By Tina Jenkins Bell
BAPA School Liaison
In August, the five neighborhood Catholic elementary schools opened their doors for a return to face-to-face instruction after last spring’s quarantine and extended remote learning.
“We have worked hard to provide a reopening plan that recognizes the great benefits of in-school instruction and still expresses our commitment to the preservation of human life,” said Cardinal Blasé Cupich. “Even in the best of times, our schools help ensure children have good nutrition and a safe place to learn. It is even more important that families have access to these benefits during the pandemic.”
With safety in mind, principals Dr. Ann Riordan (Christ the King), Michelle Nitsche (St. Cajetan), Maura Nash (St. John Fisher), Veronica Cash (St. Walter) and Elaine Gaffney (St. Barnabas) moved forward and into uncharted territories where staggered school schedules, learning cohorts, full time nurses, plexi-glass dining pods, masks, hand washing, temperature checks, and social distancing became standard procedures.
The Villager was able to contact three of these principals to discuss their students’ return, their concerns, their victories and remaining Catholic school strong.
Is there a motto that has lifted you and your school families over the last few months?
Dr. Ann Riordan: Our motto is simply, “One day at a time,” for truly that is all we can sometimes handle with things changing so rapidly.
Michelle Nitsche: When the going gets tough in Warrior nation, we always remember we have to dig deep and stay “Warrior Strong”
Maura Nash: Together, we’ve got this!
What have been your challenges?
Riordan: Our biggest challenges are having everyone understand that their behavior outside of school directly impacts our ability to remain open to in-person learning and supporting the teachers as they continue to offer so many different modes of instruction to meet the needs of all their students. We literally have students learning from home, students learning in school, teachers instructing from home and teachers instructing in school! Teachers have a rotating roster of kids in and out of school and keeping track of who needs what makes their job more complicated.
Nash: The day to day demands of running a school well are challenging regardless of the year. However, doing so during a pandemic is like nothing else. Our days are filled with unpredictable and unplanned issues, illnesses, student and staff absences, etc. Things are happening and coming up this year which no one could have planned for. Keeping morale high for both our students and staff takes calculated communication, commitment, dedication and consistency. Every single day is important, and we treat every single day like this could be our last day in-person. Therefore we waste no time and do our absolute best to smile and laugh through it all.
What accomplishments, emanating from safely educating students during a pandemic, make you smile?
Riordan: What makes me smile each day is the true happiness students and staff experience with being together. It makes all the hard work worth it! I also am so very proud of our teachers for how adaptable they have been through all of this. They have been asked to do more than they ever bargained for, and they have done so with love, compassion and professionalism that truly makes me proud to be their colleague!
Nitsche: What makes me smile most is that we accomplished what so many people told us we couldn’t! I often tell my staff that they should be proud of their accomplishments as they are part of an educational model that will be remembered throughout history. Another one of our greatest victories is that we are giving our students the personal, face to face instruction that we know they are most responsive to. Even with the bumps in the road, we sometimes experience, our children are not missing any instructional minutes!
Nash: I am beyond proud of our professional, loving and adaptable faculty and staff and our wonderfully smart, resilient and fun students. Both groups alike come to school every single day with a grateful heart and a smile on their face – eager to learn together. We are so fortunate to be in-person together and not a day goes by that we don’t remind one another of that.
As a proactive safety measure, following the Christmas holiday all Catholic school students will learn remotely and self-quarantine for two weeks before the planned school reopening on Jan. 19.