Learning during a pandemic: Catholic schools adjust to multi-learning environments

October 13, 2020

Students at St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball wear face masks and face shields while praying in their school campus during their school day. (Photo courtesy of St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball)

HOUSTON — The school bell’s familiar sound welcomed thousands of Catholic school students across the Archdiocese alongside stringent COVID-19 pandemic guidelines in place. About two months into the school year, Archdiocesan Catholic Schools have adjusted to the current normal way of teaching.

Forty-six Catholic schools and 11 high schools have been teaching in-person, online or a hybrid of both since the start of their fall semesters.

Debra Haney, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese, said the schools are doing well, “and there are certainly many ways that they are working to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in our schools.”

Haney said she’s proud of the way principals and staff have handled the situation, even receiving an email from a doctor that was singing the praises of one of the principals and her team for their efforts.

“There have certainly been challenges, but they have been addressed and our principals have been warriors out there taking care of business,” she said.

Kendall Shamas, principal at St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball, said the school has been instructing in-person and virtually, with a majority of students in the building.

“We are providing synchronous and asynchronous instruction for our Virtual Crusaders,” she said. “This supports all of our learners, face to face and Virtual Crusaders (students learning online), as they have resources and recordings to refer back to if needed.”

Shamas said the students are adjusting well to the modified instruction.

“When I visit the classrooms and see them online they are all smiles. Our parents are very supportive and that has helped with our students adjusting to a new way of learning,” she said.

Shamas said the students are not only learning academically, they are learning life lessons.

“They are developing grit,” she said. “Through all of this, students are learning perseverance and resilience, which are important to long-term success.”

To Shamas, the biggest challenge other than the logistics of safely opening up the school following all of the recommended protocols was ensuring that their Virtual Crusaders were getting the very best Catholic education possible.

“We are all committed to them. Not only are they included throughout most of the school day, our teachers have set aside 30 minutes of planning each day to meet with our Virtual Crusaders and their parents to ensure they have that one on one time with their teachers as well,” she said.

Danielle Aleman, director of Advancement at St. Anne Catholic School in Houston, said they began the school year with the entire campus distance learning. After Labor Day, students who opted for on-campus, face-to-face learning, returned to campus.

“Approximately 30% of our student population is currently distance learning for the first quarter,” she said.

Aleman said that despite the challenges brought upon by COVID-19, the students embraced the excitement of a new school year through the teachers’ efforts of encouraging community and collaboration whether at learning in school or at home.

“St. Anne’s biggest challenge has been remaining physically apart,” she said. “Our community thrives on togetherness and personal interactions. COVID-19 has posed physical challenges, but the St. Anne community remains committed to exploring ways in which we pray together, learn together and play together.”

Aleman said that while in-person and on-campus learning is the school’s optimal learning environment, the health and safety of the school’s community is the top priority.
“St. Anne approached the new year with a solid return to learning plan, consistent communication with parents and measurable assessments, all of which ensures that our community continues teaching and learning in goodness, discipline and knowledge throughout the pandemic and beyond,” she said.

Haney said there is not a final date when all schools will be back to fully to in-person instruction, although she said they are hoping it will be in mid-October.

“Some students, due to individual health concerns, may stay remote all year,” she said.