New school year brings excitement to Peru Catholic, brief delay in Quad Cities

Welcoming students back to Peru Catholic School on Aug. 17 is principal Julie Schmitt, who holds the door for Ainsley and Brynn Grilc. Enrollment remains steady at 166 students this year, she said. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

PERU — Some tears were shed as 3- and 4-year-old preschool pupils said goodbye to their parents and faced their first day at Peru Catholic School on Aug. 17, but it wasn’t long before backpacks were unpacked and everyone was celebrating being with friends old and new.

Pre-kindergartners Julien and Greysen Madison race to their parents Kayla and Jonathan Madison for one of many hugs before lining up outside Peru Catholic School and walking into class on Aug. 17. Principal Julie Schmitt said the preschool enrollment is up from 23 pupils last year to 35 this year. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

The scene is being repeated at the 42 Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria this month — minus the tears among the older students — as the new academic year begins.

While a few little noses escaped from masks here and there at Peru Catholic, principal Julie Schmitt said she had no doubt that all would be well in a couple weeks with reminders to keep them in place.

“I thought we were going to struggle all year having the kids keep those masks on. To be honest, it was the least of our problems,” she told The Catholic Post about last year’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy. “The kids were great about it.”

Schmitt said some of the parents were disappointed that they didn’t have a say in the decision about whether or not their children would wear a mask after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate for all schools, public and nonpublic. There was no hard pushback, however.

“Really, people have been pretty good about it. I think they understand that what we’re trying to do is just make sure everybody’s safe,” she said.


There was a case to be made for remaining vigilant earlier in the week when the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Peoria asked the four Catholic schools in the Rock Island Vicariate to delay the start of their school year. Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools, cited a positivity rate of 11 percent for COVID-19, as well as concern about high community transmission rates for the decision.

“The intent was just to keep everybody safe and healthy, and if we can slow down any transmission of the virus, that was our goal.” — Dr. Sharon Weiss

On Friday, Aug. 20, she gave permission for Alleman High School and Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island, Seton Catholic School in Moline, and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline to welcome students back the following Monday, Aug. 23.

The three grade schools, which were due to start Aug. 19, were delayed by just two days. Alleman, which had opened its doors on Aug. 16, was asked to postpone the second day of classes for four days.

As of Friday afternoon, the grade schools had started rescheduling activities, such as bringing students and families in to “unpack the backpack” and help them get comfortable with their surroundings.

By acting quickly at the beginning of the new school year, Weiss said she hoped to prevent constant interruptions in learning as the year went on.

“The intent was just to keep everybody safe and healthy, and if we can slow down any transmission of the virus, that was our goal,” she said.

Like many principals and school families around the diocese, Weiss said she rejoiced that students were returning to in-person learning.


Among the reasons to celebrate at Peru Catholic is being able to attend Mass together again, Schmitt said.

First-grader Sophia Barajas joins her classmates in praying the Our Father as the first day of the new academic year begins at Peru Catholic School on Aug. 17. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Our church is big enough we’re allowed to take everyone,” she said, with the exception of the preschool children who need more time to settle in. “Last year it just wasn’t the same. We streamed everything over here (to the school) and we only took three classes at a time. We would stream the Mass and everyone else would sit in the classroom and watch. But you just don’t get the same out of it when you’re sitting at your desk, watching it on the screen.”

In addition to the Mass being more meaningful, each class from third grade up will take a turn doing the readings on a rotating basis. The choir will be able to sing again, too.

She expects the library to get a workout now that there’s a better understanding of how COVID-19 spreads.

Another bright spot is the growing preschool enrollment at Peru Catholic, which now numbers 35 children. Schmitt attributes that to parents feeling more comfortable sending their kids to school.

Volunteers who are fully vaccinated may be in the building as long as they wear masks, and Schmitt said it would be nice to have the extra help.

One thing the 166 students have been looking forward to is having air conditioning in the classrooms for the first time.

“We’re really excited about that,” Schmitt said. “We had some really generous donors that made that possible. The City of Peru really stepped up and helped us, too, because we needed a different power line to come into the building to pull it off.”

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