Dear Hillside Families, Administrators and Staff,
The 2020-2021 Hillside PTA Executive Board would like to thank and congratulate all of you for stepping up in this most challenging of years to support all of our children and our Hillside community in so many incredible ways.
This year presented us with many challenges – most notably the pandemic and the extended uncertainty with respect to when or if we would be able to return to the school building or otherwise assemble for either in-person instruction or for any of our traditional community building and fundraising events. Many of our families – not just the families of our students, but the families of our Hillside administrators and staff – have suffered from and struggled with the impacts of the pandemic: illness and tragic loss, economic hardship including job and food insecurity, depression, anxiety, disconnectedness, disengagement and distraction.
Amid such unprecedented uncertainty and so much change and hardship, we had to be nimble and creative to determine how we could collectively best meet the needs of students, families and staff over the course of the year through multiple changes in the instructional mode and model, school schedule, and in the health and safety guidelines from the CDC, the State and the District.
We determined early in the school year to lean into communication, connection and mutual support. The day that homeroom assignments were released, we established “connect and support” threads in our Hillside PTA Facebook Group to facilitate communication, connection and mutual support among parents, and our parents responded, creating WhatsApp or text threads to share information, arrange COVID-safe outdoor play dates, and to provide community and support for one another. Our Facebook administrators worked tirelessly throughout the year to manage the information coming from the district administration, school administration and the PTA, breaking down pages of announcements and information into discrete reminders and clarifications, creating a space for parents to ask questions and share frustrations, which in turn supported PTA leadership in better understanding the needs of our families and responding in kind, in collaboration with Dr. Anglin and Mr. Adamo, the school’s Pandemic Response Team, and the staff. We also leveraged our Facebook group to celebrate our students and staff, solicit input and ideas from families, and to support advocacy by the PTA and the Montclair PTA Council with school and district administration and the Board of Education.
And leveraging the PTA’s Zoom account, we held well-attended virtual PTA/SATp meetings each month, facilitating the exchange of information about shifting remote instruction and hybrid instruction plans, models and schedules, updating families on the work of the PTA and the SATp, and sharing and discussing information from and about the district, the Board of Education and the broader Montclair community.
This school year, our PTA funded nearly $1,500 in holiday meals for families in need. We were able to donate many books to low-income families and to classrooms in connection with our annual Book Fair, which we shifted from fall to spring and were grateful to be able to hold in-person in the school building. We purchased a large tent for the school to facilitate outdoor snack and break time and hybrid arrival/dismissal procedures, rain or shine. With traditional in-person field trips out due to the pandemic, the PTA supported multiple virtual field trips for the benefit of all our students. And we provided financial, logistical and communications support for our incredible Hillside School Action Team for Partnerships and its Hillside Social Justice and Hillside Cares Committees, including weekly activities and lessons for Hispanic Heritage History Month, a virtual talk with Rabbi Greenstein for Hanukkah, a virtual Kwanzaa celebration, a Lunar New Year celebration, a virtual author visit and book reading for AAPI heritage month, and over $3,200 in parent donations to support our annual Make-a-Wish program.
For our amazing Hillside teachers, we paid out over $5,200 in individual stipends to support their purchase of supplemental instructional supplies, materials and programs, and during Spring Teacher Appreciation Week we provided a COVID-safe box lunch for all staff. And in coordination with our team of dedicated classroom parent liaisons, we raised many thousands of dollars to support holiday and year-end gifts to thank our classroom teachers, related arts and support teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff.
While COVID-19 stole our opportunity to hold our beloved Halloween Boogie Bash this year, we were able to connect with the famous Montclair Avenue Halloween Book Lady to coordinate a free drive-through Halloween book distribution event. We held several well-attended and lively online trivia nights, in community with the Nishuane and Glenfield PTAs. Our PTA volunteers and students produced an inspirational online Talent Show (“The Movie Edition”). And we pulled off a successful hybrid in-person and online Book Fair as well as an in-person book swap. We were also able to run one session of our popular after school enrichment program, Explorers, in the Spring. The PTA honored all scholarship requests for Explorers this year.
Perhaps most notably and uniquely this year, after the district’s second postponement of the launch of hybrid in-person instruction, we listened to parents who told us that what their kids most needed were opportunities for peer socialization, and we got to work planning and then implementing our Hillside Peer Socialization Clubs – no cost, in-person and virtual gatherings and activities open to all Hillside students and overseen by parent volunteers and student volunteers from Glenfield, that gave our Hillside students opportunities to socialize with other Hillsiders around their areas of interest or passion, which included everything from outdoor Nerf battles and hiking and dog park play dates, to cooking, diving into comic book and movie universes, and social gaming. In all, we ran 18 peer socialization clubs that were well attended by 150 Hillside students who participated.
And as soon as we learned that the school would not be able to hold our traditional staff-led, school-day 5th grade picnic, the PTA jumped in to fill the gap, planning a big and festive celebration for our 5th graders on the Hillside field, including an inflatable water slide, a DJ, games, pizza and Kona Ice, to send our 5th graders off in style. We also supported the cost of producing and gifting a Yearbook and class t-shirt for every one of our 5th graders.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Hillside PTA Executive Board will be engaging in transition work with the incoming Executive Board to share documents, data, best practices and lessons learned, as the 2021-2022 Executive Board embarks on plans for next year, with the hope and expectation that we’ll be able to fully resume in-person instruction, events and activities.
We thank you all for your engagement and support over the course of the 2020-2021 school year and wish all of you and your loved ones a healthy, happy and restful summer.
Brian Fleischer, President
Betty Shvetz, Vice President – Events
Yvette Frazier, Vice President – Communications
Jennifer Hand, Secretary
Colleen Dougherty and Dana Rizzo, Treasurers