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Diocese of Wilmington elementary, secondary schools on cutting edge with cyber education as teachers, students ‘do whatever we can’

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Bishop Malooly speaks to students at All Saints school in November.

While social distancing may be a new concept in a world focused on coronavirus prevention, distance learning is not and Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wilmington are putting to use every multimedia tool and tactic at their disposal.

“We came into this very strong on computer learning skills, but we’re going to come out of it even stronger,” said Sister LaVerne King, a 52-year educator and principal of Christ the Teacher, a pre-K –through-8 school in Glasgow.

Louis De Angelo
Louis De Angelo

Elementary and secondary schools in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland are treating this time of closed schools as a cyber day or one where schools are closed for inclement weather, said Lou De Angelo, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

“We are using every meaningful and reasonable tool available,” De Angelo said. “In no way does it compare to having students and teachers in classrooms, but it keeps the students progressing.”

Some teachers are posting lessons and instructions to YouTube, others are using tools like Zoom, which allows for real-time engagement, De Angelo said.

“Assignments are current and timely, so we can pick up from there” when in-school instruction returns, he said. The Catholic schools in the diocese and almost all other schools in both states are closed through March 27. Many national and statewide observers are speculating schools will be closed even longer as health officials try to curb the spread of coronavirus and make certain to protect the health and wellness of the public.

Schools across the board are adjusting to the unprecedented circumstances.

“The resources through the Internet are boundless,” said De Angelo. “There shouldn’t be the complaint that there is nothing there.”

Tom Fertal, principal at St. Mark’s High School, said his school is running on a mix of familiar and unique methods and scheduling. Three days a week, students are following a typical two-hour delay schedule of “classes” in which teachers meet up with kids online and walk through that day’s class. The other three days they are following online assignments, discussion points and videos as directed by faculty.

“No one has ever seen this,” said Fertal, a 23-year Catholic school educator. He says students are motivated to stay up-to-date and there really isn’t much choice.

“There are plenty of things to do,” he said.

What about kids who see it as an opportunity to stay away from schoolwork?

“The option is not there to totally blow it off,” Fertal said. “You’re going to be held accountable.”

Fertal said the whole exercise can be looked at as “a hidden blessing.”

“It’s neat, all the sharing that’s going on. We often talk about teacher collaboration, but they don’t always have time for it. They’re in classrooms all day. There can be time now where they find something new and can share it.”

Mary McClory is a longtime Padua Academy educator who is in her first year as principal  at the all-girls high school in Wilmington. She said preparation paid off for the staff at Padua.

“When we started planning, one of our priorities was some type of normalcy,” McClory said. “It’s difficult to be put in a situation where who knows how long it will be.”

She said the girls still have their routine with cyber-connected morning prayer, in-house PATV and then on to classes in a regular order, many of which are held in the real-time “Google Classroom” environment.

“We shared our plan and started right away on Monday. Some teachers already feel comfortable with technology, and everyone is helping one another.”

McClory said counselors sent out a plan for seniors finalizing college plans, juniors beginning the process and resources for freshmen and sophomores. She said staff is also attentive to social and mental health needs.

“We want to do whatever we can to assist them through this surreal time.”

Sister LaVerne, retiring in June after 20 years at Christ the Teacher, said many cyber-tool education vendors are opening their portals free of charge.

“We’re using them like crazy and we’re really grateful.”

She encourages students to take time to write personal journals to remember this experience. She knows she won’t soon forget.

“I didn’t expect to go out with this kind of a bang.”