Staying Connected During Quarantine

How Catholic Schools are transitioning to online learning

By Savanna Kearney

As if the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 outbreak weren’t stressful and challenging enough, teachers, students and parents were required to make the rushed transition into online learning earlier this month. At first, it felt like an early spring break for children: stay at home, “go to school” in your pajamas, etc. But reality quickly settled in – students started to feel restless stuck at home, and they miss their friends. Parents began to realize what a difficult job teachers tackle every day. And school staff hustled to re-plan the rest of their curriculum to fit within the confines of online learning.

Despite the hoops, everyone had to jump through, Catholic schools across the Diocese of St. Augustine are managing to stay positive and working hard to keep students and teachers connected during the quarantine.

Bishop Kenny High School is working hard to maintain a sense of normalcy and quality of education. Thankfully, the school has had a one-to-one technology program in place for the past eight years, and students already had personal iPads before the crisis hit, making the transition to online learning a bit easier.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” said Principal Todd Orlando. “Each school is handling it differently and doing their best.”

Bishop Kenny’s students are encouraged to keep up a regular schedule. They’re learning to be more accountable for their schoolwork than they would if physically attending school. Students are provided spiritual nourishment through prayer and reflection and mental health resources to deal with anxiety.

 “We want to be sensitive to how difficult this situation is, while also moving forward with the best education we can offer,” said Orlando.

Robin Fecitt, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Jacksonville, has come up with a few creative ideas for staying in touch with students as well. To maintain the school’s daily routine, she makes the school’s daily announcements (usually done by members of the student council) via Facebook Live every single morning at 8 a.m.

Fecitt also implements a new dress code theme every day for students to keep things interesting. Monday was superhero day, to thank all the medical professionals and first responders continuing to do their jobs during the crisis. Thursday was sports jersey day, to show the love for sports teams whose seasons have been canceled. And Friday was pajama day (although, for many students in online learning, every day is pajama day).

Fecitt said she ultimately considers the quick transition to be a blessing for her staff.

“The first day was incredibly overwhelming,” she said. “But our teachers are quickly learning how to adapt and handle it very gracefully. Overall, we’re very fortunate.”

Morning Star School in Jacksonville’s online learning looks a bit different than other local Catholic Schools’. According to assistant Principal Elaine Shott, children with learning differences are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects stemming from school closures and the disruption of daily routines. Just days before they closed, the school’s IT personnel began providing refresher training for distance learning platform tools to all teachers.

The teachers at Morning Star School have the flexibility to use the online learning tools with which they are most comfortable. Teachers are also using the distance learning platform for social occasions such as birthday celebrations, show and tell and to conduct one-on-one discussions. And despite students’ learning differences, Shott says the transition has been effective.

Palmer Catholic Academy in Ponte Vedra has taken on the challenge of staying positive and connected headfirst. They set up a carline for parents to pick up their children’s books while social distancing. It just happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, so teachers and staff blasted Irish music and dressed in green. Now that virtual classes are in full swing, they send out daily newsletters to staff and parents, encouraging them to keep up the great work. Deacon Dan Scrone, the school’s chaplain, will host a regular prayer service that students can participate in via Zoom video calls. And Palmer’s guidance counselor, Elizabeth McLauchlin, continues to meet with not only students but parents, too virtually. She sends out weekly packets and resources with tips for making the transition to online learning as easy as possible.

“I just want to make sure that the door is open and that the kids and parents know that I’m there for them, in case they need that outlet,” she said.

McLauchlin sends out regular emails with resources for students and parents. For example, she has sent worksheets for younger students to help them identify and cope with the feeling of anxiety during this stressful time.

“This is a prime time for stress and anxiety, but not everyone has the coping strategies they may need to get through this time,” said McLauchlin. “It’s our job to make sure they’re taken care of during this stressful time.”