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Archives Schools adapt to pandemic

April 29, 2020

By Jessica Hargrave
Contributing Writer

Classrooms inside New York State schools remain empty as the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 continues. Like schools across the state and the country, the Catholic school system within the Diocese of Ogdensburg are just trying to manage day-to-day. As students learning from home through distance learning has become the new normal, teachers are trying to keep lessons fresh in a mostly online learning environment.

Organization and planning among Catholic school administrators and teachers began immediately when it was announced Friday, March 13, that schools across the North Country would close until further notice.

Joyce Giroux, principal at Trinity Catholic School in Massena, said the planning process started the following Monday with small group meetings among teachers all week. During that short window of time, tech-savvy teachers each took a small group and gave them a crash course in Google Classroom, Google Forms and Screencastify.

“We prepared originally for two weeks, and we had handouts, we had a drop-off, like the other schools did, where their teachers came like a drive-through and received all their textbooks and paperwork needed,” Giroux said.

Trinity Catholic School offers Pre-K through sixth grade programs. Knowing this new normal for parents would be a challenge, Giroux, along with the school’s Family Support Coordinator Kathy Behrens, are keeping an open line of communication with parents. During the first two week, the pair phoned every school parent to check in.

“It took us about two weeks to get through everyone just to ask them ‘How are things going there? What is the workload like? Is it too much? Is it too little?’” said Giroux.

She assures parents round two of those calls will start again soon. Trying to keep some sort of normalcy, Giroux continues to read the morning announcements on the school’s YouTube channel. She also does weekly check-ins with faculty.

Despite the challenging and uncertain circumstance, Giroux wants parents to know we’re all in this situation together.

“Everybody, students, teachers, parents, the diocese, we are just all doing the best we can,” she said. “I think what we must remember is everyone is at the same level. Everyone is going through this, so we must take the fear away of children falling behind.”

School administrators at Immaculate Heart Central School in Watertown said they couldn’t be prouder with the response from their faculty.

“The difficulty is going from traditional classroom teaching and all those lesson plans that they have and having to change those plans over to distance learning pieces. They had to start all over, basically. It was a challenge for them, but they did a phenomenal job,” said IHC Principal Dan Charlebois.

Charlebois met with junior and senior high faculty, while elementary Vice-Principal Amy Mitchell met with the primary faculty to put a plan in place just three days after it was announced that school would close. Mitchell said she was amazed at how quick teachers were able to organize given the short turnaround time.

“It was less than 36 hours that they had learning packets put together, lesson plans made, and learned how to use Google Classroom,” Mitchell said.

For high school students, regents grading, AP testing and EDGE courses through Jefferson Community College will continue. AP tests will be done online, while JCC is continuing EDGE courses through distance learning. As for regents’ grades, while students are exempt from taking regents exams in June, students must pass the class in order to get the regents credit.

Charlebois and Mitchell both agree, they look forward to seeing the students in the hallways and classrooms again.

“We’re a family,” said Mitchell. “We’re here to support parents in any way possible. I think this is a super emotional time and knowing that there is someone to reach out to for support is really important.”

Charlebois wants parents, students and faculty to know there is hope for the future.

“We are an Easter people,” he said. “We are always looking forward to new life. We don’t know right now what this is going to bring. Kind of like the Apostles when Jesus was gone, they asked ‘What just happened?’ They were confused and not sure what was going on. but there was something to look forward to. There must be.”


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