ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Before many parents realized they might benefit from a guide helping them navigate the transition to distance learning, St. Agnes School in St. Paul did.
As COVID-19 forced schools across Minnesota to transition to distance learning, school leaders sent it out by email: a 17-page PDF, simply titled “K-6 Parent Resource Guide.”
On Facebook, one Catholic school parent commented: “This will prove to be a lifesaver.”
Last March, as schools across Minnesota prepared to close their campuses, the faculty of St. Agnes met on a Friday to discuss the unprecedented situation and develop a plan for their students. Among the ideas was a guide to help families as they took on a new role in their children’s education.
Third-grade teacher Rose Coleman volunteered to spearhead the project. By Sunday afternoon, the “K-6 Parent Resource Guide” was done. Some of it was gleaned from resources St. Agnes already used, like a list of 50 acts of kindness a child could do. Much of it, however, Coleman wrote for the unique circumstances.
The “K-6 Parent Resource Guide” was designed to address the whole child, with sections on spiritual, emotional, physical and academic needs, in the context of the pandemic and transition to at-home learning. But, with its practical focus, it easily applied to ordering home life well beyond COVID-19.
It suggested families work together to create a weekday schedule, follow a daily checklist and incorporate intentional virtue practice. It had a section on teaching strategies, a page of common prayers and a list of online learning resources.
And its first instruction? “Stay calm!”
The guide spread well beyond the St. Agnes community, and some schools adapted it to share with their own communities, said Michael Adkins, St. Agnes’ lower school director. He said it was important to get the guide into parents’ hands as soon as possible.
For Coleman, creating the guide was an outgrowth of her teaching. “My role as a teacher is to support parents as the primary educators of their students,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
That clearly came through for parent Emily VanHeel, 43, a mother of five with St. Agnes students in sixth, fourth and first grades.
“I felt like the whole thing reinforced what St. Agnes often says, that parents are the primary educators,” she said. “So even when the kids are in school, we’re their primary teachers and that we’re working together with the school.”
VanHeel said the guide “set us up for success for all of our family life in that time. It wasn’t just focusing on, ‘Here’s what to do for school.’ It talks about how school was just going to be part of our day, that it was important that we have prayer time and down time, are physically active and have meals together. … I felt like that was so helpful since it was a weird time. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re doing school at home.’ Everything changed.”
Although St. Agnes has offered in-person learning since the beginning of the current academic year, some students continue to learn from home exclusively, and others have periods of at-home learning due to quarantines, Coleman noted.
With the distance-learning experience of the past year, “I’ve noticed a real shift in the parents, as they are more attentive to the curriculum of our school and their child’s academic abilities,” she said. “I think there’s just been a beautiful, new collaboration that I’ve seen happening with the parents to help them put a plan into place … to be more successful.”
Coleman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2005 and holds two master’s degrees, jokes that her university didn’t offer a “teaching in a pandemic” course, so she’s been trusting the Holy Spirit to guide her classroom decisions.
That sometimes means scrapping her plans to make room for additional review of concepts. Or recognizing the comedy underlying the situation when a student is talking or humming during a quiet period, but, because of masks, she can’t tell who it is.
She draws solace in St. John Henry Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light,” especially the lines “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.”
“When we look back on this time, I think we will be able to see the fruits of this pandemic more clearly,” she said. “Jesus desires to lead us with his light through this darkness, and he remains with us to show us the next step. After this pandemic, I hope that we will joyfully witness to the truth that his cross always leads to new life.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
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