Fall River Catholic schools give themselves high marks on first week back to school with COVID precautions
Originally published on www.heraldnews.com
By Linda Murphy
FALL RIVER — As Catholic School students’ first week drew to a close last Friday, administrators say they aced the first test of back-to-school in the era of COVID-19.
Students at all of the Catholic elementary schools in Fall River are back in school full-time, while students at Bishop Connolly High School are in hybrid mode, alternating weeks of in-person and remote learning. Freshmen and sophomores attend school in-person one week while juniors and seniors learn remotely — about 110 students are in the building at any one time.
The first week of school at Connolly last week was orientation, during which each class attended for a day. And so far, it was great, BCHS said Principal Kathy St. Laurent and President Chris Myron.
“The kids are so happy to be back at school, as are the teachers. They’re being so cooperative with all the health protocols we put in place,” said St. Laurent.
“I’m so excited to have everyone back,” added Myron. “For most of our students, this is a second home for them, so we’re really pleased with that.”
On orientation day, the students learned about the new health and safety protocols, meet with every teacher, took a walking mask break on the property, met with advisers and had lunch. The school has several staggered lunch periods to minimize the number of students in the cafeteria.
“The purpose of the orientation day was to provide welcoming, to provide reassurance and to get the students comfortable with the safety and health routine we put in place,” said St. Laurent. “They’ve done a great job with it because it’s different — it’s different for everybody.”
Myron said they’re following the guidelines set forth by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health. As a smaller educational community, they’re able to manage those requirements very easily, they said.
The Connolly teachers and administrators have been meeting all summer long planning the reopening measures, ensuring teachers had a voice in the planning process. Even this week, they said, they checked in with the teachers to make sure things were running smoothly.
“We’re lucky we have a strong team here. … Once you give people a voice, they feel like they’re a part of the plan,” added Myron.
Espirito Santo School Principal Andrew Raposo said Catholic elementary school families had two options: fully in school five days a week or fully remote live-streaming. Of the school’s 216 students, only nine students from kindergarten through grade 8 have elected to do remote learning. The school runs from preschool, starting at age 3, to grade 8. Students who are ill or presenting any symptoms of COVID-19 can also continue their education remotely if they feel well enough, added Raposo.
Following the DESE guidelines, Raposo said they rearranged rooms, removed unnecessary furniture and spaced the desks out anywhere from 3 to 6 feet depending on the number of students in the classrooms. Desks are now all facing forward. “There’s a lot more open space, which is a benefit to classrooms,” he added.
The students also stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotate between classes using a cart to wheel their supplies from class to class. The teachers, he said, also had a voice in the back-to-school discussions and worked hard as part of a team to bring the students back into the school.
In the cafeteria, round tables feature four place settings separated by a cross-shaped Plexiglas screen that allows students to take off their face masks to eat safely. The school has also spread out lunch shifts to reduce the number of students in the cafeteria at one time.
Espirito Santo also has a person who spot-cleans during the day, a second person who cleans overnight, and the final touch is the use of an electro-static mist machine before kids come back into school in the morning.
One of the biggest changes at Espirito Santo is the addition of a full-time nurse who will be the main point-person for parents who have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 guidance.
“We had a volunteer nurse, but we felt it was the right time and investment to make to ensure the safety of all,” said Raposo.
They’ve also instituted mask breaks, during which small groups of students spread out in the parking lot in the back of the school for some fresh air. It’s especially important for the younger students, said Raposo.
“I have to say, it’s run pretty well so far. It’s an educational experience for everyone. I will go to lunch with the kids and I remind them, ‘don’t forget to sanitize,’ ‘if you’re close enough to touch someone then you’re too close,’” said Raposo. “It’s kudos to the parents, because a lot of them had that conversation at home and now we’re an extension of that conversation.”
Raposo, who is in his seventh year at the school, first as an eighth-grade teacher and now heading into his fourth year as principal, said it’s been an emotional ride since June.
“I was not happy running a school from my kitchen table, personally. I was very happy to see all my students,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to be back here now.”
As for the parents, he said, they addressed each of their concerns on a case-by-case basis over the summer and the feedback he’s received from them about the efforts to bring their kids back to school has been very positive. “There’s a lot of good feedback, a lot of satisfaction,” said Raposo.
The students seeing their friends and teachers for the first time in months has also been rewarding, he added.
Sandi Duxbury, a spokesperson for the Fall River Diocese Catholic schools, said from a diocesan perspective, parents also say they’re very happy to have their kids back in the schools. “The parents are thrilled to have their kids back in school. They’re very pleased with all the plans and all the plans are very similar to here; very intentional and very deliberate,” she said. “Week One across the diocese has been fantastic and the kids are so happy to be back.”