Face masks and fist bumps with Archbishop Nelson Pérez marked the first day of class for juniors and seniors returning to West Catholic Preparatory High School.
On Sept. 9, students were greeted on the West Philadelphia campus by the archbishop as they began the new academic year with a hybrid instructional model that combines in-person and online learning.
“I know that the last couple of months have certainly been incredibly difficult,” said Archbishop Pérez in his welcoming remarks, which were streamed live via Facebook. “This is one of those times in our lives that we’ll never forget.”
Strict social distancing, regular temperature checks and a 50% split between students learning on campus and remotely are the new norm at the 17 archdiocesan high schools throughout the five-county region. Specifics of the reopening plan, “Catholic High Schools Compass: Continuing Excellence in Catholic Education,” were communicated to families in July.
Archbishop Pérez said that at the outset of COVID-19, archdiocesan schools had moved rapidly to an online format, thanks to the dedicated efforts of teachers, staff and administrators — including secondary school superintendent and Immaculate Heart Sister Maureen Lawrence McDermott, who joined the archbishop in greeting West Catholic students.
The school’s interim president Andrew Brady and principal Genevieve Torres, both graduates of the Class of 2002, were also on hand.
The archbishop noted that a number of Pennsylvania school districts had consulted the archdiocese for advice on creating an effective transition to virtual instruction. As part of that undertaking, web cameras have been installed in both archdiocesan secondary and elementary schools, and the former have adopted the Schoology learning management system, which integrates with Zoom and other platforms already in use.
“I don’t know how they did it, but I know why they did it,” said Archbishop Pérez, observing that “teachers and administrators” developed new ways of instruction out of their “love and … passion” for Catholic education.
The archbishop described them as “examples of God’s care and love” for the students.
“(They) have been working really, really hard so that you could be where you’re sitting right now,” he said.
Brady agreed, noting that the school’s staff had labored “endlessly to make this (school year) a reality.”
In many ways, he said, launching the new academic year felt like “starting from scratch.”
“This is unprecedented, so we don’t have any other experience or models to look back on to guide us,” said Brady. “As we worked through our plan it felt like some items were going to be quick and easy decisions, and then as you peel back the layers, you realize even the easy decisions aren’t in fact easy.”
At the same time, he said, having a “message of love at the foundation” of Catholic education “keeps us focused on what matters most.”
The archbishop’s visit invited the school community to recover “the sense of joy and enthusiasm that togetherness brings,” said Brady.
In his blessing, Archbishop Pérez invoked the intercession of Mary and of St. John Neumann, “the patron of our schools,” and concluded his remarks by observing that “forming leaders for our church and society is the awesome responsibility … that we share.”
Despite the complex difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, said the archbishop, “we are a people of hope.”
“We will prevail over these challenges,” he said.
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103