By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
When the 2020-21 school year began, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport offered educational options for families. All offer in-person education, many offer online learning, some offer a hybrid model of part-time in-person and part-time online learning. One offers a “schoolhouse” option.
In-person learning is the most popular choice at Regina Education Center in Iowa City, according to Celeste Vincent, elementary school principal, and Glenn Plummer, junior-senior high school principal. On-line learning is next. The school also offers hybrid learning, consisting of part-time in person and part-time online.
“Our Return to Learn Committee has been exceptional in helping us to plan a successful school year both in terms of safety and what can work academically. We have really tried to meet our families directly at their basic needs to get through this with scheduling,” Vincent said.
“A key to this being successful is the homeroom teacher who is teaching the in-person learners in the room and serving our online learners at the same time via technology in the classroom. They have brought mastering the art of teaching to a whole new level with this being accomplished at the same time — synchronous.”
Vincent says some other districts have teachers who teach the online learners exclusively. “Our teachers are doing it all. They are like actual production assistants for a TV show, called ‘Regina’ — working the SMART board, the document camera and the headset all at once.” She credits their technology technician, Jess Pizana, with much of that success.
Principal Sharon Roling of St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt has a virtual one-room schoolhouse option for those who choose not to do in-person learning. “We have been in-person for learning for the entire year so far, with the exception of the two days before Thanksgiving when we ‘practiced’ learning remotely. We followed our public school counterparts. The goal was to troubleshoot any potential challenges if we had to move to remote learning.”
The one-room schoolhouse, staffed by a full-time teacher, is for families who wish to learn off campus, Roling said. Families with students quarantined or in isolation also use this option. The teacher is at one location teaching online and each family attends class from a dedicated space in their own homes. “Those students who are in the schoolhouse are still part of school life. They are able to view the Morning Prayer and announcements, join weekly classroom prayer services, and for those in kindergarten through fifth grades, participate in the classroom mindfulness (yoga) classes.”
“The schoolhouse teacher does a remarkable job with the students. It is a continuous practice of scheduling and planning. In addition, she teaches a class via Zoom to middle school students.”
When the remote learning teacher is not doing synchronous learning with those students, Roling said, “she uses Zoom to work one-on-one with students who need additional support here at school. This system has worked well for us.”
Prince of Peace Catholic Schools in Clinton offer in-person and remote options as part of the Return to Learn plan, says Principal Nancy Peart. “Online students attend their classes according to their schedule on their Chromebook (computer). We also have teachers at the elementary level record their lessons as some students need parental support to attend their lessons and complete any assignments.” Some teachers also regularly schedule Google Meets with their remote learners. “Our sixth through 12th-grade teachers use Google Classroom so they simply put a link on there for students to attend.”
There are rules for remote learners, Peart said. “Students must have the camera on to ensure they are attending well. This also makes attendance keeping accurate. If a student must quarantine, it is an easy transition to being able to jump right into classes and not miss school. So we are finding also that students who are ill, not necessarily with COVID, are also attending from home on those days when feeling well enough to participate. Our teachers are doing a great job with keeping kids connected and making them feel part of the class by including them in discussion and group projects, socially distanced of course.”
Principal Jennifer Alongi of Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf said most of the students attend in person. “We have a few families who are on home instruction — a mix of paper packets and online. Those students tune in to some lessons that are livestreamed during the day. The lessons are recorded so if the student misses the lesson, he/she can view it later.”
Principal Julie Delaney of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport said most students attend in person, but some are online due to health problems or by parent choice. If a student has to be quarantined, the online option allows him/her to keep up in school. “Teachers livestream their classroom using Google Classroom. Students are virtually present throughout the day and hear the lecture, discussion, participate in science labs and are part of groups’ discussions and projects.”
“When I walk into classrooms I can see the online learners on the computer screen,” Delaney said. “It is really fun to see the students online participating in small group discussion or science lab groups.”