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Communities First and Foremost

By Beth Blaufuss

“We are communities first and foremost.” This primacy of community is one of the foundations on which we are building our approach to remote learning, as Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee outlined in an article last week for the Fordham Institute. And the results are proving to be heartwarming, creative–and often entertaining.

Our physical isolation has underscored this deeply human need to connect. Indeed, the Church asserts that our humanity is “realized in community with others,” as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reflects. So providing community isn’t just about preserving connections, or keeping kids and parents from going crazy; it’s about affirming what makes us human.

The simple joy of being part of a school community is central to some of these community-focused activities. This is virtual spirit week at Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx, kicked off with Monday’s Eagle Pride day:


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Monday is Eagle Pride Day! Tag @icsfamily151 in your blue and yellow outfits!

A post shared by Immaculate Conception School (@icsfamily151) on

And Sacred Heart is joining in the fun as well, embracing the challenges of getting haircuts these days with a spring round of Crazy Hair Day:

But our school leaders’ efforts are not just about keeping these kinds of spirit activities going. Every day at St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem starts with a morning meeting–true even now, although it has moved from the school gym to Instagram Live. This past Friday, the prayer centered on Lazarus; the reminder of the school’s core value of service included a suggestion to serve local businesses by prioritizing purchases from them; and the routine of celebrating Women’s History Month continued with a brief description of Sacagawea. 


Join a St. Mark the Evangelist morning meeting by following them on Instagram!

What is striking, though, is less the content than what the connection means to St. Mark families, students and teachers–visible in the comments that circle throughout the brief online gathering, with a pause during the prayer. 

And Mr. Fanelli seems equally moved; during “Way to Go Wednesday” last week, he exclaimed that reading the eager “Good Morning!” greetings from students he misses “Might be the best part of my day!” Teachers are also joining the comments, greeting their students.

These connections are proving life-giving for parents as well. St. Athanasius does its morning meetings in a lower-tech fashion–emailing a morning meeting document each day and then posting pictures of students engaged in the same activity–such as a “Thankful Thursday” drawing activity in appreciation of the Sun.

But Principal Jessica Aybar also held a Facebook Live community meeting for parents during the first week of the remote learning era, to reassure and to answer questions:

The stream of comments is long and touching in its gratitude for Ms. Aybar and her staff, such as the parent who commented “Thank you for keeping us so informed!!! Thank you for the emails. For this session. Just THANK YOU!!”

As we all may be appreciating more these days, community happens in dozens of small actions, even more so than in grand gestures. Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary embodies the power of little things that mean a lot when Principal Molly Smith not only shouts out students and families in its its “Way to Go” Wednesday Instagram Live meeting but also posts those those affirmations online:

In the time of physical distancing, it is important for all of us–children especially–to feel seen, known and loved by our communities. And we are seeing schools do precisely that.

Beth Blaufuss is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Partnership Schools