Distance learning keeps schools communities connected both socially and spiritually

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PROVIDENCE — As another week of distance learning begins for Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Providence, students, teachers and parents share their experience as education transitions out of the classroom and into the home — and the overall mood is optimistic.

In Wakefield, The Prout School community had been preparing for distance learning for the past few weeks, launching “Prout at Home” shortly after closure, said Principal David Estes.

“The keys for us were to ensure that we maintain as much of the personalized attention and faith-based feel of our school through this new medium. We feature a Friday student support day where guidance counselors, academic support, campus ministry and college counseling service are available. Already, we have learned so much. Teachers have shared online approaches with each other and our parents and students have been very positive through the transition.”

Estes explained that the school’s chaplain, Father Carl Fisette and Lily Arujo, campus minister, are also working to further digital means to provide the community ways to share their faith online.

“While we hope and pray that we can return to our own beautiful campus, we are learning more ways every day to maintain our community through Prout at Home.”

Christine Smith, a Prout School parent, shared her gratitude to the school for a seamless transition, adding that teachers have been wonderful with their directives and communication.

“It has made what could have been such a stressful situation so much easier,” said Smith. “It is greatly appreciated. We are reminded every day that The Prout School was the right choice for our daughter.”

Senior Melina Cabral, a student at St. Mary Academy – BayView, in Riverside, misses having lunch with her friends and taking part in her after school sports, but she remains hopeful and focused, encouraging others to stay active to help relieve anxieties.

“I’m really grateful that I’m still able to talk to my friends over FaceTime, and all my coaches have been so helpful in sending me workouts to stay in shape. I think it’s really important to keep your body moving and sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to get up and exercise by yourself. It can be as simple as 10 push-ups and 10 sit-ups, to even a dance workout on YouTube. Anything you do to move your body and to stay active and in shape will help you feel better, and not just about yourself, but about your situation as well.”

As for her schooling, she feels that BayView has been extremely prepared for distance learning.

“Right from day one everything has ran smoothly, and the teachers have been thoroughly prepared. It’s good to know that there won’t be any chaos if we do have to finish the year through distance learning. I feel good saying that I know I’m prepared and ready.”

“Virtual learning has really broken up our normal routine and I personally have found it easier to understand lessons more in depth. And now that we have Fridays off, I feel that I’m able to put more time and effort into my assignments and really work to the best of my ability.”

Mary Ann Snider, BayView’s dean of academics, said the academy began planning for virtual learning in early February in an act of “it's better to have and not need.”

“We were prepared when our governor closed schools and began implementing virtual learning when other schools were exercising an early April vacation. We are thrilled with how our teachers, staff, students and families are working in partnership to keep our community together despite the physical distance.”

Students continue to engage with their teachers in an atypical, yet typical schedule, explained Snider, proceeding through their regular class schedule virtually. The school uses technology fully to bring students together for instruction, discussion, sharing work and general camaraderie.

“Everyone misses being together, so these opportunities have taken on more importance in the rhythm of our days. We are equally concerned with our girls' social, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Matt and Janine Neves, both serve the community as healthcare professionals, and are the parents of BayView fifth-grader Mekayla. They shared that they are happy with the progress their daughter is making every day.

“The teachers have been so dedicated and helpful, not only to Mekayla but to us as parents,” said Janine Neves.

“We feel so blessed that we are able to share this quality time together. With all the chaos going on in our community we look forward to having dinner every night with Mekayla. Due to the virus we had to put our weekly family night dinners with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on hold. We look forward to returning to get-togethers again when it is safe for all of us. We all hope and pray that will be sooner rather than later.”

Patrick McNabb, principal of Our Lady of Mercy School in East Greenwich, told R.I. Catholic that the OLM community has stepped up tremendously to ensure that instruction continues to move forward.

“Because of everyone’s dedication, our students can still strive to be saints and scholars, even at home,” said McNabb. “Their solidarity with one another has been inspiring to see, and is helping our students to make it through this time even stronger than they were before.”

In a message to OLM families on March 25, McNabb thanked the school community for their strength and perseverance during this time.

“We know well that so many of you are being pulled in multiple directions trying to juggle many responsibilities all at once. And yet, with all of the circumstances against us, this is working. Together we will continue to meet the challenges that face us and together we will walk away from them stronger.”

Meghan Martelli, advancement and enrollment coordinator at Saint Philip School, in Greenville, shared that during this time of uncertainty, the school has been a step ahead, helping students stay connected as the community navigates this unfamiliar territory together.

“We are quite proud of what we're doing and the quick turnaround with which we've done it. Here at Saint Philip, we have always considered ourselves to be blessed, but in this moment, we're provided reassurance that Saint Philip School is certainly something special.”

First grade teacher Stacey McDuffee said that although they can't be with her students, every educator is there for the children and their families.

“I am learning so much as I look for new and innovative ways to reach and teach my students. Faculty and staff continue to meet daily through Google Meets to brainstorm ways we can grow and evolve each week. It's quite amazing how this has come together so quickly and our students at St. Philip School have not missed a beat.”

As a parent and a former educator, Phyllis DeMaio said that the idea of distance learning was both intriguing and intimidating. She wondered how it would all come together, especially with a first and fourth grader. In just a couple of days, the faculty and staff were able to facilitate not only an entire eight days of curriculum, but also to establish a completely connected learning environment.

“The school has been wonderful about keeping the children and families connected both socially and spiritually,” DeMaio said.