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Back to School: Whatever the Future Holds, There is a Plan

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by Sharon Civitello

Community Support

What will going back to school look like? Will young students keep a mask on all day if required? Will they stay six feet apart? Holy Family School Principal Katie Puthoff and school nurse Jessica Grover agree it can work if expectations are clear and behavior is modeled by adults. “Kids are resilient,” said Puthoff. “They never fail to rise to our expectations.”

One thing is certain: leadership has been busy planning for a safe, effective and welcoming learning environment for 2,300 students enrolled in the 10 parish schools supported by CISE (Catholic Inner-city Schools Education Fund). Whatever the future holds, there is a plan.

“For 40 years the Cincinnati community has been supportive of CISE,” said Mabe Rodriguez, executive director. “Once again, the community has stepped up to help us navigate the ‘new normal’ during the COVID pandemic. We have been meeting with CPS (Cincinnati Public School) Superintendent Laura Mitchell, Steve Muething, Chief Quality Officer at Cincinnati Children’s [Hospital], Cincinnati Bell, and LaSoupe. We are excited and grateful to be working with so many willing partners.”

“Our first priority,” Rodriguez said, “is the health and safety of our scholars.” Jessica Grover, who leads coordination between the CISE schools and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said, “I’ve been very impressed with CISE and the forethought and planning that has gone into fall preparation. With clear guidelines from the governor and the CDC, we can create our plan and provide resources.”

Remote vs. Face-to-Face Learning

Parents, children, educators and doctors are all in agreement that at least some in-person learning is needed for children’s development and social skills Distance learning is especially challenging for children in low-income families. Many are single-parent families. Most are in service industries where working from home is not an option. Technology in the home is limited or nonexistent. Older children often care for younger siblings. CISE school principals have been meeting regularly to share best practices and problem solve.

Teachers, students and families learned much from the spring closures. Chromebooks were sent home and teachers received Google Classroom and distance learning training.

“With CISE support, I was able to reach 100 percent of my students in a focused one-hour meeting every day,” said Michelle Frey, second grade teacher at Holy Family. “It was nothing short of miraculous!”

Students were given time to chat live with their friends facilitating both socialization and writing practice. Virtual field trips to the San Diego Zoo and art museum added adventure.

“It gave me a sense of security to be able to check in on them,” said Frey. “I think I needed this connection as much as they did.”

Frey is hopeful. “We look forward to being back with the kids. Every scenario is being considered” she said. “I’ll do what it takes. We have the virtual thing down. This summer, I’ve taken online classes to be even better prepared. Nothing is being ruled out…even if I have to give lessons on their front porch!”

The New Normal

Going forward, schools need to imagine a new normal. In a recent meeting with Muething and four team members from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, CISE educators learned what that would look like. The top priorities for a safer environment are distancing, masking, hand hygiene and cleaning. They discussed practical and fun ways to implement these critical safety measures. “You have given us a lot to consider,” said Jennifer O’Brien, St. William principal. “The presentation made it easier to think about our reopening plan.”

We will come out better on the other side,” said Puthoff. “Google Classroom has opened up big opportunities. Children will be in different places academically depending on their distance learning experience. We will meet each child where they are.”

Lauren Clements, principal at Corryville Catholic, said, “Kids want to be in school and are willing to follow the rules to make it happen.” Some schools are researching live-stream technology to bring class into the home if a child is not able to attend for health reasons. Clements will offer computer classes for parents to help monitor school work.

Principals are prepared. CISE is partnering with Cincinnati Bell to provide internet access for those in need and working to procure personal protective equipment. Compliance will require additional classroom staff and transportation accommodations.

In a year when donations are expected to decrease, expenses will most certainly increase. If you can help, contact Debbie Weitz at [email protected] or (513)661-8156 or visit CISEKids.org.

This article originally appeared in the August Issue of The Catholic Telegraph. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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