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A Pandemic School Year: Catholic Schools Across Western and Southwestern Ohio Rise to the Challenge.

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The 2020-21 school year began in earnest with students, teachers and parents yearning for learning to go back to the classroom, but everyone knew things would be different and all would have to do their part to stay on campus.

“It was tough in the beginning, but it has gotten easier,” admitted Lena Hudson, a fifth-grader at Cardinal Pacelli School in Cincinnati, about the new protocols.

Armed with lessons learned from the spring shutdown, along with a few summer months to reset, relearn and rethink both remote and in-person education, principals at many schools throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati feel they have gotten it right – and it shows. Andrew Arn, principal of St. Michael School in Ripley, compared the difference between the spring and fall sessions as “night and day.”

“I believe we are teaching at a higher level now and are able to reach all students better than we did in the spring,” Arn said.

Blane Collison, principal of Bishop Fenwick High School in Cincinnati, said the biggest challenge has been “ensuring that all areas of the schools and its facilities are able to be sanitized,” and commended students for adhering to the protocols and adapting to changes in routines.

“I think students, teachers and parents [realize] the importance of the sense of family and community that we have displayed throughout this difficult time,” said Collison.

“Planning all summer truly made the difference as we began the 2020-2021 school year,” said Susan Gibbons, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “Our Catholic schools have tailored learning to their own unique communities. They are in constant communication with local health departments and doing their best to partner with families to ensure the health and safety of all their students.”

Terri Cento, principal of Cardinal Pacelli School, said the current school year has been “fantastic” compared to last spring. She spent many hours during the summer studying the layout of the campus to plan for social distancing during daily instruction, a situation that involved placing privacy shields and plexiglass around both students’ and teachers’ desks.

“The students were so happy returning to school and getting back to normal that I have not heard any complaints except for wearing masks at recess and P.E. classes,” said Cento.

“Masks are definitely not my favorite accessory,” said Ava Folk, an eighth-grader and student council vice-president at Cardinal Pacelli, who admitted her biggest problem with masks was remembering to bring one. “There have been many times I have forgotten a mask and had to use a clean one of my mom’s. Luckily, we always keep extra masks in the car!”

Some of the lessons learned, according to both principals and students, include working together, constant communication, patience and flexibility. Bishop Fenwick High senior class president Carter Earls said he also learned how to prioritize and “embrace life to the fullest,” especially during times of “overwhelming challenges.”

“I really do believe that you learn the best lessons through adversity,” said Earls. “So, I think, ultimately, the class of 2021 will be stronger and better for it.”

“I think we all appreciate our many blessings even more,” said Arn. “I have seen our community come together despite the world seemingly falling apart over this time. We are a rural school, and I have seen neighbors checking on each other, and showing true compassion for each other. Within our school, I have seen teachers all at different places in their careers work together and learn from each other. There has been a lot of growth, particularly over the past few months. I have seen a change in students as well. They have a real sense of urgency.”

This article appeared in the January 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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