A Brand-New Start

by Aug 24, 2021Education, North Brunswick

Despite opening during a pandemic in 2020, morale is high at the new Town Creek Middle School in Winnabow.

It was a busy and eventful summer for Dr. Jonathan DeBerry and Dr. Sonya Oates at Town Creek Middle School. Planning for the 2021–22 school year was a refreshing change from the challenges of opening a brand-new middle school during a global pandemic in August 2020.

Principal DeBerry reflects on the inaugural year with enthusiasm: “Even though there were so very many challenges, we had a great start.”

Assistant Principal Oates acknowledges there were bumps in the road along the journey, but the entire staff managed their way through the pandemic and came out resilient. “We were able to adapt and persevere despite the learning challenges we faced throughout the pandemic,” she says.

DeBerry says it’s because the community is very resilient. “We went in knowing there were going to be challenges because of the pandemic, but our outstanding students and parents made it easier for the teachers to provide the education and start to build those relationships,” he says.

Town Creek Deberry Oates

Oates agrees. “With this resilience we achieved positive educational and behavioral outcomes while continuing to recognize the importance of the social well-being of our students and staff and maintaining a supportive school environment.”

The entire district was challenged with opening schools using a new model of remote learning or Plan C. After a few short weeks, the model changed and doors were opened on a hybrid schedule, in which some students were remote while others were in the classroom two days per week, known as Plan B. Middle schools were able to open the doors full-time to students in March, offering the opportunity for remote or full-time face-to-face learning.

“Starting the school year in a remote situation, then moving to a hybrid schedule was filled with obstacles, but once the students returned full time, things were amazing,” DeBerry says.

During this tumultuous time, DeBerry and his staff had to constantly review and revise their educational model. “We moved from different schedules to juggling remote and in-person to changing from part-time to full time in school instruction — and our incredible staff was up to the task.”

Oates elaborates, “Being able to maintain three different schedules to accommodate our students and families was demanding on everyone; however, the dedication and compassion displayed by our entire district played a role in motivating our students to continue to press forward and stay on track.”

In retrospect, Oates feels one of the school’s greatest successes was how well the teachers remotely delivered instruction. “Our district provided top-notch, comprehensive training on virtual instruction to ensure that learning continued and that we could meet the needs of our students,” she says.
DeBerry was relieved when the students were able to participate in sports once again. “Of course, the seasons were abbreviated,” he says, “but this allowed time for students and parents to take their minds off what was going on around them.”

He says another of the school’s successes was in giving the students opportunities to be with teachers in school with face-to-face instruction and participation and interaction.

The new school was home to 345 students in grades six through eight. In June, the graduating eighth graders celebrated their accomplishments with a drive-through ceremony.

“We presented certificates and gift bags for our first alumni class of Coyotes,” DeBerry says.

Jonathan Deberry Sonya Oates

DeBerry and Oates are looking forward to being able to build more relationships with the community to offer additional resources for students, including tutoring and non-academic clubs.

“Students have many opportunities for athletics and academics, so we want to continue to work with parent groups and local church groups and community affiliated groups to offer more,” DeBerry says.

The 2021–22 school year, with close to 400 students, is looking promising. DeBerry and Oates are building more relationships with the students, families and surrounding community.

“I enjoy hearing students laughing in the hallways and being able to say hello to them as I visit classrooms and have face to face discussions,” Oates says. “We are continuing to ensure academic success for each student in our beautiful, still brand-new school.”

When they opened the doors to the new school year on August 23, DeBerry and Oates were front and center with a warm and personal welcome to their new and returning Coyotes.

Town Creek Middle School is at 6370 Lake Park Drive in Winnabow. You can visit them at bcswan.net and facebook.com/TCMSCoyotes/.

Photography by Bill Ritenour