Freshmen return to Donovan Catholic High School for the first day of school Sept. 2 in Toms River. Photo courtesy of JoAnn D'Anton
Freshmen return to Donovan Catholic High School for the first day of school Sept. 2 in Toms River. Photo courtesy of JoAnn D'Anton
It was all smiles in St. Ann School as students, faculty and staff returned to school the week of Sept. 1. And though those smiles were behind face masks, the light that shined through everyone’s eyes was unmistakable.

“After being a virtual student at the end of my sixth-grade year, I am happy to regain some feeling of normalcy,” Aubrey Davis, a seventh-grader, admitted as she returned to the Lawrenceville school.

Principal Salvatore Chiaravalloti and teachers were on hand to welcome students. Alessandra Fallon, the school’s marketing and admissions director, noted that the entire student body, both hybrid and virtual learners, were in attendance for the first day. In keeping with COVID-19 regulations, students, staff and parents wore face masks and practiced social distancing. 

Photo Gallery: First Day of School in St. Ann, Lawrenceville

Photo Gallery: First Day of School in Donovan Catholic, Toms River

In a letter to principals and administrators, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., said, “As the new school year continues to unfold, please be sure of my very best thoughts, prayers and blessings as well as my enduring gratitude to you, our wonderful teachers and staff. May you all be healthy, safe and filled with joyful enthusiasm as you welcome our precious students 'home' to our amazing Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Trenton.”

Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan Catholic schools superintendent, is visiting schools in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties as they reopen. “The kids I’ve met are uber-excited to be back,” he said.

He also praised the Catholic schools for their hard work to ensure a safe return during COVID-19. “I’m amazed at the preparation they have taken to make sure the safety of our children in all our Catholic schools is at the forefront.”

St. Ann's students are among the thousands returning to schools across the Diocese in the upcoming weeks, either in-person, at-home or a hybrid of the two. In St. Ann, for example, about 195 hybrid learners were expected to be in school on the second day, with the remaining students participating in class from their computers at home. 

“Having students return to the building, seeing them in-person is reinvigorating,” Chiaravalloti said. “It is always wonderful to welcome students back and start a new year. You see all the work that has gone on during the summer and the professional development teachers took part in to prepare – this year even more so after not having an opportunity to end the year in-person.”

As part of re-entry plans for the 2020-21 school year, the Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools has a detailed list of requirements for diocesan and parish Catholic schools across the four counties. Among them, the wearing of masks by students, faculty and visitors; screening processes for fever or other symptoms of students and faculty; adherence to any updates from the New Jersey Department of Health and other agencies based on risks for each community and region, and contingency plans in the event of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in the school.

Even with precautions in place, Davis was happy to be with friends and teachers.

“It is hard to be restrained by these new rules, but then I see other friends learning from home and realize how lucky I am,” the seventh-grader said. “We are praying for everyone’s safety and an end to the pandemic. I hope that all kids will be back in school in person soon.”

Added St. Ann sixth-grader Alex Socha, “I feel happy and lucky to be in school, and I will surely have fun.”

Christopher Park, a freshmen in Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, started school Sept. 2, saying, “I am curious to see what this year brings and how it plays out,” Park said.

He added that he views each new school year “as an opportunity to better myself, take new classes, learn new things and bring myself closer to Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Edward Gere, Donovan Catholic principal, said the first day of class for freshmen always brings back memories – reminding him of his first day of high school in St. Joseph, Metuchen.

“I reflect on what an important decision that was in my life,” he said. “It helped to shape the person I am even today. I marvel at the opportunity we all have – faculty and staff – to provide the same kinds of experiences for our students. The kinds of experiences you can only get in a Catholic school.”

Check back to TrentonMonitor.com for updates as more students return to school – and numerous photos!