Archdiocese explains its distance learning efforts as schools remain closed by COVID-19 pandemic


As local Catholic schools remain closed at this time in accordance with government restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Schools Office has launched the third of its three-part distance learning protocol to continue what the archdiocesan secretary for Catholic schools called “the yeoman efforts of our administrators and educators throughout the archdiocese” to teach students during the COVID-19 pandemic.“The comprehensive plan provides varied and diverse resources, and methods of instruction, in order to support the academic needs of each child,” said William Ryan, the secretary for Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. “In addition, the plan includes operational elements to assist school leaders in meeting fiscal and enrollment management responsibilities, which all support and maintain the vitality of their schools.”The three-phase teaching plan was outlined in a late April communication to parents. The first phase included technological assessments of schools and a strategy for communicating with parents and delivering academic instructions remotely. The second phase, which Ryan said would “provide meaningful learning and faith formation for our students,” included expanding ways to connect with students and would serve “students’ spiritual needs by providing opportunities for them to pray, worship, and learn about our faith.”“With the decision announced by government leaders that school campuses in Maryland and the District of Columbia would remain closed beyond April 24, 2020, our schools transitioned into Phase 3 of our distance-learning plan on April 27, 2020,” Ryan explained.The third phase, Ryan said in his communication to parents, includes expanding remote learning and the way it is delivered “to consider the status of standardized testing and the prioritization of the use of instructional time that considers the critical academic standards for each grade level. “ Ryan pointed out that “in late February 2020, when the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) became more pervasive in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the Catholic Schools Office and the school leadership of the archdiocesan schools, immediately reverted to [the] pre-designed and comprehensive plan to ensure the faith formation, academics, and overall education of our students would not be interrupted.”On March 13, after social distancing regulations and self quarantine requirements were adopted by local governments in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Catholic schools closed their campuses, as did their public counterparts. That day, the archdiocese implemented the distance learning plan.“Without interruption in instruction, our teachers, with support from families, have engaged our students in what is now unprecedented and innovative faith formation and academic instruction,” Ryan said. “Prayer, as a focal point of daily instruction, has been a wonderful motivator for many students.”Ryan also pointed out that in addition to the learning plan, the “the social and emotional well being of our students has been a very high priority (of the Catholic Schools Office) during the pandemic.”“The efforts of our school counselors have been integral to supporting students and families as they experience direct and indirect exposures to COVID-19,” Ryan said in his communication. He pointed out that counselors are available to help students adapt to distance learning, cope with missing friends and even deal with “the devastation of losing a family member.”“Reaching out with personal phone calls to parents, coordinating online lunch bunches to maintain a sense of community, providing story times and social-emotional skills lessons, participating in student/ teacher conferences to support struggling students and grief counseling are compassionately managed by our counselors,” he said. In addition, Ryan notified parents that “grading in our distance-learning plan will look slightly different in the final quarter of the school year.” Students in pre-kindergarten through the third grade will continue to have the regular progress reporting, but there will also be an option for an “incomplete” marking for students who had problems accessing technology and thus unable to complete their schoolwork. Fourth- through eighth=grade students will receive a “pass” if academic standard are met and an “incomplete” if work needs to be resubmitted. Final grades will be calculated by considering grades in the first three quarters of the school year and the quality of work in the fourth quarter.As the Catholic schools operate under the third and final phase of remote education plan, Ryan said that Catholic schools “are exploring programs to support students during the summer months. In compliance with government policies in regards to COVID-19, our schools will support students’ transition back to campus-based instruction in the fall. “Ryan told parents he was detailing the distance learning plan and outlining what the Catholic Schools Office has been doing as a way to “encourage you and reinforce your confidence in our schools during these challenging times. I believe that our families and teachers have and will continue to show an amazing perseverance, imbued with faith, that we will all get through this together.”