New York City’s Kids, Back at School

On Tuesday, after seven months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, and two reopening delays, New York City’s public elementary schools welcomed students back inside their buildings. It wasn’t technically the first day of school—the beginning of the academic year took place remotely—and in many ways it didn’t feel like one. The streets of the East Village, a neighborhood with one of the highest densities of primary schools in the city, would in any other year be a snarl of yellow buses, and sidewalks and schoolyards would reverberate with operatic shouts and shrieks of greeting. This time, by comparison, the activity was sparse and subdued. Parents and caretakers, queuing for drop-off (their times staggered, at most schools, to avoid crowding), stood atop social-distancing markers—yellow lines painted on the pavement outside of one school building, yellow stars at another, blue “X”s of electrical tape on the sidewalk at a third. Kids, masked, greeted their teachers with pantomimed high-fives. Some rushed jubilantly toward their classmates, while others solemnly maintained a perimeter of personal space.

The return of five-to-eleven-year-olds marked the second stage of a phased reopening—pre-K and some special-needs students returned to schools last week; middle- and high-school students will go back on Thursday—though to call it a “full” reopening, as Mayor Bill de Blasio has in recent weeks, is something of a misnomer. Nearly half of all New York City public-school students have opted to continue full-time remote learning, and those who are back in the classroom have been divided into alternating cohorts, who split their time between in-person education and remote learning at home. If that sounds confusing, well—yes. On Tuesday morning, at eight o’clock, parents outside Manhattan’s East Village Community School clustered around a notice board pinned with a series of intricately color-coded spreadsheets listing which students were due where and on which days. The kids seemed less burdened. They were, for the most part, just happy to be there.

Jordan Yisrael, five, kindergarten, and her father, Chad Hamilton.

The Earth School.

Are you excited about school?

Yeah, we’re going to have a lot of fun stuff.

What kind of fun stuff?

I don’t know yet!

Freddie Pochapsky, “nine, going on ten,” fourth grade.

Children’s Workshop School.

“We did Google Classroom last year, and we used Nearpod. This year, we’re using Zoom. Zoom is better because you can make backgrounds. I like to do this outer-space one, where I select my face and then it looks like my skin is space-color.”

Dana Dominguez, ten, fifth grade.

P.S. 64.

“I’m excited to see my best friend, Mila.”

Have you seen her since quarantine started?

Yeah. Well, actually, no. I didn’t see her, but I chatted with her on FaceTime. I like real life better.

Charlotte Lavin, five, kindergarten.

East Village Community School.

What did you have for breakfast today?

Toast!

With anything on it?

Butter!

What’s your favorite breakfast?

Lunch!

Claire Lipani, eight, third grade.

East Village Community School.

“I just turned eight a few days ago.”

Did you do anything special for your birthday?

I had some friends come to the park. Everyone wore masks.

Who had the coolest mask?

I don’t know. I don’t really notice people’s masks.

Aliza Green, eleven, fifth grade; Amaya Green, eight, second grade; Ariana Green, five, kindergarten; and Anayah Green, nine, third grade.

P.S. 64.

How does Ariana spell her name?

Amaya: A-R-I-A-N-A. Like Ariana Grande!

Bradley Goodman, forty-six, “I’m the principal.

East Village Community School.

“The hand sanitizer is D.O.E. policy. The temperature check is meant to be done by parents at home, as part of a daily health screening, and the D.O.E. policy is that schools do random temperature checks. But we’ve made it our school policy that we’re just going to check everybody’s temperature, because ‘random’ potentially could make kids feel singled out. Everyone gets a squirt, everyone gets their temperature taken, and then you’re welcomed into the building.”

Josiah Sanchez, six, first grade.

East Village Community School.

Which is more fun, going into school or being home on the computer?

Being home on the computer. Because I can watch YouTube and stuff.

Liya Wallace, six, first grade.

P.S. 15: The Roberto Clemente School.

What was the best part of being back today?

Having fun. I did feelings journal, and also drawing, and learning about school.

What feelings did you write in your feelings journal?

Silly, and happy, and love.

Camila Azcurrain-Joffee, eight, and Yuko Legarreta, nine, both in fourth grade.

The Earth School.

What did you do today?

C. A-J.: I took a small tour, but it was really only to the bathroom. This is my first year at this school.

Y. L.: I’ve been here since kindergarten. Before, when I was in third grade, I’d go to a classroom for open work and I kind of just chilled there with my friends, and it was, like, all the tables were together, and there were, like, four people sitting together at one table—some of the tables had five people. It’s not like that anymore.

Do you think you’ll get used to the changes?

Y. L.: No.

C. A-J.: It’s just really different, after five years of going close to each other, playing close to each other, roughhousing. For free time, you’ve got to stay at your seat; you can’t go anywhere else. You’ve got to social-distance in your seats, too—there’s benches, and they have “X”s on them, and that’s where you sit.

Maribel Jones, eight, third grade.

P.S. 15: The Roberto Clemente School.

“My teacher is Miss Sarah. She’s very nice, and very kind to us, and she helps us. We’re supposed to raise our hands when we want to ask a question. Also, it’s my birthday!”

Did everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to you?

Yes. I was kind of shy, though.

Jacob Velez, five, kindergarten.

The Neighborhood School.

Can you tell me about your shirt?

I don’t really read, so I don’t know what it says.

It says “My Mom Is a Boss.”

Ha ha, yes! She rules in the house.

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