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.
School openings or closings as well as safety protocols and policies will be guided by local governments and health officials. Leadership teams at each elementary and high school will determine best practices for their institution, said Todd Sweda, senior director of the Office of Catholic Education and Formation and superintendent for secondary education.
Local planning for any school year focuses on faith formation and community building, teaching and learning, and operations and logistics. Schools are planning for:
• In-school learning
• A hybrid program (in school and distance learning)
• Distance learning
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the word that applies this year is pivot,” said Maureen DePriest, co-director of the Office of Catholic Education and Formation and superintendent for elementary education.
“With the unpredictability of the virus, we need for our schools to adjust their faith formation and teaching and learning based upon what is occurring in their local communities,” DePriest said.
Whether a school is doing in-school learning or a hybrid will be dependent on the school’s enrollment and facilities enabling social distancing and other protocols in their county. “The only reason we would be moving online completely would be in the event, for whatever reason, a particular school, region or larger entity’s government health authority has stepped in to say you need to be online at least for a period of time,” Sweda said.
The Archdiocesan Transition Task Force charged schools early on to audit facilities to determine how to implement social distancing and to create safe protocols for entering, exiting and traveling throughout the school day.
Catholic schools in the archdiocese worked through many of the issues in late April and early May. Schools earlier handled the shutdown of onsite learning well, Sweda and DePriest said.
The Catholic High School Association of the archdiocese produced guidelines and resources for transitioning to the fall. Sweda explained the archdiocese shared planning templates and resources with the private Catholic high schools.
In addition to the local collaboration, the planners also received input from national sources, including the National Catholic Educational Association and other dioceses.
The task force, which includes Catholic Education and Formation Office staff, principals, teachers, a nurse and other school staff, faced the challenge of an unpredictable and uncharted environment facing schools. It cited the importance of Catholic identity and formation and liturgy and prayer, including support for faith sharing and activities for the whole family, with directions and resource information provided in smaller chunks and more frequently so as not to overload families.
Schools are asked to embrace instructional technology gains and develop plans for moving online as much as possible should distance learning or a hybrid system of combined brick-and-mortar and distance learning become necessary. Teachers are asked to be ready to provide direct instruction to students in the classroom as well as to students who may be learning at home through efforts such as a flipped-classroom approach — where students watch recorded lectures for homework and complete their assignments in class.
Surveys were conducted of faculty, parents and students. It showed a vast majority of teachers managed distance learning well with some feelings of isolation and need of tech support. Parents overall felt the distance learning exceeded or met their expectations. And they managed well with good communication from the school though many struggled with having the time and capacity to assist their children. Almost all students found it easy to have the time to do their work in a quiet space.