Remote learning for diocesan schools to end May 15; year-end activities pending

The faculty and staff at St. Michael the Archangel School in Streator, starting with principal Emily Blumenshine, show how much they miss the students. Also taking part is Father Ryan Mattingly, parochial vicar and chaplain at Marquette Academy in Ottawa, (next to last square). Remote learning in diocesan schools will end May 15. (Provided photo)

Remote learning for Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria will end on Friday, May 15. Teachers and school administrators will use the remaining two weeks of the month to assess what worked in terms of instruction as students and their families sheltered in place, and what adjustments need to be made to the schools’ e-learning plans.

“There’s a lot of discussion and good thinking going on behind the scenes about what comes next,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools. “I ask for continued patience as we work through these scenarios that we’ve never had to work through before.”

Gov. JB Pritzker announced on April 17 that in-person classes were being suspended at schools throughout Illinois for the remainder of the academic year. The action was taken as an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Because the 42 diocesan schools are recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education, the governor’s directive applies to them, too, Weiss told The Catholic Post.

In addition to taking a survey for parents and students about their e-learning experiences, schools are being asked to share their end-of-year plans for graduations, proms, picnics and awards nights for academics and sports with the Office of Catholic Schools.

The annual Mass and luncheon to honor Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor of St. Pius X in Rock Island, as the Distinguished Pastor of the Year; Dr. Noreen Dillon of St. Mark School as the Distinguished Principal of the Year; and Jim Taber of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington as the Distinguished Teacher of the Year is being rescheduled for early in the fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year. Weiss said the decision to recognize the distinguished educators in person was a unanimous decision of the Office of Catholic Schools personnel.

GRADING SHOULD HELP

With regard to grading, Gov. Pritzker said his office and the Illinois State Board of Education were recommending that any grades given during remote learning “should deliver feedback and not be used as a tool for compliance.” In other words, a student’s academic standing cannot be negatively impacted by the switch to online learning.

“There’s obviously some inequities with technology, etc. in the homes and we have to account for that,” Weiss said, explaining that students may have had to share computers or did not have access to the internet.

That does not mean students are not being held accountable for completing their assignments. Diocesan administrators continue to follow up with students and parents who do not check in or return schoolwork as requested.

“I don’t want us to spend the first two or three months on doing nothing but review. . . . So we have to assess what they took away instructionally through the pandemic.” — Dr. Sharon Weiss

At The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, for example, the grades earned prior to spring break are the grades on which the rest of the semester will be based, said Sister M. Bridget Martin, principal, during morning announcements on the school’s website April 20.

“The idea is these grades are only supposed to be helping you,” she said. “So if you’re putting forth effort and putting your best foot forward and really trying in your classes, you will not get a grade that’s lower than it was before spring break. . . . You could improve, though, so try your best.”

Students who don’t complete any of the work assigned will receive an incomplete. To advance to the next year or to graduate, all of the work would have to be done, Sister M. Bridget explained.

“So make sure you’re keeping up with your work and trying your best and reaching out to your teachers,” she said. “We know this is a very difficult time. . . . It’s not an easy working environment, so we want to help you the best we can.”

ASSESSING READINESS

Among the things on which Weiss is consulting with her Curriculum and Instruction Council is how to make certain students are ready for the next part of their educational journeys.

“I know I have concerns,” she said, adding she is aware of the concerns others have, too.

“I don’t want us to spend the first two or three months on doing nothing but review,” she told The Catholic Post. “We know there’s going to have to be a lot of differentiated learning, depending on how the remote learning went in each of the students’ homes. So we have to assess what they took away instructionally through the pandemic.”

In the meantime, diocesan schools continue to connect with students via Google Classroom, Zoom, daily emails, Facebook videos and phone calls. Many school pastors are livestreaming school Masses in an effort to give students and their families a sense of normalcy.

For more on what your school and parish are doing, check their websites and Facebook pages.

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