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Technology, creativity link teachers, students during coronavirus school closure

Kindergarten students from Our Lady of Fatima School in Seattle meet via Zoom for distance learning while school is closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Courtesy Our Lady of Fatima School Kindergarten students from Our Lady of Fatima School in Seattle meet via Zoom for distance learning while school is closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Courtesy Our Lady of Fatima School

During the coronavirus-caused school closures, Catholic schools around the Archdiocese of Seattle are working hard to make sure their students stay engaged and keep learning.

Teachers are using technology to create and share lessons with their students, turning to tools like Google Meet and Classroom, Zoom, FlipGrid and iMovie, said Becki Hundt, principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Vancouver.

“Even our specialists are in on the action with PE, band, library, and Spanish presenting their curriculum in a distance-based format,” she wrote in an email.

And some of the usual events of the school day are continuing — OLL students are taking turns recording videos of the morning announcements and prayer, which Hundt then sends by email to the entire school community. “Our kids have even had ‘recess’ with each other via Google Meet as a way to stay connected as peers,” she wrote.

At Our Lady of Fatima School in Seattle, teachers are relying on the Zoom video app to connect with their students. “We have had teachers livestream their lessons, record them and post to YouTube,” said Principal Nicholas Ford. Students, he said, “have been eager to socialize and have fun with each other.”

Teachers at St. Patrick School in Tacoma are doing “heroic work,” Principal Chris Gavin said in an email. That includes re-imagining what good instruction looks like, the pacing of the lessons and noticing kids’ emotional needs, he said.

Every teacher is involved in helping students learn at home. So besides the usual academic subjects, “our PE teacher sent a week’s worth of exercises inside and out,” Gavin wrote. “The music teacher sent music videos for kids to relax with” and the art teacher sent optional projects that kids can create with things typically available at home.

The first week was a learning experience for everyone, Gavin noted. “We are simply easing into it knowing that this can be overwhelming to kids and parents alike,” he wrote.

Kristin Dixon, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools, said in an email that teachers are learning to “calibrate and consider how much to give parents, who oftentimes are working from home as well.”

“We find that our success is in our willingness to collaborate and learn from one another — school to school, teacher to parent, parent to parent,” she added.

School communities pull together

For Our Lady of Fatima students, distance learning days are structured differently, depending on the class level, Ford said.

“K–5 students receive the daily tasks in the morning and have received a sample schedule to follow to help with pacing,” he said. The schedule for middle school students “more closely resembles their day-to-day schedule if they were in the building, with hour-long blocks assigned to core academic areas being covered daily,” he explained.

At St. Patrick’s, different apps for learning are selected according the age of the students, said Gavin, the principal.

For instance, Seesaw is being used for students through fourth grade, Gavin said. “We might send a picture of a worksheet for math or spelling, pre-record reading a book and then sending a simple question for them to answer.”

“It has been fun seeing their creativity shine,” first-grade teacher April Nagel said in a letter to parents, “and I have absolutely loved all of the sweet messages, videos and pictures that they have shared.”

Older students at St. Patrick’s are using Google Classroom, which includes Google Hangouts for daily instruction, typing in their questions or, “when all hell breaks loose, they talk through their microphones,” Gavin said.

Distance teaching and learning can be a challenge, the educators acknowledged, praising the way their school communities are pulling together.

“I’m amazed at how hard our staff, parents, and students are willing to work in these pretty trying circumstances,” Hundt said. “We are blessed to have an amazingly strong and close-knit community that is willing to work together (albeit socially distant) in order to keep us together,” she said.

Ford noted that “Catholic schools are far more than academic institutions — we are families,” he said, “and families need to be able to laugh and cry and pray together.”

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