Educational institutions across our country (and the world) shared an unexpected common bond in recent weeks. As the emergence of COVID-19 increased in the United States, government and education leaders made decisions that changed the face of learning.
It was slightly past 3:00pm on the afternoon of March 12, 2020. Holy Cross High School leadership sat in a conference room and listened to Connecticut Governor, Ned Lamont give the order to close schools for an initial two week quarantine period.
"The writing was on the wall," said Principal Tommy Pompei. "We knew it was coming, and we knew we had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time."
The next day, school administration led the faculty in an intensive professional development session centered on the Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas. This online platform would be the foundation of online learning for the unforeseeable future.
"Canvas has existed in our school for two years," said Mr. Pompei. "It is a part of our learning and teaching practice, depending on the discipline and teachers. Our students to varying degrees had exposure to it. We really stressed the importance of quality and efficiency of the educational content to our teachers, and they really committed to this with positivity and professionalism."
Several teachers created and led this Professional Development Day with Mr. Pompei including Andrew Shea '06, Sarah Ciarleglio '08, Kyle Piatak, Kate Xeller, Nick Lauzon and Megan Dwyer '05.
"Teachers primarily worked on setting up courses in Canvas," said English teacher, Andy Shea '06, "They learned how to create assignments and how to provide students with instructional materials on a single online platform."
The faculty had one weekend to prepare and went live with their classes on Monday, March 16th. Throughout this transition, Holy Cross High School missed only one day of instruction.
"Holy Cross had three advantages that made us well prepared for this transition," according to Mr. Pompei. "First, the Canvas LMS was already being utilized by a good number of teachers and students. Second, we are a Bring Your Own Device (B.Y.O.D.) school. Third, we are also an e-text school."
"Holy Cross was well prepared for the launch," said Kate Xeller, Director of Guidance. "Students and teachers were onto Canvas within 24 hours and our team of professionals kicked it into high gear to ensure the transition to this platform was as seamless as possible. There were a few kinks that needed to be worked out (e.g. Did students have Wi-Fi? How was the connection between some of our different software?). However, the community came together during this time when we needed it the most."
Mr. Shea utilizes discussion boards with his Creative Writing students so that they can read each other's short stories and provide feedback both through video and written comments. "Students can engage in the material at their own pace and ask me questions along the way."
Kyle Piatak, Religion Teacher and Director of Campus Ministry, currently hosts office hours using different video platforms to reach out to students and make himself available for more live feedback. He also met with a group of his advisees and connected with his Peer Ministers. "I've been recording lectures, implementing voice overs during my PowerPoints and sent out quizzes and tests through Canvas," he said. "It is really challenging teaching to an empty classroom. You realize in times like this that so much of what we do with students involves that relationship component."
"As we enter into our fourth week, we move with a greater focus on the relationship piece of the Holy Cross experience," said Mr. Pomepi. "We will continue to provide constructive critical feedback, open lines of communication and true partnership in the learning process to our students."
"Holy Cross was great," said Diana Dane '93, parent to Michael '21, Joseph '23 and Juliana '23. "They were up and running right away. The teachers were always available and answered our questions in a timely manner. The school's wonderful preparation, which included being able to reach out to their teachers, brought great comfort to my kids."
Dr. Thomas. C Pellegrino, President, looks at the accomplishments made by the faculty with great pride and admiration. "A heartfelt note of thanks to the teachers and staff of Holy Cross High School," he said. "With all of twenty four hours' notice, our teachers transitioned to distance learning. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Our teachers have achieved these results with hard work, long hours and a dedication to their students. Care, concern and companionship are at the heart of our mission as a Holy Cross school. This has been on full display over the last four weeks."
"As a community, this experience shows us how student-driven we are," said Mr. Shea. "It expresses our ability to adapt and come together and meet our students wherever we are. We push the academics but always put the person first. We know that our families are all in very different situations."