The Rochester Catholic Schools (RCS) system has initiated distance learning through March 26 that provides educational opportunities to students from preschool through high school. This is in response to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’ March 15 announcement requiring the closure of schools this week due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The five schools of RCS - Holy Spirit Catholic School (PreK-grade 5), St. Pius X School (PreK-grade 5), St. Francis of Assisi School (PreK-grade 8), Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Middle School (grades 6-8), and Lourdes High School (grades 9-12) - have each implemented an age-appropriate plan to coincide with the immediate need for closure. If additional distance learning is a necessity, plans will evolve based on what is learned during this period.
“Our faculty did a great job in coming together as a team to launch this effort, '' said Lourdes High School Principal, Dr. Karen Juliano. “Our students have been enthusiastic and embraced this challenge. Considering the quick turnaround, the issues with implementing this plan have been minor. We really feel like this was a great way to jump start this process and we are confident that we are in a great position to continue delivering instruction to our students if there is a need to continue beyond this immediate closure.”
On Wednesday, March 18, distance learning officially began for RCS students and staff. Methods have included video conferencing, real-time virtual classrooms, daily recorded video instruction, preprinted packet assignments, as well as the use of established instructional aids such as Google Classroom and online textbooks. These methods allow for students to engage in learning opportunities prepared by classroom teachers in both face-to-face interactions and self-guided study.
“The Rochester Catholic Schools teaching staff are utilizing a large variety of digital tools to engage students in learning. They understand how important it is to have opportunities to connect with each other - especially in a time where many are feeling uncertain or anxious. Staff are available to students every school day which affords students opportunities to ask and answer questions, participate in online activities, and meet in groups,” said Christine Gregory, RCS Director of Teaching and Learning.
Lourdes High School senior, Birch Lewis comments on the experience, “I think the schedule is great. I love how the classes and class times have been set-up so we don’t have too many online classes per day. Clearly having everything online can complicate things and so I love that it is scheduled in such a way where we have plenty of time to get everything done and time to ask teachers for clarification if needed.”
A framework for distance learning began at each school during the last few weeks as the possibility of a prolonged closure was discussed on the national, state, and local levels. Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, were treated similar to inclement weather days by the system with no academic assignments or instruction taking place for students. These two days of closure allowed for teachers to collaborate and prepare. In addition, school buildings were open during regular hours so students could pick up personal belongings and materials they would need to aid during distance learning instruction.