Physical school doors might be locked to students, but Catholic education is open. Not even the coronavirus pandemic can keep teachers and administrators in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from providing students with a quality education, while having some fun in the process.
In compliance with government and health officials, schools will remain closed until at least April 6 in response to the coronavirus. Flexible instruction days now take the place of classroom learning.
The Catholic Education Coronavirus Task Force, established recently by the archdiocese, is helping schools navigate the current crisis. The task force’s eight subcommittees and four special purpose committees focus on various issues, including technology, communication, spirituality and counseling support for school communities.
Less than two days after the school closure announcement on March 13, all archdiocesan schools were successfully working in the new flexible instruction model, according to task force chair David Magee.
“Teachers scoured the internet and shared best resources and practices with one another to meet the needs of their students,” said the task force’s newsletter to school families.
Many elementary schools now follow a half-day schedule, with teachers providing video instruction. Workbook pages are frequently turned into Google Forms.
Principals begin the day online with prayer, the pledge of allegiance and morning announcements, as they would during a traditional school day.
Students seem to like the familiarity. “Some parents have reported that their children put on their school uniform and process to their home learning environment for the instruction,” according to the newsletter.
One parent bought a bell after a preschooler wouldn’t finish her lunch at home until a bell signaled completion, just like it would at school.
While uniforms and school bells can remain, many things have changed. “Vocabulary words have expanded our language to include Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Flippity, Kohoot, and Class Dojo just to name a few” the task force newsletter said, referring to the numerous online video conferencing platforms.
The Technology Department in the Office of Catholic Education created a webpage with resources for parents, students, teachers and administrators, which was shared in the newsletter.
The newsletter also said teachers sent home learning packets for students without access to technology, and are currently creating more packets.
Some schools shared information about the Comcast Internet Essentials program, which provides free internet access for 60 days to low-income customers.
Similar to their elementary school counterparts, many archdiocesan high school students start the day online with a reflection, prayer and pledge of allegiance.
Also embracing virtual learning, many use tools like Google Suite, Google Hangout, ZOOM, Screencastify, and Loom.
To keep students having fun, student council members at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown created “iShanahan,” a series of trivia games and virtual challenges.
In a video to the St. Hubert High School for Girls community, the student council president promoted social distancing while also reminding, “Social distancing does not mean social isolation.” See the full video here.
Guidance counselors in all archdiocesan high schools have daily office hours and can meet with students through video meetings and email. They also have resources for college applications, stress reduction, study tips and other topics.
Archbishop John Carroll High School and Archbishop Ryan High School kept their communities connected through friendly competition. Students, faculty and staff sent in photos of themselves working at home and wearing school spirit gear. The school with the most photos posted on social media won the contest.
Archbishop Carroll won by one photo, but it “isn’t about who wins,” stated a joint video from the high schools. “It’s about thousands of teachers, students, administrators and staff members coming together all across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.” See the entire video below:
Support is available for parents and guardians as well. The Counseling Support Subcommittee of the Catholic Education Coronavirus Task Force sent letters to school families with resources and ways to support students and themselves during the health crisis.
Father Matthew Guckin, the chair of the task force’s spirituality subcommittee, encouraged school families in the taskforce newsletter, saying, “We need our faith now more than ever. Let’s go to God.”
Schools are providing opportunities for just that. Father Jonathan Dalin sends videos of Sunday Mass and the Stations of the Cross to Philadelphia high schools Archbishop Ryan and Father Judge.
Daily and Sunday Masses are posted to YouTube by Father Jason Buck, a theology teacher at Archbishop Ryan High School. View the Masses here.
Lansdale Catholic High School posts 9 a.m. daily Mass and 11 a.m. Sunday Mass on their Facebook page. The school’s Thursday night prayer group continues to meet through Zoom.
Since students can’t join in-person for the daily lunch prayer service, they are tuning in at 11:45 a.m. each day for a live prayer service on Instagram, led by senior Kairos retreat leaders.
Archbishop Carroll High School also posts a live lunchtime prayer service on Instagram.
“These are unusual times and circumstances, but we will do the best we can for our young people and each other … all guided by love,” said West Catholic Preparatory High School president Paul Colistra in a letter to the school community.
He quoted Jesuit Father Jean-Pierre Médaille, founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia: “Love can be at work in unfortunate events. Trust love.”
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