Educators in the diocese take excellence in education online during COVID-19

by Sandra Engelland

North Texas Catholic

April 7, 2020

Nolan High School teacher Anna Engelland creates a video showcasing historical cameras for her photography students. (NTC/Anna Engelland)Nolan High School teacher Anna Engelland creates a video showcasing historical cameras for her photography students. (NTC/Anna Engelland)
Nolan High School teacher Anna Engelland creates a video showcasing historical cameras for her photography students. (NTC/Anna Engelland)


KELLER — Despite the empty classrooms, vacant playing fields, and dark auditoriums in schools across the Diocese of Fort Worth, students are busy learning, developing skills, and finding new ways to connect with each other and with God during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Most schools were on spring break the week of March 9 when the spread of the coronavirus prompted leaders to shut down schools. While the building closures took many by surprise and the exact duration remains unknown, educators in the diocese got lessons up and running online as students were set to return to class the week of March 16.

“We’re working to provide excellence in education through distance learning,” said Melissa Kasmeier, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools and interim principal at St. Andrew Catholic School.

Kasmeier said that teachers were using a variety of platforms — including Google Classroom, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Seesaw, along with emails and messaging apps — to deliver curriculum, engage students, and communicate with parents.

At Nolan Catholic High School, teachers and faculty members are working to continue lesson plans, prepare students for Advanced Placement tests, and hold milestone events in the virtual realm. To reach students without virtual learning technology, one teacher drove around the metroplex to drop off Chromebooks to them. Leah Rios, Nolan president, said that educators had a goal of continuing the learning without missing key components.

“The curriculum hasn’t changed, but we modify what we have so students have access to teachers and teachers have access to students,” Rios said.

They also wanted to provide as many traditional elements as they could.

In late March, student council leaders created a virtual pep rally for spring sports. They had students from spirit squads, student councils, and athletic teams submit individual videos that were edited together for the pep rally.

Rios said that other events like the National Honor Society tapping ceremony, auditions for cheer and dance teams, and daily announcements also are happening through online platforms and digital communication. Staff, students, and families also have moved to video or livestreaming for prayers and for regular Thursday Mass led by school chaplain Father Maurice Moon.

School officials are ready to hold modified, delayed, or virtual prom and/or graduation, based on health conditions in May.

Rebekah Yarmchuk, who teaches social studies at Nolan, said she is posting video lectures online at the beginning of each week, and then students complete assessments showing they understand the material. Like teachers across the diocese, Yarmchuk offers virtual office hours every weekday and regular opportunities for students to interact with her and each other through platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Yarmchuk said, “They’re desperate for interaction with each other, and eager to participate.”

Nolan senior Thomas Greve said his class workload hasn’t really changed. While he’s been busy with schoolwork, “nothing has been overwhelming.”

Greve said, “I’ve been really impressed with how they’re handling the situation.”

He and many other students are working with teachers and coaches to find ways to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

Greve is working with Rick Garnett, Nolan teacher for environmental design, earth and space science, and ecology, as part of Masks for Docs. Garnett has been making face shields on a 3D printer at home and Greve has been delivering them to medical professionals through a family member who is a physician.

Rios said Nolan football team members and coaches are creating online resources for younger kids at a nearby school, like leading virtual recess, PE classes, and games.

While Greve feels good about his academic preparation and sees lots of good online interaction in classes and virtual events, it’s also a hard time to be a senior.

“As a senior, this is the time of year you’re looking forward to the most,” he said. “Usually college is figured out, and you’re just spending time with people you care about. But it’s better to miss out and stop this disease than to be together and make someone sick.”

Erin Kolp, parent of a Nolan freshman, said the transition from in-person instruction to distance learning “has been seamless.”

She said her son’s teachers have been breaking down the curriculum into manageable chunks and have been quick to provide feedback and answer questions.

“We were a little concerned at first and wondered if academically they would fall behind, but I’ve been so pleased,” Kolp said. “Although there’s no perfect scenario, I know it won’t be a big hit on their academics.”

While older students often work independently with online assignments, teachers in the youngest grades are working with students and parents to adapt more of the curriculum for distance learning.

Julie Girton, a first-grade teacher at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School, said she is posting video instruction and learning activities on the Seesaw platform. She’s also sending daily updates to parents with a rundown of the next day’s activities and hosting regular Zoom meetings for students to interact with each other.

“When we get on Zoom, it’s more of a visit and a time to reconnect,” Girton said.

Kasmeier said that teachers and administrators are focusing on “essential learning outcomes” and looking at the big picture while not overwhelming students and parents.

Distance learning may be complicated by parents working from home, extra financial pressures, and health concerns.

But Kasmeier said that families also can focus on spending time together during this crisis with prayer, cooking, gardening, and other family activities.

“Parents are the primary educators for their children, but we can provide flexibility, alternate assignments, and additional resources,” she said.

And everyone in the Catholic education community is looking forward to getting back to traditional learning.

Kasmeier said, “Nothing can replace that face-to-face interaction in the school building. We’ll be ready for that whenever it can return.

“In the meantime, we’re working with them for the best learning experience possible.”

KELLER — Despite the empty classrooms, vacant playing fields, and dark auditoriums in schools across the Diocese of Fort Worth, students are busy learning, developing skills, and finding new ways to connect with each other and with God during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Published (until 12/5/2039)
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