How Fall River-area Catholic schools kept full in-person learning all year amid COVID
As local public schools are still working on getting most students back to fully in-person learning more than six months into the school year, some parents see Catholic schools as a welcome alternative.
“Our schools have gotten noticed. And there is interest in in-person learning, especially in cities and towns where that’s not available at the public level,” said Dan Roy, superintendent of the 20 schools run by the Diocese of Fall River.
Since September, the majority of Fall River Catholic schools have been fully in-person, with families given the option to opt for fully remote classes for their child.
Roy said the diocese has seen a decline in enrollment for preschoolers, with some families choosing to keep their youngest kids at home for an extra year. But, there’s been so much increased interest in the older grades that almost every school in the system now has a waiting list. And, he said, many families who enrolled for the first time this year have already re-enrolled for next year.
Roy said Catholic schools’ relatively small class sizes compared with many public schools made it easier to maintain social distancing. Although it varies from school to school, most local Catholic schools have between 15 to 20 students in a class, while most Fall River Public Schools classes have between 22 and 28 students. The difference means most Catholic schools in the area have not had to hire new teachers to accommodate smaller, socially distanced class sizes, while public schools have.
Most of the diocese’ schools are keeping 6 feet of space betwee, although some are keeping 5 feet because of space concerns, Roy said. They’ve made it work by using places in school buildings like gyms, cafeterias and outdoor areas to maintain social distancing.
“What stands out the most is the creativity with which schools have used space,” he said.
Roy said there have been a handful of instances where a class temporarily switched to remote classes because of a positive COVID-19 test. He declined to say how many members of the school community have tested positive this year, citing safety concerns, but said the diocese’s numbers have remained relatively low.
“We saw spikes in the week after Thanksgiving and the weeks after Christmas and New Years,” he said. “Our numbers did go up during that time and they have since leveled off. So we’re in a pretty good place with that.”
Suzanne Raposo of Fall River, whose son is in kindergarten at Holy Name School, said she waited for Fall River Public Schools to announce their reopening plan last summer before enrolling him in a school.
“The moment I heard Fall River was fully remote or hybrid and remote, I chose immediately to put him in a Catholic school,” she said.
Raposo is a teacher at Diman Regional Vocati and said her own experiences with remote learning last year made her decision an obvious one.
“When we went fully remote unexpectedly in March, I noticed that there was no comparison. They excelled so much more at school in person where they were on-task,” she said of her students. “Even the amount of time it took to cover a lesson… it doubled, tripled, quadrupled that time.”
Raposo said it’s no surprise that Catholic schools have had an easier time bringing students back to classrooms and navigating things like transporting students with state restrictions on how many children can ride a school bus at one time.
“Catholic schools are much smaller so they’re more accommodating,” she said.
Cathy St. Martin, a Fall River resident who also started her son in kindergarten at Holy Name this year, said her son has struggled with anxiety at times and that she worried having him in remote or hybrid classes would make it worse.
“The few days that we did do remote (because of positive tests) he was just looking at me, not really paying attention,” she said. “I just think this was the perfect thing for him at his age.”
St. Martin said her family’s experiences with Holy Name this year has meant she now plans to keep her son enrolled there through 8th grade.
“He gets up every morning and he wants to go to school,” she said. “I feel like he’s less anxious more and more every day.”