It was a fitting end to American Education Week for NJEA President Marie Blistan, who spent Thursday, Nov. 16, celebrating and thanking teachers, support staff and students in the Monroe Township School District in Gloucester County. Faced with a severe mold infestation, the teachers and support staff in the district came together to make their students feel at home and comfortable in their makeshift classroom after being displaced.

In late October, the school district had to close all schools for an entire week after it was discovered that mold infestations had infected two of the district’s six schools. Three weeks later, class is back in session in four of the district’s six school buildings, though with a few more students and teachers at each school. After starting the year in Holly Glen and Whitehall elementary schools, students and staff moved to alternative locations.

“One thing about our profession is, when crisis hits educators work together, regardless of our job categories. We come together for the children. We work together to make the lives of children better,” said Blistan. She met with Monroe Township Education Association (MTEA) building representative John Woodward, Monroe Township Association of Educational Secretaries (MTAES) President Karen Collins, Monroe Township Administrators Association President Caroline Yoder, and Superintendent Charles Earling. The group spent the day touring the district.

Blistan’s visit came just three weeks after the closure, and she came with much needed supplies for those displaced classrooms. Blistan also presented checks to MTEA and MTAES that will go toward supporting members through this transition. Both associations were instrumental in shedding light on the seriousness of the mold infestation this fall.

Students from the two closed elementary schools have been absorbed into Raddix Elementary School, Williamstown Middle School and Williamstown High School. As Blistan visited with classroom teachers and support staff, it was clear that they relied on the ingenuity and sacrifice of one another to support their students. “The kids love it!” said Lisa Gross, an elementary school teacher at Raddix, who combined her second-grade class with another, so students from Holly Glen could use hers. “We sat down, we figured it out, and we had so much support from our colleagues”

Raddix Elementary School, one of the schools housing displaced students in hallways, gymnasiums and even the school library, has temporally been renamed Raddix Glen Elementary School to make the students from Holly Glen feel at home. “We want everyone to feel respected. While we may be two separate schools, we are one family” said Raddix Principal Dr. Jill DelConte.“Truthfully, it was the kids’ idea – they wanted to do it.”

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