On the eve of the 2020-2021 school year, we understand that we cannot approach our planning with any nostalgia for what we imagine “back-to-school” should look like. The reality we face in 2020 is very different, and we know that, in order to meet the needs of the communities we serve, we must remain nimble, we must think creatively about how to balance student learning needs with the health and safety that 2020 school reopening demands, but most of all, we need to ground every decision we make in what we believe as Catholic educators.
To that end, we are animated by one key realization: we are truly a community, mutually dependent on each other for our children to thrive. Below is an overview of how we are approaching our school reopening.
Leading with what we believe
Our school reopening guides for New York and Cleveland begin by grounding our plans, policies, and protocols in beliefs that determine how we respond to the needs of this moment. All flow from our belief that God endows each individual with sacred dignity, and our individual gifts manifest themselves fully only in community. Specifically:
- We believe that children learn best in person, and so all of our decisions center on the goal of maintaining five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for as long as we are able.
- We understand that our communities cannot flourish in an environment where the virus flourishes.
- In humility, we recognize that flexibility is key.
- We believe that parents are our partners.
- We know we are better together. The continued collaboration of our network, teachers, staff, parents, students, and wider community are all integral to ensuring that our students grow and thrive this year.
These five beliefs have guided every reopening decision we have made–from mask wearing (required, of course) to outdoor education (as often as urban spaces and weather allow) to remote learning (available as an option and to be required of all if community spread compels it).
The many “what ifs” of planning education in coronavirus can be like bumper cars, with different priorities crashing into others, and even driving head-on in the wrong direction. Driving all our efforts toward a pivotal belief–specifically, the power of in-person educational community–aligns our many priorities, rather than having them collide with each other. Far from causing us to minimize other priorities–such as the health of all and the remote learning needs of some–keeping our eyes fixed on the day when all can learn together in person means that we must do great work at protecting students’ and teachers health in our school buildings, and we must provide high-quality remote learning for all who need it.
Nimbleness and Creativity
While disheartening battles rage in some communities about re-opening large school systems, we draw hope from those networks and dioceses who are bringing creativity to bear in finding solutions. The Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, for example, where most schools are starting at least in part in person, is opening an entirely new school online in a matter of mere weeks. The fact that they’re naming it after the patron saint of the Internet is just one more morsel of creativity.
And as our guide to reopening highlights, the nimbleness does not stop as our plans get published; it’s just getting started. In all humility, we know that creative adjustments proposed by our teachers and principals or the health and educational needs of a single class, an entire school, a neighborhood or a city could cause us to modify our plans throughout the year. There is no perfect solution–otherwise, we hope, more schools and systems would be adopting it. But in the absence of a clear one-size-fits-all approach, the kind of responsiveness and innovation that faith-based and community-based schools are embracing is something we value greatly.
To ensure that our communities flourish–and the virus doesn’t–we must embrace the reality that every member of our communities depends on all the rest. Each individual and group’s role impacts our aim: teachers, who incorporate effective use PPE and a whole host of new health-focused routines into their classroom practices; staff, who are taking on new responsibilities; parents, who help us by monitoring student health and adhering to guidelines about when to keep students home; even members of the parish and neighbors without children, who wear masks consistently to slow community spread and keep our little ones healthy and in school.
As much as we strive to help our students grow to be self-reliant, we know none of us are ever fully self-sufficient. Catholic schools have long sought to prepare students to serve others, and to be productive members of the communities of which they are a part. This year, those lessons of interdependence will involve real-time, real-life application every day–not just for students but for adults as well.
There is no mistaking that in our classrooms, schools and communities, effective collaboration can make health and learning as viral as COVID-19 itself. So Partnership Schools will rely on our guide for starting the school year; even more importantly, we will depend on every member of our school communities.