September 8, 2020
by Carol Comegno
BURLINGTON CITY — Forget walking or riding a bike, bus or a car to report to class on the first day of the new school year.
Seniors at Doane Academy in Burlington City arrived for their final year of high school Tuesday by paddling canoes across the Delaware River, maintaining a school tradition while still taking coronavirus prevention precautions.
In the flotilla of more than a dozen red canoes were 26 of the 28 seniors class members and a few chaperones. There were two to a canoe to adhere to social distancing of at least six feet and all canoers wore life jackets but also masks, which also are required inside and outside the historic pre-K to 12 school on the banks of the Delaware where Lenape Indians canoed centuries ago.
Afterward, the seniors and all other students in the 251-member student body had their forehead temperatures checked for fever and applied hand sanitizer.
"I was a little tired (from paddling) but excited to be back at school with my classmates," class president Laylah Abdullah of Willingboro said after she and her canoeing partner, best friend Elissa Frederique of Piscataway dragged their canoe ashore and through bushes between the Burlington-Bristol Bridge and the school on Bank Street.
"I really want to be positive about this school year. I am taking precautions and so is the school, but I am more worried about our teachers and older people than I am about myself," she added after being greeted after the canoe trip by her mother.It took nearly a half hour for everyone to paddle more than a half mile diagonally across the river from Bristol, Pennsylvania, on a sunny morning in calm river water but with strong currents.
"This tradition is unique and special to Doane and signifies the importance of the senior class and the importance of the school on the river," said George Sanderson, the head of school.
Sanderson said 15 percent of the student body has chosen remote learning, including two seniors.
Other back-to-school tradition had to be dropped this year.
Because of the state's coronavirus-related ban on large gatherings, seniors and staff did not meet in the Poconos for a traditional, school-sponsored camp out and bonfire the night before the canoe ride and the entire student body could not gather outside the school to welcome seniors.
Also no visitors are being allowed inside the school, founded in 1937.
Originally called St. Mary's Hall, Doane is based in the Episcopalian tradition and has a chapel, but it has no formal affiliation with the Episcopal Church today.
"This is an exciting but different kind of year," saaid Adam Paglione, president of the board of trustees, said on the riverbank, where some seniors' parents or grandparents were permitted to watch the canoes arrive. Senior Levy Manjivar-Sanchez Jr. of Westampton said it was "so exciting to be out there" on the river with his classmates because he had not seen most of them since coronavirus forced school buildings to close in March in favor of remote learning.
"Remote learning didn't work out as well for me, so I am just glad to be back in school. The fact we still were able to incorporate this one tradition into the first day of school was fun and we are making the most of it," added Levy, who said he will begin soccer practices Sept. 14 for upcoming games.
Levy's father, a U.S. Air Force master sergeant who welcomed his son ashore along with his canoe partner, Regie Daly of Willingboro, said he has no problem with his son returning to classes in school and praised the administration.
"The school is making a great effort to follow safety protocol," he explained.
Other school precautions aimed at preventing coronavirus among staff and students includes social distancing in classrooms to reduce the number of occupied desks, one directional stairwells and eating lunch outside with only two to a bench at a picnic table.
Sanderson said the school also is making temporary use of an adjacent, newly purchased former city school building to accommodate the need for more socially distant classes.
In an address to seniors outside after their arrival, Sanderson encouraged them to be role models for all other students and to "stay together even when you are six feet apart" and in a year that "brings with it new challenges that none of us expected."
"For you, our seniors, this day marks the beginning of an important journey that will culminate in your graduation next June. Like any senior year, it will be difficult, full of hard work and the mixed emotions of preparing for life after Doane."
- Doane News