By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The physical buildings on private and public school campuses remain closed because of the COVID-19 while off-campus, online learning is the new norm.
Lee Morrison, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Davenport, sent a letter to parents April 20 updating them on schooling for the rest of the current school year. Morrison said Catholic schools will not reopen this academic year, following updated guidelines from Governor Kim Reynolds.
“We feel it is imperative to support efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. While this isn’t the outcome any of us wanted, closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, families, staff and communities,” Morrison said.
“Although our buildings remain closed, we continue to provide educational learning opportunities online from each of our schools. We are grateful for the efforts of our administrators, teachers and staff who have stepped up to provide continuous learning opportunities since March 23.”
He also thanked parents and students who have risen to the challenge of education at home.
“May God continue to hold each of you firmly and safely in the palm of his hand,” Morrison said.
Non-public schools, including Catholic schools, continue to offer learning opportunities to students in grades K-12. Starting in mid-March the 18 schools across the diocese “were forced to move learning off campus and into the homes of 4,000 students,” Morrison said. The schools had a week to begin planning for the switch from on campus to online learning at home. “We have relied on the talent, creativity and professional commitment of our teachers and principals to figure out how we could temporarily move instruction out of the classroom and that they have done that,” Morrison said.
Online learning offers “an opportunity for innovation, so we have demanded that teachers and principals use their ingenuity and share best practices and exceptional ideas as they emerge. It is important we continue to support our Catholic families by providing educational opportunities during the shutdown,” Morrison said.
Diocesan schools around the diocese shared their off-campus instructional strategies with The Catholic Messenger.
Notre Dame Catholic Schools, Burlington:
“Our teachers started planning for a possible closure a couple of weeks before we went on spring break. So, when the closure was announced, they were well prepared,” Principal Bill Maupin said.
Notre Dame, a K-12 school, provides a computer for each student. On the last school day before spring break, students went home with their Chromebooks (a type of computer) and textbooks.
Elementary school students use Google Classroom for online learning, emails and Discovery Education. Secondary level students use an online program called CANVAS “and we have for six years,” Maupin said. Some families do not have internet access and are provided with packets so that students can complete their school work.
Lourdes Catholic School, Bettendorf:
March 23, the first day back from spring break, staff had a “crash course in how to do Zoom meetings,” said Principal Jennifer Alongi. “It was a long, rough day for all staff. But now we are settling into our new norm.” Homeroom Zoom meetings are active and participation has been good.
Packets of materials and textbooks were also available for parents to pick up. Most teachers put the majority of their classwork online through Google Classroom. Lourdes has a blended learning presence of online and paper packets. All preschool through eighth-grade students have at least one Zoom meeting per week.
The school also uses Facebook and Duolingo for Schools (Spanish). All Zoom meetings and lessons are recorded so students can watch the lessons at other times or review something they may not have understood. Families without internet access may complete assignments on paper.
St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport:
Principal Julie Delaney said administrators throughout the diocese have been a “great support to each other through emails and Zoom meetings. We have been meeting a couple of times a week via Zoom to share ideas, give support and help answer questions.”
She added, “Our teachers have stepped up, taken risks with new ideas, and stepped outside the box and their comfort zone to deliver quality education remotely. We have teachers using Zoom with their students, making YouTube videos of science labs and reading aloud online. I think with our first round of educational opportunities sent out and student materials picked up, their stress level has also gone down.”
The timing of spring break allowed for planning and to gather materials, she said. “We have technology available for the students when they need it. Upper grades have sets of laptop computers for each grade level, and lower grades have access to laptops and iPads. Students who do not have computer and internet access at home are receiving paper copies of materials and we have also provided information for free internet during the COVID-19 shut down. So far we have found ways to accommodate all of our students.”
All Saints Catholic School in Davenport:
Principal Jeanne Von Feldt said teachers meet online every Monday to discuss the upcoming week and learning opportunities. Directives are emailed to families each Monday for online assignments. “Lessons are a combination of learning modes including websites, video links, textbooks, projects, etc. Our teachers are determining what meets the needs of their students.”
Packets are also available for parents without computer access to pick up on Mondays for their children. “We were fortunate or wise that on March 13 we sent home with the students all of their books and a week’s worth of assignments for the week after spring break. Little did we know how long this would last.”
The “school day” may include videos of books being read, songs, daily movement songs and math programs. Band meets via Facebook with videos on how to clean an instrument and some individual and small-group lessons on Zoom.
“We wish to thank all of those who continue to support the parishes and schools in this time of economic uncertainty,” Morrison said.