The Yeshiva of Central Queens got off to a great start this week, as faculty and students returned to the physical building for the first time in six months. Students and staff were patient as everyone began to acclimate to the new environment. The Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) decorated the school with banners, flags, and signs, welcoming students and staff back from a very long break.

Having our YCQ family’s safety and security in mind, our students and staff were required to wear masks, and found their classrooms complete with barriers surrounding their desks for added protection. The YCQ COVID task force team spent the summer organizing and planning to create a learning environment that was safe for the return to in-school learning.

As the students entered their new classrooms, they found a gift bag from the PTO with hand sanitizers, mask lanyards, and a special treat to help kick off the new year. The yard was separated into seven fenced off sections allowing for additional recess and outdoor time. The children loved having the additional resources added to the schedules so that they could spend some time outside getting some fresh air after sitting in a classroom all day.

No matter how difficult the changes were for some, the children are more excited about being back with their friends and learning in a real classroom and were willing to comply with the school safety guidelines. Teachers and members of the school social work department went out of their way making sure that the transition back into a physical classroom learning environment went as smoothly as possible.

Specialty teachers went to the children’s classes to provide art and music. And grades five through eight began their Chromebook program. The idea is to help students benefit from all the educational technology that is out there. Teachers worked on creative activities to help with the transition and make the start of the school year exciting.

As a special surprise on Friday in honor of Shabbos, the assistant principal of Judaic studies in the elementary school, Rabbi Ribalt, along with two of the members of his former a cappella group, and current members of Y-Studs, visited each class in the elementary school and entertained the students with some favorite songs.

Each day will get a little easier, but it was nice to have all the students back in the building after not seeing them for a very long period. When students were asked if they would rather be in school and have to wear masks and follow strict guidelines or be home and learn on Zoom, every student said they are happier in school and excited to be back. And the smiles told the truth, that being in school with their friends is well worth having to wear masks, stay socially distant, and follow expectations.

The week ended on Motza’ei Shabbos with students, parents, staff, and alumni gathering in the school yard (or on Zoom) for the YCQ annual parent-child learning and S’lichos. The yard was set up with a tent and followed all social distancing protocols. Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, Rabbi of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, spoke about the fact that schools and shuls and the entire world pretty much shut down for the last six months, and said we should ask ourselves, “What have we learned from this pandemic, what will we tell our children and grandchildren when they ask.” He encouraged everyone, especially the students, to find something, a brachah or a part of davening and do it every day with extra kavanah, and this will give us strength. After Rabbi Marcus spoke, junior high school assistant principal Rabbi Hamel led the group in a very emotional S’lichos.

With so many changes going on in the world and in our own backyard, this is a time to come together and support each other through this scary and trying time. Each person should be helping another navigate through this crisis, so we all come out on the other end as more caring, stronger, more selfless and more giving individuals.