Diocesan Catholic Schools open

The first day for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Venice was Aug. 17, 2020 and encompassed the usual mix of excitement, tears (children and parents) and reunions among friends. The necessary differences for the 2020-2021 Academic Year also included wellness checks, face coverings, hand washing and social distancing.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, was present at the Incarnation carline and introduced himself to students and families wishing all a blessed year as a passing rain shower created a double rainbow over the school.

“Welcome back to school,” Father Belmonte said. “Thank you for choosing Incarnation, the best education for your child.”

Unlike previous opening days, parents were not allowed to escort the youngest children to the classroom, causing a few anxious moments. However, even the most upset student calmed as they took in the colorful surroundings of their new home.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, Principal Deborah Suddarth was proud of the work her faculty and staff did to guarantee the opening of the school went smoothly. To ensure everyone is following and understanding the new rules, traffic patterns and other changes, St. Joseph, as with many other Diocesan Catholic schools, opted to split the opening over two or three days.

For example, the first day for each classroom included a group tour of the school and comprised of locating all hand sanitizing stations; finding and learning how to use the hands-free hand washing stations; locations of new hands-free drinking fountains; and practicing how to walk as a group standing six feet apart. To aide this process, decals of eagle claws are spaced in neat rows throughout the campus with inspirational messages to live by, such as: Pray, Learn, Give, Obey, Forgive, and more.

“It is a learning process for everyone, but the students will adapt quickly,” Suddarth said. “When the little ones came in, you could see behind the masks and in their eyes how excited everyone was to be back. This is a great day. I got two thumbs up from many of the young ones who said they were excited and ready for school.”

When asked, students were universally glad to be back after being out of the classroom since mid-March. All said they missed their friends and teachers.

Approximately 85 percent of Diocesan Catholic school students returned to in-classroom instruction while the balance have opted for synchronous at-home instruction. This means what is taught in the classroom is also accessible to students learning from home.

The new student cohort model implemented in the Diocesan Catholic schools keeps students in one classroom most of the day while teachers switch classes. This also limits large group interactions and will make it easier if quarantining is necessary.

With the need to maximize social distancing, each school is using its indoor and outdoor space differently. This includes smaller classroom sizes; individual desks versus shared desks; spreading out as much a practical; and instruction outside or in gymnasiums as needed. Where six feet of distance is not possible, face coverings are always required.