As this historic school year comes to an end, Bishop Jenky addresses Class of 2020

Ben Carroll of Kickapoo received a surprise visit from Sister Lucia Sol, SCTJM, and Sister Sara Kowal, SCTJM, principal at Peoria Notre Dame High School, on May 2. They dropped off a yard sign, letter and "air hugs" for him and his parents, Joan and Tom Carroll. Ben was one of 200 seniors honored this way by faculty and staff who were eager to make the visits, Sister Sara said. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Students in Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria are preparing to end their studies for this school year on May 15, but before they sign off from remote learning they are hearing words of thanks and praise from Bishop Daniel E. Jenky, CSC.

In a video message posted this week on the diocesan website, cdop.org, and embedded below, the bishop said he is proud of the students, as well as their principals, teachers and families for the creative ways they have met the challenge of remote learning this spring. He also expressed his hope that when the quarantine made necessary by the coronavirus is lifted, the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria would reopen with renewed vigor.

In his parting words, Bishop Jenky urged grade school and high school graduates to keep their Catholic faith alive and well, and reminded them that “having Jesus as your best friend is the center of any happy life.”

High school seniors also received a letter from Bishop Jenky, who told them, “It has been my privilege to watch each of you grow in ‘wisdom, age, and grace.'”

“As your bishop, I am very proud of your commitment to your studies and willingness to learn in an environment that is very different from what you have experienced throughout your high school years,” he wrote, acknowledging the loss of many events dear to the seniors.

The bishop retained one of those “rites of passage,” however, proclaiming this Friday, May 8, as their last day of school.

Catholic high schools have been helping to make these days special for the Class of 2020 by placing signs in their front yards or making and posting video messages on Facebook and the school websites. For the first time ever, Central Catholic High School in Bloomington is rotating the photos of its 71 graduates on the electronic sign in front of school.

Catholic elementary schools have also been honoring eighth grade graduates with yard signs and video tributes.

GRADUATION AND MORE

Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, said that while the prohibition against large gatherings makes a traditional graduation impossible this year, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education have offered a number of safe alternatives. These include virtual ceremonies, which are strongly encouraged.

Vanessa Avogo is one of 71 seniors at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington to be featured on the electronic sign in front of the school. It is the first time Central Catholic has honored seniors this way, but as principal Sean Foster said, it is a year when they aren’t able to do much of what they would normally do. (Provided photo)

Other options are drive-in events where the students and their immediate families remain in the car, exiting only for a photo at the end while maintaining social distancing from others, and drive-through ceremonies where students and immediate family members arrive at designated times and leave as soon as the student has been recognized. Individualized ceremonies were also proposed.

In Zoom meetings earlier this week, Weiss told the principals they could go ahead and plan what they would do, keeping in mind the state guidelines, and then share the information with parents.

“We also talked about end-of-the-year building access,” she told The Catholic Post. “They shared with me their plans for how they’re going to have the students pick up their personal belongings and drop off textbooks, laptops, if they borrowed them from the school, and any athletic uniforms.”

Many of them have opted to have parents drive up, return things to the school and receive their children’s belongings without entering the building, she said. Others are allowing one person per family to enter the school, maintaining a safe social distance in the process.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

“We’ve asked the principals to continue working with their teachers for the next couple of weeks, until the end of May, and then on and off throughout the summer to update and refine their e-learning plans,” Weiss said. “We’re really not certain as to how we will start the next school year. Will we start remotely? Will we be in the classrooms?”

Now is the time to plan for those scenarios so everyone will be ready to implement whatever the situation calls for.

The Office of Catholic Schools has also been working on ways to assess readiness for students to move to the next level, so the first two or three months of the new school year are not spent on reviewing material.

Weiss said schools have proposed offering academic summer camps, which may be done virtually. No sports camps may take place this year.

There are no plans for a Diocesan Catechetical Institute at this time.

In his video message to Catholic schools, Bishop Jenky encouraged students to “fall in love with learning” and continue to be students throughout their lives.

“But especially I hope you will be students in the school of Christ and see Jesus as your first and greatest teacher,” he said.

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