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Schools stay the course: Local schools continue in same formats as they started the year

As the first quarter of the school year ends, the area’s public schools remain fully virtual, while the private, Catholic institutions have managed to continue in-person learning.

“We’re full in-school instruction as of today,” Wyoming Area Catholic Principal Eileen Rishcoff said Tuesday. “That could change at any time.”

Wyoming Area Catholic School in Exeter and Holy Rosary School in Duryea opened with fully in-person instruction at the start of the school year, per direction from the Diocese of Scranton. Pittston Area schools and Wyoming Area schools did not return to the classroom, and instead opted for fully virtual instruction as the COVID-19 pandemic continued.

Pittston Area had planned to remain virtual until the end of the first quarter. Now, the Pittston Area and Wyoming Area school districts will have entirely remote instruction until Jan. 4, 2021, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climb in the area.

“Luzerne County is currently in a substantial phase and the goal is to continue to keep everyone safe. We will continue to plan for bringing back all students to the district,” Wyoming Area School District announced on its website. “We do not know the future but have our sights set on better things.”

Rishcoff said the diocesan schools take direction from the Diocese of Scranton itself, so unless the diocese makes the decision to switch to virtual learning, as they did in March, Wyoming Area Catholic will continue to have students in the building for in-person classes.

“Everyone is watching the numbers,” she said. “The kids are fabulous here. They’re doing everything we ask.”

Rishcoff noted that Wyoming Area Catholic School and the other diocesan schools have smaller student populations to contend with compared to the public school districts, making it easier to accommodate social distancing and other safety measures.

At Holy Rosary in Duryea, Principal Melissa Skutack said in-person school is still “going strong.”

“We’re still trying to do as much as we can,” she said. “The kids are staying with the guidelines.”

At both schools, classrooms were set up over the summer to accommodate social distancing, and students and teachers must wear masks throughout the day.

“Everyone’s been very positive, very upbeat and trying to make everything feel normal,” Skutack said.

Calls to the Wyoming Area and Pittston Area school districts were not returned this week, however, at an October meeting of the Pittston Area School Board, Superintendent Kevin Booth announced the decision to continue virtual learning into the new year.

“We’re continuing to evaluate and looking at the health concerns that we have in the community and the educational concerns,” he said, according to The Citizens’ Voice. “And we’re constantly weighing all of those, and we’ll continue to evaluate.”

Neither Pittston Area nor Wyoming Area have held in-person classes since March.

The Diocese of Scranton does offer a Diocesan Virtual Academy for students who do not feel comfortable attending classes in the school buildings.

Rishcoff said Wyoming Area Catholic would be prepared to move to virtual learning if necessary.

“I think it’s going to be a wait-and-see kind of thing,” she said.

A bit of good with the bad

I spent those nice days last week raking leaves.

I’m not sure my doctor would have approved since it’s been only a month since he took off my cast after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. I may have overdone it, but I couldn’t resist. The weather was perfect and the leaves were calling.

I enjoy raking leaves. I’ve enjoyed it since I was a kid helping my dad. In those days, we raked leaves into the gutter and Dad lit them on fire. Dads all around did the same. The smell of smoke permeating the neighborhood was as much a part of autumn as getting out our woolen sweaters.

By the way, my dad would have called the recent warm days “Indian Summer.” I did an internet search to see if that term is considered offensive today. It is not. Good. My dad certainly meant no disrespect.

While my dad’s been gone for more than 25 years, he’s with me when I’m raking leaves. But that’s just part of the experience. I enjoy the exercise. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment. And I particularly enjoy being alone with my thoughts.

There’s nothing like rote activity to free the mind. Chopping wood, shoveling snow, running along a country road, raking leaves, they’re all the same. Your muscle memory takes over and your mind goes dancing off where it will. I’ve written many a column during a five-mile run or an afternoon of raking leaves.

Like this one.

As I filled my 21st bag — yep, I have a lot of leaves, and there are plenty more still on my trees — it occurred to me that the one thing I’ve never liked about raking leaves no longer exists. At least for now.

What I don’t like is stopping over and over to pick up litter intermingled with the leaves. I suppose I could hide it in the bags, but my conscience won’t let me. The city carts away leaves and dumps them on a compost heap. We can’t have a Styrofoam cup lurking in there for the next 500 years. But, man, that litter sure has a way of ruining the leaf-raking vibe.

Except for this year.

The reason is the coronavirus pandemic.

See, my home sits on a busy corner in the city. A busy corner which serves as a school bus stop. The litter I find all over is largely deposited by the little darlings waiting for the bus in the morning, or sprinting away from it in the afternoon.

The kiddoes don’t think twice about letting a wrapper from their candy bar or Tastykake fall to the sidewalk, or flipping their soda can or empty (even worse, not quite empty) Gatorade bottle under my hedge.

But Pittston Area has not had in-person classes all term. With kids being taught remotely, I haven’t seen a school bus since, oh, last March. No school buses means no school students. And no school students means no litter.

I hate sounding like an old codger, although I’m sure I do, but how did we raise a generation of kids with no respect for the world they live in?

I grew up in the ’60s when, thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, an anti-littering attitude was drummed into us in high school. And not just from our teachers. There were “Keep America Beautiful” posters everywhere and “Keep America Beautiful” public service messages every night on TV.

Even the dog Lassie got into the act.

By far, the most moving of the anti-litter commercials, however, was the one featuring Iron Eyes Cody as a Native American observing how mankind has scarred the earth. As he pulls his canoe out of a polluted river onto a littered river bank, the narrator says, “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the beauty of this country, and some people don’t.” With that, a bag of trash, flung out of a car window, lands at Iron Eyes’ feet. The camera zooms in to show a single tear well up in his eye and trickle down his cheek.

“People start pollution,” the narrator says, “and people can stop it.”

Seeing and hearing that, you wouldn’t dare toss as much as a gum wrapper on the ground.

Please don’t get me wrong. If it meant the end of the COVID-19 threat and the reopening of schools, I’d go back to picking up all that litter in a minute. But is it too much to ask that when schools do re-open, we insert a little of that old Lady Bird message into the curriculum?

“If you’re not part of the solution,” our teachers used to say, “you’re part of the problem.”

We took it to heart.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.