh.