For the first time in nearly a year since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Long Island, seniors at Lynbrook High School were welcomed back for in-person instruction on Monday and greeted with much fanfare.
The return came after the district’s Phase 4 task force, comprising students, teachers and administrators, hosted a series of meetings to discuss bringing more students back to school, and released a survey for parents to gauge their preferences when it comes to in-person instruction. Upon their return, seniors were greeted with balloons and a welcoming staff, including Principal Joseph Rainis. Many Lynbrook businesses have also prepared special discounts for the class of 2021 throughout the week to welcome them back. Carnival Parties provided the balloon arch for seniors to pose by for picture.s
As they returned to school, many students were pleased to have a step toward normalcy.
“I was so excited to go to school today and be with my friends I haven’t seen in the hallways since last March,” senior Mason Benvenuto said. “In addition to Mr. Rainis and the LHS staff, there are a group of our parents working really hard to help make our senior year special and it kicked off today with a welcoming balloon arch and tons of discounts from our favorite restaurants in town for the senior class.”
Senior John Kelhetter said it was nice to see his classmates in person again.
“It was great being back full-time on Monday, being able to see classmates whom I haven’t seen since last March,” he said. “The quiet classrooms and students that proceeded were no more. Conversations could be heard between students and teachers all day long. It felt like a normal school day.”
Senior Michelle Langbart was also happy to return. “I think it’s great to be back in school all together and I’m looking forward to a good rest of the year,” she said.
Gabrielle Grillo was also excited as seniors came back.
“It’s great to be back in school and I’m so excited for more fun senior activities," she said. "I’m so glad we are able to be back with our classmates and teachers to enjoy the time we have left here at LHS."
Maeve Mooney said she was "very excited" about officials' decision to bring in-person learning back and that she was happy to see her teachers again.
"There were many times that I thought I wouldn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to my teachers and celebrate with my classmates before we head into the next chapter of our lives," she said. "I am so grateful to have the opportunity to finish in person with my peers."
Teachers, who have had to adapt to the many changes brought on by remote learning and hybrid schedules, were also pleased to welcome some of the students back.
“When I walked into the building, it was so nice to actually feel some life back into this place,” Spanish teacher Danielle Leighley said. “There hasn’t been noise in the hallways since last March. It was a beautiful thing to see how happy they were to be back.”
Social studies teachers Bill Leighley and Olga Zisel also expressed their appreciation for the class of 2021 returning to the building.
“The best thing one of my returning students said was, ‘Getting back to normal is going to take some getting used to,’” Leighley said. “Very true.”
Zisel said she had experienced many feelings when she first saw the students return.
“It was so emotional seeing the beautiful arch this morning, and so many more faces around the building,” she said. “I’m so happy that the seniors are back and showing us what another step closer to normalcy looks like.”
The momentum toward a return gained steam at the Feb. 10 Board of Education meeting, where task force representatives shared their plan. Dr. Maureen Berman, assistant superintendent for personnel, transportation and student support services, chaired the Elementary School Committee, while Dr. Gerard Beleckas, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, chaired the Middle School Committee, and LHS Principal Joseph Rainis, the High School Committee.
While all seniors were given the opportunity to return, some parents have opted to have their students remain in the hybrid or full remote models. If the return of the class of 2021 goes well at the high school, the hope is to have juniors who would like to return do so on April 12. May 10 would be the possible return date for sophomores and juniors, Rainis said at the last board meeting, noting that though more desks would have to be added to classrooms, many safety protocols will remain, including keeping one-way traffic in certain hallways and staircases and the installation of more polycarbonate dividers.
At the board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak expressed her gratitude to those who helped make the return possible.
“There’s a tremendous amount of logistics,” she said. “I’m very proud of the teachers, the administration, the students and how everyone has really worked together and have revisited this and tried to make it safe. While maybe not everyone agrees, this district has made prudent decisions to bring back people in a safe environment for everyone.”