As the 2020-2021 school year commences amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools are beginning in-person while others are offering a hybrid model, where students attend school in-person certain days of the week and complete schoolwork virtually on the other days. Other schools are starting the year remotely.
Families at some schools also have the option to send their children to classes exclusively online.
Teachers in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been preparing this summer to meet the various needs of their students, said Dr. Donna Brown, technical curriculum consultant for the Office of Catholic Schools.
Preparing for the new year
More than 100 teachers from schools throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville have taken part in virtual workshops offered by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools to learn new or broaden existing technical skills, such as Google Classroom or Seesaw, web-based designed
to engage students remotely.
The workshops were led by other teachers proficient in the online learning tools. Brown said it’s important for teachers to share with one another about what works and what doesn’t.
for Remote Learning
“In the spring, teachers had to pack up on a Friday and begin distance learning with students the following Monday,” said Brown. “So they had to do a lot of learning on the fly. This time we are trying to prepare them with more skills.”
Brown said she also discussed strategies with teachers.
First, she said, teachers shared some things that worked and some that didn’t.
“They talked about some of the things they were proud of and some frustrations,” Brown said.
Some teachers noted creative ways to engage students, such as conducting theme days to match daily lessons.
One obstacle for teachers, Brown said, was the vast amount of new technical skills to learn in such a short time period.
What schools are doing
Stacy Tackett, principal of St. Michael School in Jeffersontown, said her teachers have been preparing all summer for hybrid learning. The school began with in-person instruction Aug. 17.
Tackett said such a large number of students opted to begin the year learning virtually that she created a staff position to coordinate non-traditional instruction. About 60 to 65 students began the year with remote instruction, which is nearly 10 percent of the school’s total enrollment of 637.
Both the teacher and remote learners will have Chromebooks. When the teacher displays something in the classroom, the virtual learner will be able to see it in real-time along with the students in the classroom.
“Kids at home will have the option to sign in and join class virtually in real-time or view it later. They have a lot of options,” Tackett said.
Tackett said she’s spent a great deal of time in the last few weeks addressing teachers’ concerns and fears amid the current school year.
“If we make a mistake, it’s okay we will figure it out,” she said. I need to listen to them and tell them, ‘You can do this. We can do this together.’ I need to make sure they have the resources to lift them up and the help they need to be successful.”
Penny Bradley, principal of St. Joseph School in Bardstown, Ky., said her faculty has worked hard to ensure both in-person and virtual learners will receive a quality education.
“When we had to go home in March, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. We have worked hard over the past few months to make our product of virtual learning much better,” Bradley said.
St. Joseph’s total enrollment is 350. About 10 students have opted to begin the year with virtual instruction. The school year began on Aug. 19. And, Bradley said, she expects that number to fluctuate as students come in contact with the coronavirus and enter quarantine.
Each classroom will have webcams. Students at home will be able to log into their Google Classroom and watch the teacher. They will be able to hear the other students in the classroom and ask questions as they watch the instruction live.
Students in second- through eighth-grade will receive their own Chromebooks, which were bought with funds from the federal CARES Act.
“If we do have to shut down again, everyone will already have a device,” she said.
An important part of the hybrid learning model at St. Joseph, Bradley said, will be communication between teachers and families.
“Every three weeks there will be a conference with the virtual learner, parent and teacher. We don’t want our virtual learners to fall behind,” she said.
Including virtual learners
For families uncomfortable sending their students to in-person instruction because of the novel coronavirus, Brown said it’s important to make virtual learners feel included in the in-class discussions and to incorporate them with students physically in the classroom as much as possible.
With that in mind, schools have spent a great deal of time developing alternative instruction online in order to provide the same quality of education Catholic school families have come to expect, she said.
Brown noted that teachers have specifically been learning strategies related to building rapport with students and parents remotely.
“You have to be more personable than you might be in person. You want to engage the kids and, in order to engage them, you have to have good rapport not only with students but also with parents.”
Teachers should let parents know, Brown said, that they are “partners in this together.”
“No one can control what is going on. It was tough in the spring, but it may be even tougher in the fall because kids will be in and out (on hybrid schedules). There will be a lot of shifting.”
Brown noted that as students, staff or family members come in contact with the virus, students will have to pivot to remote learning, and flexibility among all parties will be key.
Perhaps most importantly, Brown said she encouraged teachers to let students know they are valued and cared for.
“Whether there is hybrid learning or whether we are all remote, we want to make kids know they are safe, their classmates are safe and you as their teacher are safe,” she said. “We need to think about the social, emotional connection, too, so kids feel safe.”
Educating the whole person is one of the hallmarks of Catholic education, Brown added.