Wayne Hills Staff Reflect on the Year 2021

3D successful business group with arm up - isolated

Andres Rodriguez - Fotolia

3D successful business group with arm up – isolated

By Kyla Leathers, Staff Writer

The year 2021 was an interesting year for Wayne Hills. Not only has transitioning back to our old schedule been a unique experience for teachers and students, but the new normal we returned to has affected Wayne Hills non-teacher staff as well.

Ms. Ventimiglia is the vice principal for Grade 12 and is also in charge of the English, World Language, and ESL departments. She has worked at Hills for 19 years, and has been a vice principal for nine years as of the beginning of 2022. Ms. Ventimiglia, who goes by Ms. Venti, says the hardest part about being virtual for the first half of the past calendar year was not being able to interact face to face with the students. “I know teachers feel that too,” she said of the unique experience. After returning to being fully  in-person this year, Ms. Ventimiglia felt it has been easier to ensure students have a good experience here at Wayne Hills, because being in-person allows connections to be made as opposed to being virtual. She says that it was easier coming back to school this year as opposed to the changes made during lockdown and the 2020-2021 school year. When asked about what she misses about pre-pandemic Wayne Hills, Ms. Ventimiglia said “Seeing everyone’s faces! Kids grow and change so much in these four years.” She also added, “I feel like I lost out on getting to know more students in  the Class of 2022 because of this interruption, but I’m glad that hopefully we will have a full senior year to celebrate. I’m really proud of the staff and students here for their resilience through all of this.” 

Mr. Merza is the head custodian at Wayne Hills. He moved here two years ago after previously working at Wayne Valley. “I lead the team for any problems that need to be solved, whether that be cleaning, maintenance issues, light issues, we take care of it. Any other big things we call the maintenance department to solve it and fix it and the custodians work to repair any big problems,” he said. “-great opportunity to move from Wayne Valley to Wayne Hills and be a part of the team.” There was a time during the pandemic when there were no students or staff in the building. “When they came back in, that was a blessing,” said Mr. Merza. “They did make us focus more than any other time to make sure the building was sanitized and clean for the safety of all the students and staff.” The environment of Wayne Hills has certainly changed this year with everyone being back in person, which has meant even more time needs to be spent making sure everything is clean. “When there are more students in the school, they have more work to keep students and staff safe. Teamwork leads to good results.” Mr. Merza said 2021 was a “Good year-because we did good to protect each other and make everybody safe in most cases.” He has been pleased to see students back in the building despite the new normal. “It was a great thing to see the students back to work, back to school and activities, back into action.” “It was a pleasure to see them back in action not only academically, but athletically, sports wise too.” Mr. Merza is looking forward to a better future without coronavirus, and wishes everyone at Wayne Hills a healthy and happy holiday season.

Mrs. Caldwell, the media specialist at Wayne Hills, works in the library. “It is my favorite job I’ve ever had,” she said. “I do a lot of technical things,” she said, “such as helping teachers with guides for research, keeping various websites updated for clubs, and maintaining the Wayne Hills webpage.” She also helps students select books. “This year there are people in the library and students are in and checking out books more.” Although in-school students could enter the media center briefly last year, they couldn’t use the Desktops or spend time there during lunch or study hall. However, after returning to full in-person learning this year, students have returned to the library during free periods. “I was excited to put out book displays for people to see since people would be in here,” said Caldwell. She also rearranged fiction into genres so people can find the type of book they want more easily. “That’s kind of my project for the year,” she said. Something students have missed out on this year is using the Zen Den which is located in the front corner of the media center. Although still open for up to four students at a time, the Zen Den cannot be used by classes or for read-alongs. Mrs. Caldwell spoke fondly of how Mrs. Jencarelli would read to her students in the cozy atmosphere of the Zen Den before the pandemic hit. “There’s beanbags, a couch, all kinds of things.” The Zen Den activities have been moved to the main area of the library for students to use. “Kids can draw, make bracelets, or use legos out here,” Mrs. Caldwell said of the relaxing resources for the students.

2021 presented schools with challenges in providing students with hands-on materials because of possible transmission of the virus. As a result of this, Mrs. Caldwell’s job has centered even more around electronic and online resources for students and staff. “I also have been working with the Wayne Public library to have a partnership so the school has access to ebooks, audio books, emagazines, and music and movies.” Another thing Mrs. Caldwell does as a media specialist is lecturing to classes. She has taught science research classes, history classes, and English classes. She was unable to do these lessons in-person last school year because of higher precautions, so they were done through Google Meet or Zoom instead. This year she teaches these classes in-person in the library. Mrs. Caldwell refers to 2021 as “bittersweet.”

Although 2021 presented challenges much like 2020, Wayne Hills has been striving for as much normalcy as possible by reverting to our old in-person schedule again. Students and teachers have been at the center of conflicted feelings around the pandemic and the results of the virus. Behind the scenes, non-teacher employees at Wayne Hills have been working tirelessly to make the best of 2021 and the year to come. They continually adapt to ever-changing guidelines set forth by the government while still trying to give their colleagues and students the best experience possible. Ensuring the safety and happiness of the Wayne Hills Community is surely the priority for the Wayne Hills staff.