Catholic schools and teachers help their students and parents adjust to a new reality

Catholic schools in the diocese found themselves in new territory in March when the coronavirus sent every student home. Staff and teachers stepped forward to make it possible for students to continue their classes online from home and found ways to support parents in their new role as at-home teachers.

Through all the ups and downs of this new reality, students and teachers have kept their studies going and their spirits up. Here’s an update from several schools throughout the diocese on how things are working and the many blessings they are seeing.

Aberdeen Roncalli

The O’Gorman Knight stopped by to say hi to the students of St. Katharine Drexel Elementary during their Easter car parade.

I would like to offer my thoughts on Angela Keller, the Special Education teacher at the Junior High/High School at Roncalli. She has not only been a huge source of knowledge for her fellow teachers in the district as we transition, as she is a Google Certified instructor and has a wealth of knowledge of all things digital, but she has also successfully reached all of her special education students who require sometimes a great deal of additional assistance and accommodations. She is working with parents to make sure they know how to help their students at home and she is in constant communication with fellow staff and her administration.

On top of this, she is an incredible mother to four children, three of whom are in the school system, so she is assisting her children with their work as well and in the meantime is offering praise to those teachers for the wonderful work they are doing for her kids during this time.

She is positive, she is encouraging and very patient with all of us as we have been asking her questions constantly. A true educator!

–Elizabeth Gorski, primary school principal

I would like to give a shout out to all of my RES teachers and staff. I don’t think I can pick one teacher as all of my teachers are amazing! Not once have I witnessed these people complaining or doubting their actions and their work. They certainly would rather be in the classroom, but the talent, dedication and effort they all have is beyond anything I have witnessed before. They cooperate with each other, exchange ideas, and do for one another without a second thought. Their goal is their students and what they can do to make this whole experience better than anything else. I have teachers who give their students a “nightly challenge” by challenging them on who can make the best blanket fort for the night, or who can read to a sibling or pray with them. The resources they find and alter to fit the students and parents are great. Basically it’s about meeting all expectations with a genuine love and commitment to Catholic education.

–Peggy Freidel, 3-6 grade principal

One teacher from St. Michael is overjoyed to greet her students during an Easter car parade.

I’m not sure what the other schools in the area are doing but I’m very impressed with Roncalli’s response to the kids being home.

My seventh grader is working off his (school supplied) Chromebook with daily assignment posts and teacher’s hours to assist with questions.

My first grader and pre-schooler have a daily list of learning activities to cover all parts of their educational needs. Teachers and principals are posting daily videos reading books, saying prayers, and virtually connecting with the kids.

And to top it off, I got an email today with the school offering assistance and support from their counseling staff, food resources, etc.

It may not be a perfect situation, but good job on swift action and good execution in a unprecedented time.

–Steve L., parent

St. Thomas More, Brookings

“Calm in the midst of the storm” are the words that keep coming to mind when I think of how our St.Thomas More Catholic School responded to the unprecedented state-wide shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did they respond with astonishing swiftness to fast-breaking, and somewhat confusing news, they also responded with compassion and grace. They have continued to support parents and students with academic resources, as well as ongoing emotional and spiritual support, reminding us all that God is in control and Christ is “still in our boat.”

–Angela Bucholz, parent

O’Gorman High School

St. Michael School teachers and staff wave as students and parents drive by during their Easter car parade.

Our staff at O’Gorman High School has been encouraged by the administration to send at least two to three instructional videos a week so students can see and hear a familiar face and voice. Collectively, the staff has been rising to the occasion and surpassing it. Some teachers are offering live meeting sessions and activities for their classes. Fr. Scholten, our chaplain, has offered a weekly live-stream Mass. Our campus ministry director Brian Stai has been offering live stream morning prayer and worship music. Considering the abruptness to the changes of our modes of teaching, our staff has taken this challenge head-on and has done so with grace and determination.

Our counseling staff at O’Gorman has done a great job of emphasizing emotional health in our school system, so it’s been easier to make this a natural extension of my own classroom, checking in on our students, letting them know we care for them and their families and want to offer support as we are able.

For my choir students, specifically, I’ve been sending them a video greeting nearly each day. I also do a daily exit quiz in conjunction with our daily assignments, but I have been including a “just for fun” section at the end of the google form quiz where I ask them questions about how their work load has been with the transitions, what difficulties they’ve had, what online activities they’ve enjoyed, and positive outcomes of being home with family during the unexpected time. I posted a summary recently on Facebook of some of my student’s responses. They responded with great wisdom and outlook. Here are some of their responses:

“I was singing the ‘Song of Farewell’ the other day, and its lyrics fit perfectly to what’s happening right now. Specifically, ‘until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.’ I hope God holds all of us close until we can be together in school again. This is a different way to reconnect with those who should be closest to you.”

“I was able to hang out with my sisters since we all were laid off of work for the time being so we were able to do karaoke with each other in the kitchen which was good since we didn’t have choir class.”

St. Katharine Drexel Elementary teachers invited their students to join them for an Easter car parade. Over 100 cars drove by the school to safely greet each other.

“I finally get to talk to my brothers. We finally have time to do things together, even if it’s little things.”

“I have learned to not take things for granted like choir class. I miss singing with my choir family everyday. I also realized that we need to not take things for granted like hanging out with friends because you never know when you won’t be able to see them for a while, so we need to always express our love for each other.”

“I will never say I hate school again in my life.”

I was so proud of these students for seeing the blessings amidst this difficult situation. Their answers embodied what we strive to teach and instill in the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools. I especially found the first student’s reflection on the lyrics of “Song of Farewell” touching. We had just talked in class that last week before school about how the lyrics are not necessarily sad. They are actually hopeful and full of joy, wishing good for another person until we see them again, and praying for God’s protection over them until that day comes, whether it’s a month from now or in our eternal home.

–Rachael Kramer, vocal music teacher