Last year, Cherry Hill High School West went dark. The outbreak of COVID-19 left teachers isolated in their classrooms with their computers, forcing them to learn more about technology, and students scrounging for computer chargers and better wifi in their homes. It was a change many were not prepared to welcome. But the school also experienced another major change to their system, their lifestyle, their routine. The principal, Dr. Kwame Morton, accepted a new job within the Cherry Hill Public Schools administration. For the 2021-22 school year, Dr. Toni Damon took his place.
As any person may feel as they enter a new job, Damon had a few concerns: “Am I going to be able to provide for the needs of the students? What are the needs of the students? They’ve been gone for a year and a half. I didn’t know them before they left so I don’t know them now.”
The students, however, stepped up to make their new leader more comfortable. Damon said, “Saying hey, hi to the students, good morning, hello, they speak back. They even ask me how I’m doing sometimes. I absolutely love it. That makes the transition easier.”
At the start of the school year and Damon’s administration, homerooms were assigned by students’ last names. However, the students used their voices and their trust in the principal to change that.
“We also thought that by putting students in homerooms, that was gonna be the way to go. But again, students told us ‘no, that’s not the way to go’, and I’m so appreciative of that. So we’re making adjustments along the way,” Damon said. “I’m very impressed by the level of self-advocacy of the students.”
Despite all of the student’s generosity and aid, however, Damon still struggles to relay information to them. Proper communication is still an uphill battle: “We have the All Things Students. We have email. I send out weekly communications. But it’s all so much, right? But then it’s all so much, but it’s still not enough.”
Damon said her team is, “just really trying to navigate the best mode of communications for young people.”
Another thing Damon hoped to bring back to West was a sense of tradition. 2020 was a lonely year for students as the pandemic consumed their lives.
She noted, “it is my hope that by bringing some sense of tradition back to the school with Spirit Week. I had a blast. I think the freshman loved it.” Damon described Spirit Week as a fun activity for all.
Overall, Dr. Damon just hopes to see her students grow as they move through the challenging teenage years: “High school is a time of figuring out what you want to do, who you wanna be, where you wanna go. And when I see that, it’s success.”