Drippy, at times slippery start to school year in Montclair
With a forecast predicting rain showers every hour and a gray sky casting a summer-ending gloom, Montclair students returned to school Tuesday.
But wet faces were wiped with sleeves to make way for smiles and hellos, dripping raincoats were peeled off as students made it to shelter under school awnings, and umbrellas were shaken and folded up.
Montclair High School seniors Magdalena Holland and Lena Turner strolled toward the school building under a shared umbrella, wearing matching homemade shirts with “SENIOR 23” spray-painted across the front.
“I think it’s more thrilling than scary, because I feel there’s so much to look forward to this year,” Turner said of starting her senior year. “It's like now we finally get to give our last take on the school and then hopefully like the kids after us can do their part.”
Waiting at a bus stop across town with her mom, Bullock School fifth grader Amelia Himes said she’s looking forward to being in the oldest grade in the school. But with the new school year comes a new classroom, teacher and friends.
“I’m nervous I won’t get to see some of my friends from last year,” she said.
The 2021-22 school year in Montclair was the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that students throughout the district attended class as a whole. Students returned to the school buildings only days after Hurricane Ida battered the township, with multiple school buildings taking damage; flooding at Montclair High School was the “worst I’ve seen in 30 years,” head custodian Brian Bunk said at the time.
Hillside School and Bradford School flooded as well, and a tree fell on Edgemont Montessori School.
During the school year, students adapted to classrooms with coronavirus precautions — separated desks, masked faces and canceled clubs and activities.
But the 2022-23 school year already feels different, parents Terese Tarantino and Ralph Greco said Tuesday after dropping off their 10-year-old son, Lucas, at Watchung School.
Tarantino and Greco said they’re feeling less anxious about Lucas getting COVID-19 at school than they felt last year. The whole family tested positive in fall 2021.
“It’s not as much of a concern,” Tarantino said. “We’ve already experienced it. I get it if there’s a kid or family that’s somehow escaped getting it, I get the fear.”
Greco said he appreciated efforts made by Watchung administrators last school year to maintain stability and keep school as normal as possible.
“They really did a great job of not instilling panic,” he said.
This will be Lucas’ sixth and final year at Watchung. As they watched kindergartners walk into the building, Tarantino and Greco were thinking about how grown up their son seems, Greco said.
“He’s like a mini teenager,” he said. “He gets up and says, ‘I’m tired, I need caffeine.’”
While this has been Lucas’ first first day of school where it has poured rain, he and his parents still followed through with their first-day ritual — meeting up all together, since Tarantino and Greco live separately, and walking to school as a family. Lucas was most excited to see all his friends who were away at camp this summer.
“He woke up before his alarm,” Tarantino said.
School district staff greeted students outside the buildings with a brightness that ran opposite to the morning’s gloom.
Arthur Settembrino, a special assignment teacher at Montclair High School, met students with a wide smile and high fives as they made their way into the building. His greetings were put on pause for a few minutes as he tended to a student who slipped on the damp floors in the entryway of the building.
For high school security guard Charles Murphy, who has worked for the district for 17 years, a new school year means a new opportunity to connect with students.
“I see these kids grow up,” Murphy said. “I see these kids when they go to elementary school, I see them in middle school, and now in high school. We have developed that bond. So many of them when they go through a crisis or issues, they will confide in me.”
For students new to the district, the first day at a new school carries with it many unknowns.
Sophomore Peri Newmark transferred to Montclair from Verona High School. While she’s nervous to start the year, she said she’s eager to see what Montclair has to offer.
“I know there’s a mixed bag of students, and I’m excited to meet them,” Newmark said.
Bullock School kindergartners Haynes Lamberth and Eugene Flood said they are looking forward to their first day of elementary school. Standing at the bus stop together under umbrellas held by their parents, Haynes and Eugene said they were glad they got to go to the same school. The two students attend the same preschool.
“I’m excited about recess and playing on the playground,” Eugene said.