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Catholic school learning continues at home

Molly and Patrick O’Leary, students at School of the Incarnation in grades kindergarten and third grade respectively, participate in at-home learning. (Courtesy School of the Incarnation)

Students across the Archdiocese of Baltimore are adjusting to at-home learning. All public schools in Maryland are closed, following an order by Gov. Larry Hogan. Archbishop William E. Lori instructed all archdiocesan schools to similarly close their campuses and suspend school activities.

At the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills, lessons have been move to the online homework platform, SOTI Studies. Similar programs for out-of-school instruction have been created at Baltimore’s other Catholic schools, supported by the Department of Catholic Schools.

“We developed two weeks of instructional resources for all schools, for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in English-language arts and math,” said Eric Watts, director of Instruction and Student Achievement for the archdiocese. “Additional science, social studies and religion resources have been provided based on need to schools. We provided online learning resources to all high schools.”

Watts said a team of eight content experts are generating resources and working with teachers.

Most students can access assignments through online platforms, but schools sent home printed materials for students who don’t have internet access, according to School of the Incarnation content expert Betsy Von Hagen.

Von Hagen worked with her colleagues at Incarnation and with Watts and his team to create instructional programs for each grade in less than a week. She is a pre-kindergarten teacher at Incarnation.

“There was a fast turnaround from when we realized we might need to move to at home learning, to we were doing at home learning,” she said. “It was a race.”

“As Catholic schools, while we’re focused on the instructional program and continuing to offer a world-class education to our families. We realize it’s not just all about math facts or reading, writing and arithmetic, it’s about the added aspect of being together in prayer,” said Incarnation principal Nancy Baker.

A student of School of the Incarnation in Gambrills is among the many Catholic school students across the Archdiocese of Baltimore participating in at-home learning. (Courtesy School of the Incarnation)

Baker called her staff and faculty’s work an “all-hands-on deck” moment. Teachers continued classroom instruction while creating lessons and activities to place on SOTI Studies. Parents were surveyed to learn about their internet and technology resources. The parishes connected to the school became local drop off points for materials.

“The whole faculty and staff team pulled together,” Baker said. “Teachers are teachers. They will rise to the occasion because that is what they do.”

Teachers are now preparing for the coming weeks. Some teachers using recorded videos and live video conferencing for instruction. Schools are preparing to get instructional packets to students who will continue to need those. Teachers are selecting instructional units that can be taught through the learning platforms. Many teachers are using social media pages to stay in touch with students, Baker said.

For some students, such as high school students who have had “cyber days” of at-home learning as part of their regular schedule, the transition to at home learning will be easier, Von Hagen said. For younger grades, parents and available family members will need to provide support.

“In these uncharted waters, it’s been really helpful to have the support from the Department of Catholic schools,” Baker said. “I think the Department of Catholic schools and our individual schools are making sure we’re connected and communicating. But at the same time, taking this situation day-by-day is so important because we don’t know how long this will last.”

Von Hagen said other teachers and content experts in the archdiocese are sharing resources and tips for providing at-home learning.

“We’re trying to provide whatever support we can to parents at home and to give kids whatever learning experiences we can from our own homes,” she said. “There are some fantastic teachers out there, and I am blown away by what teachers have done across the archdiocese.”

Baker said she wants parents to know that their children’s Catholic schools are there for them and are working to maintain community connections.

“We can do this together,” she said.

For more on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, click here