Lighting the Way: How the #RoadBackToGOA has been such a success

By Erin Sternthal
Before Thanksgiving break, the Lower and Upper School campuses created a gratitude wall with messages of thanks and appreciation. In the Lower School, one student wrote, “I am grateful I can come to school and be with my friends.” This sentiment — gratitude for in-person instruction — was displayed in so many different messages from our students and faculty. In a time when many schools are fully remote or using a hybrid model of instruction, we are truly blessed that our students have the opportunity to learn, explore and discover in person on both of our campuses.
 
According to Carole J. Everett, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), independent schools have put paramount importance on the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. “They have provided COVID-19 testing, worked with committees of doctors, nurses, and other health officials, and been flexible with hybrid or remote instruction when needed,” she said. “This has allowed the educational excellence that is a hallmark of our schools to continue during the pandemic.”
 
To accommodate those students who have chosen remote instruction, our school is able to maintain a hybrid model, teaching students via Zoom ­— with the support of online learning platforms Seesaw and Google Classroom. However, to date, 95 percent of Golda Och Academy students are learning in person on our campuses. Our students are thriving in school, seeing their friends, soaking up information daily from their teachers and thrilled to have some sense of “normalcy” during these uncertain times. So just how has Golda Och Academy been able to succeed?
 
Superhero Faculty and Staff
 
First and foremost, the Golda Och Academy faculty, staff, administration and maintenance teams have led the charge in keeping students engaged, safe and healthy. Each morning, students, staff and faculty are required to complete a daily health questionnaire through the SchoolPass app. Upon arrival on campus, designated faculty members take temperature screenings before students get out of their cars and before faculty members enter the building. Our maintenance team has been diligent about cleaning classrooms with the electrostatic sprayers, and hand sanitizing stations can be found throughout both campuses.
 
From a teaching standpoint, never before have teachers proven how dedicated they are to our school. Teachers have been working around the clock and have used their creativity to keep students involved while adhering to the social-distancing and mask-wearing protocols that have been put in place. On any given day at the Lower School, students are laughing and playing outdoors at recess, planting in the garden and learning in their classrooms. Upper School science and STEM classes are in the labs doing experiments, students are participating in clubs during lunchtime and above all else, all students and teachers are happy to simply be together. “Our teachers and staff have always amazed me, but this pandemic has made them stand out as true superheroes,” said Adam Shapiro, Head of School. “Our success in keeping our campuses open is due so much in part to their willingness to step up and go the extra mile, despite any and all challenges they may be facing in their own personal lives. Whether this means standing outside in all elements to monitor the carpool line or eat lunch, taking extra time to meet with students or doing additional preparation to teach students both in person and on remote instruction, I am truly in awe of our team.”
 
Medical Expertise and Partnerships
 
We have been so fortunate to have tremendous medical expertise throughout the pandemic.  We have relied heavily on the hard work, dedication and professionalism of our two campus nurses — Ilena Kasdan and Roberta Coopersmith — who have been advised by Dr. Jeffrey Saperstein and Dr. Alison Grann.
 
Through a critical partnership that we established with PM Pediatrics over the summer, GOA has been able to secure testing each month for all students who choose to test at this facility. The relationship with PM Pediatrics has made the testing process simple and smooth for our students, faculty and staff. Monthly testing has typically been centered around holiday breaks, and during testing weeks both campuses switch to remote instruction. A designated day and time is set aside for GOA students at PM Pediatrics locations in Livingston, North Brunswick and Springfield. PM Pediatrics has also set up a remote testing location on our campus on non-teaching days for faculty, staff and their children who are students at the school. Testing results then need to be uploaded to the parent portal on our website, and only those students and faculty members with proof of a negative test result are permitted back on campus following each testing week. 
 
Community Responsibility and Support
 
“All of Israel is responsible for one another.”
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shavuot 39a
 
In almost all of our #RoadBacktoGOA correspondence, this quote is included. Actions by each member of our community affect the entire school community, which is why GOA has been strict in its guidelines to keep our school open and our students safe. We are fortunate that students, faculty and parents have adhered to the new safety precautions put in place and are taking these precautions seriously. This includes a 14-day quarantine period for students who travel outside of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or Delaware as well as a grade or class-wide quarantine based on the guidelines should a student or faculty member test positive for COVID-19. Our families have been diligent about keeping students home with any COVID-like symptoms and can easily switch to remote instruction that day.
 
To reopen GOA during the pandemic and meet the increased financial aid needs of families, our school has incurred significant costs. We have been fortunate to receive philanthropic support from our community and many individual donors, as well as receive funds and grants from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, the Gottesman Fund, the Healthcare Foundation of NJ, the Hyde and Watson Foundation and the Rogers Foundation. As a school, we have also raised our GOA Annual Fund goal this year, working hard to fill this gap. For more information or to help, visit www.goldaochacademy.org/annualfund.
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