Going the Distance
The Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New York, like most other educational institutions in the region, shut down in-person services in spring 2020. Quickly adapting to the needs of the moment, they went to a distance learning model for the remainder of the 2019–2020 academic year. Over the summer they offered virtual “extended learning” opportunities to students, and in the fall they came roaring back (with all due precautions) with full-time in-person instruction. Superintendent Michael Deegan is determined to keep schools open as long as students, staff and community can be kept safe.
We asked Mr. Deegan and some other Catholic Schools leaders to tell us what we’ve learned and what’s in store.
Michael Deegan | Superintendent We learned how resilient our school community can be. We were able to transition an entire system to successful distance learning and then return safely to in-person learning in the fall, even though the pandemic was still ongoing. Zoom teaching, classrooms that mix remote with in-person students, effective instruction and socialization while maintaining six feet between all parties – these things became second nature.
Michael Deegan Everyone stepped up. Pastors, principals, staff, parents and students worked tirelessly to safely reopen schools – and keep them open by promoting and regulating responsible behaviors both in and outside of the buildings. As a result, Catholic schools reopened and had only a .003% Covid-positivity rate as of late November.
Patrick Sitzer | Curriculum and Assessment Associate Preparing archdiocesan students for success in the 2020–21 school year began in the summer, when more than 3,000 students participated in the virtual Extended Learning Year program. For the fall semester, we carried the model over into an after-school and weekend program, offering students three extra hours of small-group instruction to build and strengthen mathematics, literacy and STEM skills.
Maria Cardone | Curriculum Analyst We have established a number of new virtual communication and training tools. Our regional conferences focus on topics such as efficient use of digital platforms, best practices in the realm of hybrid teaching and learning, and strengthening feedback between teachers and students.
We also continue to invest in teachers through professional development sessions with coaching specialists to support teacher innovation. And we are offering parent workshops revolving around technology, social-emotional learning, English language arts and mathematics.
Michael Deegan The pandemic has created many challenges, but it hasn’t kept our students from serving their extended communities. For example, the boys of St. Raymond’s High School are still cleaning local parks across the Bronx as well as offering virtual tutoring sessions to Catholic elementary school students. The Ursuline School’s Serviam Food Drive marches on, with a few new precautions. It’s an important acknowledgment that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.
The Road Ahead
Michael Coppotelli | Senior Associate Superintendent The Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New York are determined to maintain the gains of recent years in student performance. We have consistently been outperforming the public schools in test scores, and we plan to keep it up.
One of the secrets of our success – aside from great teachers and principals and, of course, brilliant students – has been the adoption of data-driven instruction programs such as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), which gathers information on each student’s progress, both in-person and remote, so we can ensure they don’t fall behind academically. This fall, nearly 2,000 students across our system successfully participated in MAP.
One area of concern as we move forward is the social and emotional fallout from the pandemic and the economic problems that will remain after the virus eventually subsides. The Archdiocese of New York Drug Abuse Prevention Program (ADAPP) is ever-present in our Catholic schools – now more than ever – offering counseling to students and faculty as well as providing materials to help the Catholic schools community through this difficult time.
Sr. June Clare Tracey, OP, EdD | Executive Director, Office of Catholic Identity We’re also doing our part to keep people connected to their faith. We will continue to engage students through in-school virtual Masses as well as socially distanced Masses in the actual church, when possible. The pastors of the archdiocese also remain committed to the students in the Catholic schools. In combination with our strong religious curriculum, they will see to it that students continue their spiritual growth.