Online or in-class: Catholic schools meet the need

| Jean Houghton | July 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

In the eight days between March 15 and March 23, Catholic schools in this community — and across the country — bundled up their faith communities, their values-based instructional practices, and their rich, historic cultures and redeployed them in the homes of the children they serve.

With this “great pivot,” as I wrote about in a May blog post, Catholic schools effectively transformed from the largest private school system to one of the largest private distance learning providers in the world.

And they didn’t skip a beat.

Throughout the spring, the women and men in Catholic schools in this Archdiocese worked tirelessly for their students. They drove from house to house delivering learning materials and books. They set up internet service for families who never had it at home. They created meal collection and delivery programs. They organized drive-by birthday parties, religious rituals and graduations. And they developed innovative and effective virtual learning environments for their students, largely from scratch.

In the midst of uncertainty, Catholic schools steadfastly continued to provide the same life-changing benefits that have defined them as essential, research-proven and high-quality institutions of learning and human formation.

I know forecasting the future is a fool’s errand even in the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. But there is one prediction I can make with unshakeable confidence:

Come this fall, Catholic schools will find a way to do it again.

At the Aim Higher Foundation, our team works hand in hand with schools and the families they serve to provide tuition assistance to children to attend a Catholic school. During “the great pivot,” we witnessed firsthand how school leaders kept a laser focus on the needs of their students as they adapted to ever-changing information about COVID-19. We were deeply impressed by their thoughtful problem-solving, and we were awed by their resolve: They pushed through the unknown, stress and exhaustion to find a way forward — a way to meet the needs of their students and families.

School leaders and teachers did this work with grace and humility. They never sought recognition or praise. Their commitment can only be described as unconditional.

It’s unlikely you have been in a school building since March, but those same teachers and leaders are still there, figuratively and physically. They haven’t stopped working. Their days haven’t gotten shorter.

They are researching strategies to adapt student learning to the current reality, developing new instructional and classroom procedures and creating models of the school day from their students’ perspective.

In my book, the daily efforts of the women and men in Catholic schools to instill in children a higher purpose and calling through a Catholic education are nothing short of heroic. “Saintly” might be a better word to describe what they pulled off during “the great pivot.” Their accomplishments are the source of my confidence for the new school year, and a significant reason why the Aim Higher Foundation continues to invest in the schools and children to whom they dedicate themselves.

The great pivot is a direct result of the ingenuity, dedication and selflessness of the teachers and leaders who serve in Catholic schools in this Archdiocese and across the nation. Indirectly, it is built on the sacrifices of the parents, parishioners, donors and friends who have made their own commitment to Catholic education. Whether they were made in the form of tuition payments, volunteer hours, parish collections or an annual fundraiser, these investments were important before COVID-19. They are even more important now.

Houghton is president of the St. Paul-based Aim Higher Foundation

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Category: Commentary