Local Catholic schools commit to in-person learning
Originally posted on www.southcoasttoday.com
By Kerri Tallman
Several high schools use hybrid plan and remote learning available when needed
NEW BEDFORD — While most students in the area have gotten into the morning routine of opening their Google Chromebooks and log on for homeroom attendance, many Catholic schools have returned fully in-person or are following a hybrid model.
Superintendent of the Diocese of Fall River Daniel Roy said that parents have been very supportive of schools reopening, and in cases where there are concerns, they are able to take advantage of remote learning in all schools.
All teachers are teaching from their classrooms, even for distance learning. Students eat lunch where each school permits for proper distancing and protocols. Desks are spaced out in accordance with state guidelines of three to six feet. With the transparency in these guidelines, the diocese has seen an increase in interest in families and enrollment over the past few weeks, officials said.
“One of the hallmarks of Catholic education is the tremendous sense of community found in our schools,” Roy said. “Returning and reconnecting and having this sense of belonging to something greater than yourself is just so powerful.”
In New Bedford, Holy Family Holy Name and St. James/St. John Schools have returned for in-person instruction with the option of remote learning due to COVID-related reasons, as well as St. Joseph School in Fairhaven and St. Francis Xavier School in Acushnet.
All schools offer extended care programs in both the morning and afternoon for parents’ convenience. Holy Family Holy Name and St. Francis Xavier are included in the New Bedford Public Schools free meals program, whereas St. James/St. John receives meals from Paskamansett Farms and St. Joseph from Chartwells Catering. All schools are following guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools when it comes to mask wearing, hand sanitation and social distancing of three to six feet.
In New Bedford, All Saints Catholic School in the North End is back in session. Out of the 182 students enrolled, 39 have chosen to learn at a distance. This hybrid model allows for students presenting COVID-19 symptoms to continue their studies away from the building until it is safe for them to return to class.
“It kind of makes it seamless whether you can bounce back and forth between the classroom and distance learning,” said Susan Massoud, Principal of All Saints. Remote learners are required to asattend class in an All Saints T-shirt seated at a desk.
Like many other education leaders, Massoud that the biggest challenge has been the technology aspect. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund allowed the school to order more devices there has been a delay with Google Chromebooks and other remote learning tools in high demand. Most distance learning students had their own devices in the spring and continue to use them.
All Saints students have just finished their first round of math Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) MAP online testing. Both in-person and remote students participated at the same time as teachers proctored students through Google Meet as well as a testing console to track progress.
Massoud said the school transitioned into online learning quickly, closing on March 16 and online learning began promptly the next day.
“Our kids worked really hard,” she said. “The grades that they earned were pretty much commensurate with the grades they earned before.” Massoud also praised her teachers for their hard work, accommodating students both on-site and at a distance.
For in-person learning, grades Pre-K through four reside in the main All Saints building and grades five through eight in the adjacent building. All classrooms are limited to 20 students with desks spaced five feet apart. Students stow away their belongings in milk crates and large paint buckets so everything they need is at their desks. Every grade level up to grade four has overflow areas, typically in another vacant room, to spread out and be socially distanced to eat lunch or relax. Students can take their masks off for physical education class when distanced 11 feet apart.
All Saints offers its extended care program from 6:30 a.m. until 7:45 a.m. where students can relax, masks off, eight to 10 feet apart before diving into the school day. This applies to after school hours as well until 5:30 p.m. Massoud said that this is a huge service to many parents that are healthcare workers and teachers.
“I pray that in our area, the percentage of positivity stays down enough so we can keep our kids in school and we don’t have outbreaks,” she said. “We haven’t had any, God bless us, but that doesn’t mean that tomorrow it’s not going to be a different situation.”
Schools in the Fall River Diocese are abiding by state guidelines with athletic programs. Some sports that allow for more space can restart to full capacity, but sports like football are delayed until February 2021.
“We’ve learned a lot from last spring,” Roy said. “Catholic schools were able to make the pivot to remote learning quickly over several weeks, figuring it out as we went along and working closely to provide the very best robust curriculum to our students in a remote setting. It’s been a long time away, and for our communities to come back together has been a powerful positive experience.”
In the rest of the schools in the diocese, most students are learning in person apart from a few hybrids: St. Mary Sacred Heart in North Attleboro, Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth and Bishop Connolly in Fall River.
The diocese acquired more than $250,000 worth of personal protection equipment for the start of the school year to keep students and staff safe. All schools submitted reopening plans to the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Fall River which must be reviewed and approved. With new protocols in place, including mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and sanitation, the schools have been able to move forward and reopen successfully with an enthusiastic response from both students and families
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