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The Final Word with Susan Gibbons

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Serving the Archdiocese of Cincinnati as superintendent of Catholic schools, I could never have imagined the effects a global pandemic would have on our nation, state and Catholic schools. On Mar. 12, when Governor Mike DeWine announced statewide school closures, I was stunned, taking a very deep breath and instantly wondering how our schools could continue to deliver a quality Catholic education to the 40,000 children in our care.

The answer was simple: Our Catholic schools never stopped functioning. Our school leaders instantly planned for their unique schools, and even though the classroom took on many new variations, Catholic education continued. Our teachers sprang into action and decided how to creatively meet the needs of our students. Many schools utilized technology. Some schools used a combination of technology and written assignments, while others used worksheets teachers developed overnight with a drop-off and pick-up system. Schools even altered graduation ceremonies so students and their families could still celebrate. It was amazing, if not miraculous.

In July, Governor DeWine issued the order to reopen schools in Ohio. Our Catholic school leaders anticipated reopening because they had worked all summer forming committees of experts to re-imagine their facilities and ensure the safety of all. Schools developed ways to communicate, following health and safety guidelines in conjunction and in partnership with local health departments. Even athletics and extra-curricular activities changed so they could begin and continue.

Our Catholic schools experienced few cases of the virus among students. Staff members adjusted to students both in and out of the classrooms by thinking creatively so all students could learn during these extraordinary times. Miraculously, as many schools closed because of illness and exposure, few of our Catholic schools did.

We are deep into winter and now have the added variable of flu season on top of COVID-19. As in all things, when times are hardest, there are lessons to be learned.

Our Catholic schools have persevered and our children have, in fact, adjusted beautifully, wearing masks and socially distancing as if this were always the routine, demonstrating the resilience of children. Parents and children have partnered more closely with our Catholic schools because, in order to remain open, everyone must work together. Our teachers and staff members have worked long hours, and their dedication to the mission of our schools is an outstanding example for all of us. Catholic school leaders have dedicated themselves to pivot on a moment’s notice if the pandemic takes yet another twist or turn.

More than anything, we all learned that our Catholic faith makes all things possible. In the entrance to most of our Catholic schools is a sign that says: Be it known to all who enter here that CHRIST is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever-present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students.

Maybe, I just needed a wake-up call to appreciate everything that was always right in front of me. I’ve taken so much for granted. A “thank you” will never be enough to express my appreciation and awe of the many people who did the heavy lifting of teaching our children when it was, even theoretically, all but impossible.

Thank you to all who make Catholic education possible, and happy Catholic Schools Week!

SUSAN GIBBONS is the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She began her career as a teacher at Archbishop Alter High School, then spent 30 years at Seton High Schoo,l where she served as a teacher, department chair, associate principal and principal. She attended the College of Mt. St. Joseph and then Xavier University, where she earned her B.A. in mathematics and M.Ed. in secondary education. Susan enjoys music and volunteering to assist the elderly at a local nursing home.

This article appeared in the January 2020 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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