While the majority of Catholic schools are seeing a return of students to the classroom this fall, many schools also have been making plans for families who have chosen a distance learning option for their children.
Catholic school leaders in the archdiocese have provided guidance for operating the coming school year with a goal of returning students to school buildings after thorough planning based on local health and government directives. Local planning in any school year has focused on faith formation and community building, teaching and learning, and operations and logistics.
Assumption School in O’Fallon started classes Aug. 13. Roughly 10 percent of the school’s 475 students are participating in distance learning from home, said principal Pat Hensley.
Families were invited to sign up for their choice of learning (in person or distance), with the option of changing their decision at the beginning of a new quarter. The first quarter ends on Oct. 14. Families opting for distance learning were invited to an open house before school started to pick up workbooks, learning manipulatives and other items. “Parents will bring the items back the following week, and teachers will have sack of whatever they need for the following week,” Hensley noted.
The majority of classrooms (K-8) are being livestreamed via Google Meet, which allows students at home to participate in class in real time. Teachers wear lavalier microphones, and classrooms have been outfitted with 40-inch televisions and Bluetooth speakers to be able to see and hear students at home. Some equipment was purchased using federal CARES Act funding, Hensley said.
Students at home are required to wear their uniforms, and attendance is taken, just as if they were participating in the classroom, Hensley said. Students at home also are provided activities for specialized classes, such as physical education.
In the event of a mandatory shutdown, Assumption School has enough individual computers for students in second through eighth grade. Teachers will still be able to access the building to teach classes in a remote learning situation, Hensley said.
There are a little over a dozen families who have chosen distance learning for their children at St. Clement of Rome School in Des Peres, said principal Andrew M. Long.
One teacher from each grade level (where applicable) has been designated as the primary teacher for distance learning, with that teacher’s class being livestreamed. Students in PreK through second grade will use Seesaw for their learning platform, and older students will access Google Classroom.
In addition, students learning at home will be assigned a distance learning outreach educator, who will provide additional one-to-one interaction and support for that grade level, Long said.
“We see this as part of a unique, Catholic education, that small personal connection we all strive for,” Long said. “We want to make sure we are connecting with those families. It’s a team effort — who do we need to check in with, and let’s make sure everybody has someone to talk to.”
The distance learning option also will be available if a student needs to study from home, say if there has been an exposure to COVID-19 and a quarantine period is necessary. The school also is positioned to pivot if a closure of the school building is mandated.
“We are learning there are little things we need to correct or improve, and there are some things we have identified as best practices,” Long said. “We wanted to set up an environment, where if a child is sick or exposed, their academics will not hurt or be put at risk as a result.”
About seven percent of the student population at Our Lady of Lourdes School in University City is participating in distance learning for the first quarter of the school year, said principal Amie Koenen. School began Aug. 20. She noted that preparations were made in mind not only for families who chose a distance learning option, but also to be prepared to educate students who might need to self-quarantine.
“We have to be able to pivot,” Koenen said. “If a child is here today and gone tomorrow and out for 10 days straight, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to continue learning.”
Classes are being streamed via Google Meet, and every student in K-8 has received an iPad customized for their grade level. Lessons are being tailored to help students at home to stay engaged with the classroom, such as project-based lessons.
“No one can be on Google Meet for six hours straight,” Koenen said. “It will have to be interactive or at home learners will be overcome with boredom.”