Summum Bonum Newsletter: Virtual Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic
St. Joseph Hill Academy (SJHA) PreK 3 through 12th grade moved to virtual learning on Monday March 16, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by SJHA Elementary School Principal Mr. Lawrence Hansen and SJHA High School Principal Mrs. Maria Molluzzo, teachers of every grade were immediately trained on best practices and technologies for virtual learning.
SJHA PreK 3 through 12th grade have already been at the forefront of Catholic schools when it comes to utilizing state-of-the-art technologies to engage students in virtual learning experiences. For example, pre-COVID-19, high school teachers and students alike had the advantage of already owning their own laptops and regularly utilized PlusPortals and Google Forms for their classwork.
“With remote learning, come remote challenges,” reflected Mrs. Molluzzo, “but we are committed to ensuring that virtual learning mirrors the classroom as closely as possible.” The high school has done this through maintaining class schedules, assignments, discussion boards, and testing as close to what the students would experience on a regular day. High school teachers have quickly transitioned to fully utilizing new technologies such as:
- Zoom for distance learning videoconferencing
- Explain Everything for interactive PowerPoint lessons with audio and video
- Ed Puzzle for video lessons that have questions inserted throughout to better assess students’ understanding of the material
- Socrative, Plus Portals, and Google forms for testing
Mrs. Molluzzo has worked tirelessly with faculty, students, and families to make sure their feedback is heard, and adjustments have been made regularly to improve everyone’s experiences. Both the high school and elementary school teachers have participated in weekly opportunities for professional development as well.
Mrs. Molluzzo acknowledges the situation is difficult for all and feels particularly sorry for the Class of 2020. However, she has encouraged the girls to stay positive. As a way to do that, she has ensured that extracurricular clubs, sports, and events happen virtually, so students feel the strength and comfort of their Hill community. Student Council elections were held; prayer services are held every Sunday; Kairos fourth day meetings are held on Thursdays; Hill TV releases weekly announcement videos posted on YouTube; Earth Day and May Crowning celebrations took place; and all high school students set aside April 24th to participate in Hill’s 11th Annual Service Day. On May 29th, the girls will unveil Air Bands virtually. Air Bands is a major part of Hill’s annual Color Wars competition. Girls will wear their Color Wars “2020, The Year they were Quarantined” t-shirts. These shirts were a gift from the Student Council and were delivered to all grades by faculty, staff, and students.
There are also elaborate plans for the Class of 2020 virtual commencement week, which began on May 21st and 22nd when seniors in small groups wore their uniforms to school for the last time, something they never thought they would get to do. Seniors signed a banner, and put on their graduation caps, gowns, and gloves. They marched up the Hill in their white socks and saddle shoes to “Pomp and Circumstance”. The march will become part of their virtual graduation ceremony. Graduation week also includes a virtual Senior Retreat, a virtual Senior Sleepover, a Senior Farewell Parade and Virtual Awards Ceremony, a virtual Graduation Mass, Induction into the Alumnae Society, and a virtual Honors and Awards Ceremony. The celebratory week culminates in a virtual/live (thanks to Zoom) Graduation Ceremony on June 5th.
Similarly, Mr. Hansen has maintained open and ongoing communications with the Elementary School faculty, parents, and students in his weekly Sunday newsletters to families. The last day of school for students was March 13th and remote learning began for the elementary school students on March 16th with livestream sessions via Zoom followed by that Friday. Elementary school students follow different guidelines when it comes to livestreaming lessons on Zoom due to their younger age, but they have found their rhythm and parents have been very pleased with the quality of teachers’ lessons at all grade levels and the commitment of the faculty. Faculty meetings are held twice a week to share best practices and discuss ideas. Additionally, all teachers in the elementary school sign up to attend daily professional development lessons hosted by instructional specialists from the Staten Island Regional Superintendent's office. These professional development sessions along with one-on-one coaching through a partnership with Educate LLC assist the teachers in providing quality instruction during remote learning
Service projects through the elementary school’s Jr. Giving Circle are ongoing. Most recently they have taken on an effort to paint special pictures or messages on rocks that will become part of a rock garden honoring healthcare workers at Staten Island University Hospital locations. The students love to give back and take part in these special projects as it makes students feel closer to their community.
For Teacher Appreciation Week, Elementary School parents organized parades that drove by teachers’ homes. Students held up signs of thanks and shared how much they missed and loved their teachers. The Elementary School students have compiled video tributes to essential workers and one of their own teachers that fell ill from COVID-19 and has since recovered. Students take turns dressing in their uniforms and video themselves reciting their daily morning prayers that are then shared on social media. And Mr. Hansen and faculty members personally hand-delivered lawn signs to the home’s of each of the graduating eighth graders. He, and the entire Elementary School community, have lived their popular hashtag, #BeHillStrong.
Both Principals agreed it is a lot of hard work for all parties, but they feel strongly that it’s worth it. “It gets overwhelming for the kids, but this is all about closing the gap for next year,” said Mr. Hansen. “If we did nothing, we would have a huge gap. We are doing what we can to narrow that gap as much as possible.” When we return in September teachers will be prepared to close that gap with a variety of resources at their disposal through online enrichment programs and support staff who can work in cooperation with the teachers. Likewise, summer assignments in math and reading will be streamlined to focus on important topics and concepts in math and English Language Arts (ELA), along with a variety of optional enrichment activities that will be posted weekly on the school’s website for all grade levels.
St. Joseph Hill has traditionally been a beacon of exemplary education over its 100-year history. When faced with unexpected challenges, Hill’s tradition of excellence shines through … Summum Bonum!