We’re highlighting some of the inspiring individuals and organizations that have received grants from The Healthcare Foundation of America. In 2021, HFNJ awarded Gottesman RTW Academy a $132,600 grant to support their School-Based Health and Wellness program. The Jewish day school, located in in Randolph, New Jersey, serves approximately 225 children in nursery school through grade eight.
In the lightly-edited interview Dean of General Studies Cheryl Bahar discusses how the grant helped transform how Gottesman RTW looks after the mental and physical health of its community.
1) Please tell us about the impact COVID-19 had on your school community -- students, staff, and families?
The impact of COVID has been far reaching on so many levels. As far as our students, the lack of in-person social interaction (at the beginning of the pandemic) was devastating. The isolation was concerning, and the level of fear was palpable as the pandemic wore on. The staff was juggling online learning and as we opened in the Fall of 2020, and they adjusted to a hybrid model. This was both stressful and unchartered territory. Our families are dealing with financial uncertainty and the stress of balancing careers with taking care of children who were supposed to be in school. As the school moved towards more in person learning we realized that students were delayed in their level of emotional intelligence.
2) What impact have the two social workers funded by the HFNJ grant had on the Gottesman RTW Academy community?
Our social workers began in the fall prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were adjusting to the school community. They were getting to know our student population and the families. As soon as the pandemic hit, they focused on meeting with students remotely and helping support parents who were under a tremendous amount of stress. They helped connect parents to various resources and services and were a valued ear to teachers who were stretched to the limit.
3) Can you tell us about how Gottesman RTW has shifted the way it addresses the social and emotional health of students in the past few years?
We have transformed the way in which we prioritize health and wellness. The emotional health of the entire population is key to positive outcomes. We have taken a “whole child” and entire family approach.
4) How has Gottesman RTW re-integrated students who learned virtually over parts of the past two years, and how have the social workers been involved?
We were fortunate to have had in-person learning very early on in the pandemic. We set up outdoor learning environments so our students could get back to school in person as soon as it was deemed safe. Some students (for health reasons) learned remotely and we offered a hybrid approach. Students were reintegrated into school with the support of our social workers. Regular programming around social and emotional well-being was integrated throughout the day. Our teachers, already trained in Responsive Classroom, used techniques to help secure the emotional wellbeing of our students.
5) How has Gottesman RTW been able to pivot to incorporating the social workers as the HFNJ funding ended?
The importance of our social workers and their positive impact on students, families and teachers were recognized by the Board of Trustees at GRTWA. As such, they committed to funding this program for the future. Our social workers are an integral part of our community now, and they will be present for our population now and in the future.