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Catholic High enables uninterrupted learning

Looking back at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Catholic High School of Baltimore was in a stronger position than most when it came to carrying out its mission amid  social distancing measures and shutdown orders issued in March 2020.

Before that, the leadership of the all-girls high school – Dr. Barbara Nazelrod, president, and Sharon Johnston, principal – had met to confront reality of virtual learning. Johnston acknowledged a third party to that meeting, “our guiding light”: Kelly McDonald, then a first-year instructional technology and theology instructor.

“Mrs. McDonald sprang into action,” Johnston recounted. “She began offering tech classes to our teachers during the school day and at the end of the day too.”

Catholic High closed its doors to in-person learning last March 13, when McDonald led teachers during a professional development day to finalize their remote instruction skills  and Johnston said, be “fully prepared to teach remotely for as long as needed.”

“I felt that I was doing my job,” said McDonald, 55, a parishioner of St. Margaret  in Bel Air who came to Catholic High after 30 years teaching at its parish school, where she was the first to use an LCD monitor and among the first to have a teacher website.

She observed that the sheer number of available online teaching tools “can be super overwhelming. … I identified maybe five or six applications (that) I thought we would try to focus on teaching the teachers.”

In addition to Zoom and Google Classrooms, there are other tools such as Flipgrid, Edpuzzle and Nearpod,  which enrich learning in the physical classroom as well as a remote situation.

Such enhancements were bonuses. The big accomplishment, McDonald said, was that “we did not miss a day of school” following the governor’s shutdown orders, with the exception of that faculty in-service.

As March wore on, McDonald would walk her neighborhood, cell phone in hand, fielding calls from her colleagues and addressing snags, an ongoing process.

“The biggest drive for us was that we wanted to make sure we were maintaining student engagement,” McDonald said, “because it’s very easy for students to get lost in this environment. A teacher can share their screen, and the girls are watching – maybe. You ask a question, and you get the same five or six students raising their hands. In Zoom, it’s worse.”

Under McDonald’s direction, Catholic High bought a subscription to Nearpod. The tool, McDonald said, enables teachers to insert a few multiple-choice questions into their presentations, allowing for a real-time comprehension and engagement check for all students.

On Feb. 10, the school will use videoconferencing technology to allow 40 biomedical students to watch a live heart transplant procedure through the “Live from Surgery: Heart Transplant Edition Videoconference” in partnership with Liberty Science Center in New Jersey.  Students will be able to ask questions of the surgical team in real time at all stages of the procedure. 

A graduate of The John Carroll School in Bel Air, McDonald earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. She spent her first 10 years at St. Margaret School teaching fourth grade, and moved to technology instruction after taking some courses through the Archdiocese of Baltimore. She received her educational technology certification from Goucher College in Towson.

McDonald and her husband, Patrick, live in Bel Air with their children. Their daughter, Patsy, is a junior at Catholic High, and their son, Max, is a senior  at Archbishop Curley High School, also in Baltimore.

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