Parents still may be clipping coupons for glue sticks and construction paper this year, but the coronavirus crisis has caused school supply lists to change. To address the new realities posed by the pandemic, Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools have designed shopping strategies regarding everything from headset usage to what types of folders to buy.
Based upon Community Day School’s campus reopening plan, which calls for minimizing the sharing of high-touch items, its back-to-school supply lists are longer than in past years and include new items, such as staplers and scissors which can no longer be shared communally in classrooms, according to Jennifer Bails, Community Day School’s director of marketing and communications.
While private school students are long accustomed to seeing each other in uniformed dress, there is now an additional item mandated throughout the state: masks. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s July 1 order, all students over the age of 2 must wear face coverings in school, except those who have a medical or mental health condition or disability that would preclude them from doing so.
At CDS, every student will receive a branded school face covering at the start of the year, although wearing that specific mask is not required, according to Bails, who added that comfort and fit were paramount.
Whether it’s on the back of the CDS mask, or inside other face coverings, parents are being asked to carefully label items this year. Doing so is one of several recommended measures intended to collectively mitigate viral spread.
“We’ve also asked families to help us stock cleaning and hygiene supplies that are easier to acquire in smaller numbers than in bulk, as well as extra face masks to keep at school,” added Bails.
CDS will provide Chromebooks to each student in second to fifth grade, as well as to its middle schoolers. Children in kindergarten and first grade will receive iPads.
At Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, administrators also are working to minimize the sharing of supplies.
“Each year the school ends up buying a ton of supplies, things like construction paper and glue sticks, for kids who don’t have and kids who need,” said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy’s principal. “As a result, what ends up happening is that students come down to the office and ask for supplies. We’re trying to avoid that.”
In order to reduce unnecessary interactions with others, Hillel Academy is providing each student with all items typically found on a back to school list.
“We figured it will help our parents not have to go to stores unnecessarily,” said Weinberg, and is consistent with the school’s goal of reducing the sharing of supplies.
Hillel Academy has begun the process of purchasing items in bulk from an array of in-person and online retailers. The costs, which Weinberg estimates at $10,000, will be largely subsidized by the school and absorbed into its annual budget. To help slightly defray expenses, however, each family will receive a $25 school supplies fee, he said.
Other changes at Hillel Academy include the elimination of lockers to “minimize congregating in hallways or tight spaces,” Weinberg said, and textbooks will be purchased digitally in case students must quarantine and miss in-person instruction.
At Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, there will be definite differences in the school experience this year, but the school will continue its practice of providing supplies to those who need them, explained Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, Yeshiva’s head of school.
Parents were provided grade-specific shopping lists designed with an intent to reduce sharing between students. Items can be bought online or in-person, but for those who are unable to acquire materials, Yeshiva will follow past procedures.
“In general, our community provides support for everyone who needs things purchased for them and if they are concerned or unable to leave their homes,” explained Rosenblum.
After so many months at home, and with COVID-19 still raging, returning to school will be a new experience, agreed the Jewish day school professionals.
Things may be slightly different than before, but, as the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out, there is a value in returning to in-person instruction, according to Weinberg of Hillel Academy. The new plans, he explained, represent “our best thinking as to how we can balance our needs and aspirations as a school community.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.