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Everyone home schooled, for now

First slide

In the wake of coronavirus closures, students of diocesan Catholic schools are entering a new learning environment — their own homes. Gov. Ralph Northam issued a directive for a two-week closure for all Virginia schools March 13-27, and some counties have canceled school past that date. Diocesan Catholic schools will follow their respective counties, according to Superintendent of Schools Joseph Vorbach. 

“As all this has been unfolding, schools have been working to launch e-learning models, and over the course of this week that will be unfolding across the diocese,” said Vorbach. “Our school leaders have been making a lot of adjustments on the fly for a number of days, and I express my gratitude for their adaptability and creativity.”

St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington had a few things in place that made them as prepared as they could be for home schooling, said Jennifer McDermitt, development associate. Last year, each of the school’s more than 400 students was assigned a portable computer device.  Throughout this school year, students and teachers used the devices to access online learning tools such as Seesaw and Google Classroom in school. Once they knew school building closures were imminent, teachers used a development day March 13 to turn their in-class lesson plans into e-learning.

McDermitt says that for three days this week, students will be learning via their “snowflakes studies” packets, a bag full of assignments that can be completed on snow days. But at the end of the week, they’ll transition to teachers educating students using live video for about three hours a day. 

Anna Landry, a second-grader at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, studies at home during the school closure due to the coronavirus. COURTESY

anna stm“It’s still an experiment for all of us, we have not done this in an in-home environment,” said McDermitt. “(But) we’ve been dabbling in this all along. We feel our students are prepared, we feel our teachers are prepared.”

Students at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax also have the benefit of each having their own school-issued laptop. They began e-learning March 19 after teachers went through thorough online-learning training.

“This is new territory for all of us: teachers, students and families. There will be bumps on the road, but we are people of faith and we can do this,” said Principal Tom Opfer. “We know there will be questions. We will be patient and support one another. Most importantly, we will pray for one another.”

St. Bernadette School in Springfield was able to prepare for the impact of the coronavirus by speaking to the principal of an elementary school in Beijing who just had gone through the same thing, said Principal Barbara Dalmut. The Chinese principal encouraged them to think ahead.

Though the school had planned to send students home with supplies over the weekend, after the closure was announced, families of St. Bernadette stopped by the school March 13 to pick up textbooks, library books, e-learning packets and whatever else was needed from the school. Families that didn't have a computer device available for children to use during the quarantine were able to pick up a school Chromebook. By Monday morning, the homebound students were hopefully at work in their “cardinal corners” or home study areas named after the school mascot. 

“Our goal is to keep the students learning — we didn’t want them to lose that time, education-wise,” said Dalmut. “One of our worries is that the anxiety is going to take over, and we want to give parents tips for how to keep kids engaged. Routine is a wonderful antidote for anxiety.”

Even with an education-based routine, the school day will look a lot different. Per usual, the day will begin with prayer and announcements from Dalmut, but the students will be able to hear and watch only via Facebook live. Throughout the day, there will be no live-video learning, but teachers will communicate with students through Google Classroom, a safe online conduit between teachers and classmates. “We had been using it all year but not to this extent. Now, this is going to be our lifeline,” said Dalmut. Students and parents will still have access to the learning resource teachers, the school nurse and counselor. 

Once the students finish their assignments, the school is encouraging lots of quality family activities, such as cooking, reading, playing board games, choosing toys and clothes to donate and writing cards to the elderly and homebound. “Quarantine will get monotonous unless we make it joyful,” Dalmut said in an email to the parents. “We always say, ‘If I only had time.’ Well, here we will have time at home. Make the most of it.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020