From School to Screen

Photo: St. Martin School in Gaithersburg, MD, via Twitter

Moving 54 elementary schools online in a matter of days takes a lot of work, but Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were online as soon as schools were ordered closed as part of state health precautions.

 “We took off and started distance learning immediately. Our families deserve the same quality of education whether the campuses are closed or not,” said Vicky McCann, Director for Curriculum and Instruction for the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools.

Technology that already was in place (with iPad or laptop loans made to families where needed), ongoing training for teachers, parent surveys, and flexibility by principals, teachers, and parents have been key factors in making the transition a success, McCann said. Data collection and assessment have helped schools adapt as the online experience has continued.

“There were some bumps,” said Ms. McCann. “We figured out what was working and not working. Now, we have a system down and the schools are really taking off.”

For example, live classes are recorded so students who are not able to attend at the scheduled time can watch later, projects may include offline and online options, and teachers are encouraged to schedule assignments so students can work over a weekend. This has turned out to be important with the complexity of family schedules during "stay in place."

She said schools continue to share daily announcements, celebrate birthdays and follow traditions they already had. The day and classes start with prayers, and religions classes continue to be held.

“We have to give thanks to our priests. They’ve been offering online Masses for the children,” Ms. McCann noted, as well as leading online Stations of the Cross and praying the rosary with students.

Community service is an important part of the day, also. Students at Cardinal Hickey Academy in Owings worked on thank you notes for first responders this week, and the principal at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring not only is overseeing an online school, but also is coordinating food distribution for low-income families.

It’s all part of what a Catholic school community offers. As Ms. McCann said, “None of this could have been possible without our teachers and parents.”

The Catholic schools in the Maryland portion of the Archdiocese of Washington make up Maryland's 13th largest school system, public or private. The Archdiocese is home to 92 archdiocesan and independent schools in five Maryland counties and Washington, DC.