Long-Distance Learning in the Saginaw Diocese’s Catholic Schools

There is plenty of innovation and creative learning going on even though Catholic School students in the Saginaw Diocese are home-bound because of the Coronavirus. There are virtual band practices, science experiments using simple ingredients found at home, virtual fundraisers and even virtual Spirit Week events. Teachers are using a variety of online platforms to deliver daily lessons including Zoom, Google Classrooms, online chats, videos and audio programs.

“Our goal is to allow students to complete state and national standards, maintain a sense of normalcy and have students connect with their classmates,” said Laura Wilkowski, principal at St. Brigid Catholic School in Midland.”

Daniel Decuf, principal at Nouvel Catholic Central High School, said he is impressed by how quickly teachers and students adapted to virtual learning. “With less than 24-hours to prepare and with high levels of uncertainty, our team has remained calm and focused on what could be done to best help our students,” he said.

“It has been our goal to continue the Catholic community atmosphere, even in a distant setting,” Decuf added.

Parents, who have always had a significant impact on their children’s Catholic education, have new responsibilities as schools remain closed until the end of the school year.

“Our parents remain very involved and committed to their student’s success,” Decuf said. “We have been working with parents to ensure that their students have the resources and support they need to succeed in this new environment.”

Jodi McFarland Friedman, a mother of four who has two children attending St. Brigid School, said home schooling has been an adventure, and not a bad one. She considers herself “support staff” in working with her fifth-grade son. “His teacher is still carrying the water,” Friedman said. That includes detailed lessons, replies to emails throughout the day and the organization of keeping fifth graders on task. “Teachers are keeping a cool demeanor.  They are not showing how much they are sweating to make this look easy,” Friedman said.

Ava Friedman, eighth-grade daughter of Jodi and Eric Friedman, also complimented her teachers. She said they’ve planned what will be the most effective method of teaching, doing self-paced work. “My favorite is definitely math because it’s more interactive. We do practice problems on share screen in Zoom, raise your hand online. It’s more fun. It keeps me entertained.” Although she misses her classmates, sports and school celebrations she feels connected.

“I feel like the teachers really care about me. They’re really sweet with saying if anybody just needs to talk, set up an email or Zoom call.  They know this time feels incredibly isolating.”

Meanwhile, parents who are struggling with the electronic delivery also are being supported.  Wilkowski said she and her staff have helped families understand the electronic learning process, helped families get connected to the internet and more. “We check in as a staff because we care,” Wilkowski said.

Sister Philomena, Interim school building leader at Our Lady of Lake Huron School, said their staff also had to consider that some parents still work, some do not have technology in their home or are not available to assist their children. “We had to develop a plan that could help our students but not leave any of them behind,” she said. There is a one-day-each-week pick up and drop off of assignments at the school. “Good communication is a key factor.”

Besides continuing the high standards and academic rigor that distinguish a Catholic education, the schools have provided multiple opportunities for students to stay connected to their faith. “It is important for the students to turn to faith during times of anxiety and trouble,” Wilkowski said, explaining that emails and the parish website provide prayers and reflections.

Sister Mary Philomena said religious instruction now involves the whole family and goes beyond praying together. She said there are family discussions and opportunities to reach out to others during the pandemic. The school leaders also turned to their faith as they met the challenges of delivering instruction in a self-isolating environment.

“We knew that with the grace of God this could be done,” Sister Mary Philomena said.

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