The face of education evolved into something no one could have expected a few months ago. The traditional brick and mortar setting coupled with physical interaction has been replaced by a virtual connection on a digital platform. Holy Cross High School closed its campus doors in mid-March, but the school has since stayed open. Lessons are taught, bonds are deepening and school leadership is hard at work to stay one step ahead of the COVID-19 curve.
Holy Cross High School was well-equipped when Governor Ned Lamont issued social distancing in March. The school had already implemented their Bring Your Own Device (B.Y.O.D.) and E-text programs. All students had their own electronic devices and the majority of textbooks were digital. The community took a well-deserved spring break in April. When the teachers came back, they hit the ground running to take online learning to the next level.
"We held a Professional Development for teachers on our first day back from break," said Tommy Pompei, Principal. "We had two goals. First, we wanted to enhance our teacher's proficiency in the usage of our learning management system, Canvas. This is a powerful tool used by some of the best colleges in the world. Teachers were encouraged to use it for instruction, assessment, and interaction with students. Second, we wanted to have a dialogue about the usage of Zoom in our online programs."
When social distancing began, half of the faculty was proficient and comfortable with using Zoom for online learning. Today, all of our teachers have a comfort with it, and several use it regularly.
"Instruction through Zoom allows for collaboration between teachers that may have been more challenging in the classroom setting, " said Director of Student Experience, Megan Dwyer '05. "Math teachers, Delores Villano and Frank Lombardo, teach the same level Algebra class. They have collaborated on instructional presentations and recorded them for their students."
"I use Zoom for Office Hours, like many others," said Science Teacher, Nick Lauzon. "I led a session with my Honors Chemistry Class where we talked about the final project for the quarter. The Zoom meeting was also recorded and posted for anyone who missed it."
Holy Cross leadership made the decision not to make Zoom meetings mandatory and to lean towards an asynchronous learning model, which allows for lessons and content to be available online and accessed at any time depending on student availability. After April break, all teachers were required to have at least one hour of Zoom meeting availability for students who would like to go over the material or who need extra support.
"Family dynamics have changed due to the pandemic," said Kate Xeller, Director of Guidance. "Some of our students provide child care for their younger siblings because their parents have to work. Others have taken on more financial responsibility and work more hours because their parents have lost their jobs. We have many kids who work in grocery stores, meat centers, garden centers and landscaping companies. This gives them a flexible schedule to submit assignments."
"Keeping this autonomous is good," said Andy Shea '05, English Teacher. "I try to post things in advance, as much as possible. Sometimes, however, I will have items accessible only on the day of the lesson to keep my students engaged."
Zoom has also been used for non-instructional items. The Guidance Department held individual meetings with every member of the junior class to ensure that their college search process stayed on track. Also, many teachers used this interactive tool to meet with their advisees.
"The students have really enjoyed checking in through Zoom," said Ms. Dwyer. "I have also used it with members of the softball team. You can see and hear the social and emotional burden on them. They would rather be together at school preparing for the Senior Lock-In, celebrating Role Model Dinner, getting their nails and hair done for Prom or dominating in spring sports. As difficult as this is, you can see them learning from this and enjoying their virtual time together. The Student Government has Zoom meetings and they organized nice video tributes for Teacher Appreciation Week, National Principal Day and National Athletic Trainer Day."
Although the world faces a lot of uncertainty, Holy Cross continues to strategize so that it can provide a fulfilling experience for its students. "We have accomplished a lot, but there is definite room for growth," said Mr. Pompei.
School administration will spend the summer months planning for any type of scenario that society could face in the fall. This includes three types of plans: 1. If all are back in the building in the fall; 2. If limited amounts of people are allowed in the building at a time and 3. If the Crusader community is still social distancing and learning online.
"Regardless of where a student goes to school, the pandemic circumstances will not go away," said Mr. Pompei. "However, the virtues, values and intangibles that make Holy Cross High School special will also not go away. We are guided by everything we value. We are hungry and motivated. We will spend the next few months further developing our teaching platform. We are open to everything, and we will be ready."