Catholic schools innovate daily to continue teaching thousands amid pandemic

April 14, 2020

Two St. Laurence Catholic School students watch a livestream of Mass on a computer while distance learning. (Photo courtesy of St. Laurence Catholic School in Sugar Land)

HOUSTON — Hundreds of Catholic school teachers across the Archdiocese’s 58 Catholic schools remain key educators in some 18,500-plus students during the school week.

While statewide regulations have closed schools and events until May 4, Superintendent of Catholic Schools Debra Haney said April 1 that the Catholic Schools Office remains “deeply committed to the on-going effort to cease the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and stand with our schools, parishes, and families as we journey through this uncharted territory.”

The Catholic Schools Office continues “to support distance-learning in our schools and are grateful for the dedication and vigilant efforts of our teachers, support staff, administrators, pastors, and parents as they endeavor to provide students with a consistent learning environment and as normal a routine as possible,” she said. “Though this is a time of difficult decisions and uncertainty in the world of public health and the educational landscape, our parish and school communities continue to show that it is also a time where we find solace in our faith tradition and in the resiliency of spirit and prayer.”

In true educational partnership, families and Catholic school communities are collaborating to ensure that the remainder of the academic year is well structured and aligned so that students not only feel empowered in their learning but also maintain a sense of social connectedness through their virtual interaction with classmates, teachers and their principals. The Catholic Schools Office has set up online content area groups where teachers, principals, counselors and librarians can share lesson ideas and professional development resources.

Connecting communities with spiritual closeness while practicing physical distancing

During this time of physical distancing, virtual-social and spiritual connectedness is more important than ever. One of the ways that schools tried to ease their students into the transition of distance learning was to introduce them to their new learning spaces by having teachers stream video clips inviting students into their homes and neighborhoods, introducing pets and family members that may occasionally “visit” the classes during Zoom class sessions.

Teachers, administrators and school staff have been exceptional in helping students adjust to their temporary sense of “normal.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Assessment and Data Reneé Nunez, said: “We are very pleased that curriculum continues moving forward and student expectations remain high thanks to the dedication and efforts of our principals, faculty and staff members. As schools across Texas closed, our Catholic schools responded immediately, designing and implementing new ways of learning for students in their communities. In addition, schools have provided valuable resources for families, maintained communication between home and school, and kept students engaged in faith, community and with each other.”

Catholic school social media accounts are filling social media platforms with pictures of students actively practicing their faith together with family members and their virtual classes.
But more than that they are showcasing how students are sharing hope and faith with community members by doing yard work for their senior neighbors and grandparents, by leaving Scripture verses chalked on their driveways and by placing colorful mosaic crosses on their doors and fences to bring neighbors joy from afar as they pass by on a walk.

Small acts of kindness such as these that are done with great love are a clear reminder to us that we all must walk in spiritual closeness during times of trial and that, in doing so, we walk with God.

Working with students with exceptionalities

The priority for Catholic schools is to provide students with as comprehensive an educational experience as possible.

This includes offering families supporting students with learning differences and exceptionalities assistance in planning for their learner’s needs with the available resources at the individual schools. According to Director of Support for Students with Exceptionalities Benita Gonzales, “Catholic school teachers are working collaboratively with parents to provide support with assignments and accommodations for students with a Catholic Accommodation Plan.

Accommodations may include creating a routine schedule, providing frequent breaks, checking for understanding and assessing areas for productivity. Teachers are providing parents with specific online resources that support the child’s identified accommodation(s) to help create a successful learning environment at home.”

Many online platforms provide extensions and adaptations to support students with exceptionalities.

In particular, the Chrome web browser allows users to install a wide variety of web extensions that provide tools that can help learners, regardless of ability level.