With COVID-19 still very much a reality, Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, joined countless other yeshivos worldwide in facing the challenge of resuming in-person learning this fall. Beyond devising a plan based on Torah and medical guidance, perhaps the most delicate aspect was presenting the back-to-school protocols to the students themselves — over 470 children from preschool through eighth-grade.
Rabbi Reuven Feinberg, dean, explained, “We wrote a children’s book uniquely for our students, describing what would be different and what would be the same, so they would be prepared honestly, yet without fear and apprehension. Parents read the book to their children in the days before our return, which helped them have an open conversation about what to expect at school. The book also unified our message and tone, continuing that same upbeat yet measured anticipation that has characterized our staff’s experience as well.”
The book, titled Many Happy Returns: A Torah Academy Student’s Guide to the New School Year, toggled back and forth between the differences implemented this year to prevent viral spread — such as masks, social distancing, upgraded cleaning and minimizing interaction between classes — and the still-familiar aspects of the school environment.
To add to the students’ comfort level, the book described health checks at morning carpool, modified recess procedures, and more spread- out lunch space; yet it made sure to emphasize the ability to reconnect with friends and build relationships with new Rebbeim and teachers. Multiple pages featured pictures of the school campus inside and out, so families would have visual reference points for the changes. So far, with a week of school completed, the actual plan is faring well; there is calm in the hallways, students are quickly adapting to the changes, and the inevitable challenges are manageable.
Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, executive director of Torah Umesorah, took notice of the children’s guide as well: “All of our schools are struggling with the reopening of their classes. The stress that comes along with the struggle is something we can all do without, especially our children. Torah Academy of Boca Raton has put together a beautiful handbook for children that will certainly make the transition from home to school much more pleasant and calming. Thank you, Torah Academy!”
Mrs. Taly Menashehoff, a parent with children in three out of the four Torah Academy divisions, commented in an email, “I just read [the book] with all my kids and it was such an informative and wonderful way to get them even more prepared and ready to come back to school. It gave them a better understanding of what it will be like!”
Rabbi Feinberg emphasizes that a crucial factor in Torah Academy’s success so far was not only the children’s book, but the way the changes have been presented to the hundreds of adults involved, taking into account multiple perspectives. “We named our plan TAPE, Torah Academy Preventative Efforts, to create a shorthand, creative language, while maintaining the seriousness of the endeavor. Adhesive tape is a symbol of COVID prevention, so using this image to represent our plan was an intuitive choice.
“We refer to TAPE and everyone knows what we’re talking about, what we’re all doing, as we ‘stick together’ in a unified project that needs everyone’s participation. Our faculty and parent body have been wonderful in rolling with the changes, and our students have taken it all in stride and impressed us beyond imagination.”