“Schools are not simply going to be back in September, they’re going to be better than back.”
That was the assessment of archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Deegan, about the April 27 announcement that the Catholic schools in the archdiocese plan to be open for a full five days a week of in-person instruction for all students beginning in September, as long as health directives from federal, state and local county health agencies allow, and the community infection rate remains at appropriate levels amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This will eliminate the need for hybrid learning or remote classes next school year. Before and after care programs will also begin at the start of the new school year.
“It’s our expectation that we’ll be able to reopen in September, as we did this past September,” Deegan told CNY in a May 3 phone interview.
All Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York have been open for in-person learning five days a week since last September, with a limited number of schools operating on a hybrid model due to space considerations.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York state publish specific regulations, recommendations and guidance, the schools will adapt their plans to ensure compliance with federal, state and local officials.
Deegan credits “the unwavering partnership of our Health & Safety Task Force, parents and students with our devoted pastors, principals and teachers” for the successful return.
“Academically and technologically, we’re going to be introducing revolutionary and state-of-the-art opportunities for our students in September.”
The social and emotional burdens and strains children have experienced throughout Covid-19 have been significant, the superintendent of schools explained. In addition to the resources provided to students and the training teachers have received since September, new programs will further support the social, emotional welfare and well-being of children.
One such program, through a partnership with the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, is Kognito, a virtual simulation that role plays various mental health crises and issues that children experience and trains teachers of eighth-graders and high school students on adaptive response and adaptive intervention.
The program, to be rolled out in September, “is going to be particularly relevant on the high school end of it with respect to suicide prevention,” Deegan said.
Guidance and clinical services will be expanded for all elementary students.
Throughout Covid, engagement of parents, in a supportive role, has been enhanced “with our schools and with our students and with their learning,” the superintendent of schools said.
An opt-in text messaging program will be offered to parents of pre-k and kindergarteners through fourth-graders. The research-based program from Stanford University essentially provides a “text of the day,” age-appropriate supports that parents can employ with their children. Links to a multiplicity of websites and parent engagement supports and resources are included.
An after-school intervention and enrichment program will benefit all students, pre-k through eighth grade. In addition, an extended learning school year will be provided. “Even this summer, we’re going to have thousands of our children attending—it used to be called summer school, it’s now called extended learning school year,” Deegan said.
“Just as on the social and emotional side we have strategies in place for next year,” so too the academic interventions “are basically both in terms of bridging the gap and closing the gap, as well as providing enrichment to all of our students, including those that are advanced.”
The summer learning experience, Deegan explained, includes a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) program.
A collaboration with Discovery Education—which currently includes ELA and math—next year will include virtual curriculums for science, kindergarten through eighth grades and social studies, sixth through eighth grades.
“This is a precursor to the implementation of the newly revised state curriculum on science and social studies,” Deegan said.
Another addition is a Google Site resource for teachers and principals, pre-k through eighth grades, “a one-stop library of materials” to support teaching and learning, Deegan said. “We created this. This is a one-of-a-kind that was instituted by the Superintendent’s Office,” he added.
“It’s a very user-friendly program...It’s congruent with the curriculum and the syllabus and the teaching and professional development that we have been providing.”
Hosted by Google, Deegan explained, “there’s no other Catholic school system in the country that has done this, so we’re proud of that.”
It enables teachers planning their weekly lessons, “as they look ahead...if they need a resource on a particular topic, we have that available and they can...access that topic,” Deegan said.
What a difference a year makes.
“Last summer, we were very worried about our schools,” Deegan conceded. “We were worried about our finances. We were worried about our enrollment.”
Because of all the work the principals and pastors accomplished “with our support,” Deegan said, “our schools have emerged stronger than they were before the pandemic.”
Enrollment is up, he said. “Our projected enrollment for the start of the year is better than it was two or three years ago.”
“It’s a recognition on the part of families—both our current families and families considering Catholic schools—that we have been ahead of the curve, we continue to be ahead of the curve...
“When we come back in September, the programs that we’re going to be providing are going to be state-of-the-art.”
Further illustrating the significance of this past year, Deegan shared sentiments from a parent with whom he spoke on the phone a month ago. “Frankly, what she said to me was, in my world, the pandemic never hit my daughter because of the way in which the schools were run during the course of the year. Teaching was happening, learning was happening. My daughter Rebecca was safe, and in her mind going to school was no different than it would have been before the pandemic.”
Deegan said it is his “hope and prayer” that decades from now, the children and parents who attended and participated in the Catholic schools of the archdiocese “look back with gratitude on how hard the Church worked to keep our schools open and thriving.”
“And I would also hope that they would repay the Church by their participation in the Church and in its community service to others.”