When it was time for the new school year to begin, Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights was one school in the South Suburbs that opened for in-person learning.
Months later, administrators say things are moving along nicely for the 899 students enrolled. Some may look at the schedule as a hodge-podge with students coming and going throughout the week and others only learning remotely, but teachers and students have adapted.
Cecily Futz, director of marketing and communication, told the Chronicle “approximately 33 percent have chosen to learn remotely from home full time. The other 67 percent are on a hybrid schedule (class two days a week in person/remote learning three days), with only half, or around 300 students, in class on any given day.
“Although we are using a hybrid model, we have made accommodations so that students who need to be in the building every day because of their learning style or social/emotional well-being have that option as well,” she said.
Since the start of school, a small number of students have switched from at-school to fully remote and visa versa, she said.
Students are not allowed into the building unless they’ve answered a morning questionnaire about their health that’s sent by text or email. Every person entering the building has their temperature taken. Thus far, one asymptomatic student was found to have the COVID-19 virus.
The school is doing everything it can to assure social distancing and faculty are disinfecting student desks between classes, Futz explained.
“To be where we are at this point, I’m really happy with it. We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we’re getting more kids in the building,” said Sean Scanlon, director of curriculum and instruction.
Marian Catholic began planning for the 2020-21 school year in summer and allowed teachers to have input on how school would function under state and federal health guidelines.
“We spent a lot of time on it. It was a really good process because the teachers were involved from Day 1 and a couple issues were solved by our staff, not just us,” said Scanlon.
He admits it was tough at the beginning of the first quarter. It took a few weeks for teachers to get used to talking to students on a screen as well as having students in front of them. Scanlon said teachers present 80 to 90 percent of the regular curriculum, weeding out materials that they found weren’t vital to the subject matter.
“I think the teachers have really adjusted to the hybrid learning versus what we did in the spring (with all remote),” Scanlon said. “I think the second quarter’s going to go even smoother because they’ve gotten a feel for it.”
Marian Catholic students have had individual iPads the past seven years, Scanlon said, and noted that the school received the highest score for technology integration in its last accreditation review.
Because freshmen come from 70 different grade schools, Futz said freshman orientation this year was a full week to help students get acclimated to Marian Catholic’s system.
Social studies teacher Martin Graham-McHugh uses a headset to make certain remote students can hear him as well as the students in his classroom.
Graham-McHugh said he is “in awe of the resilience and the hard work and dedication of my students. I every day think about what would this by like if I was a student their age. I’m just blown away and so proud of them, how they’re willing to roll with it and work with me” as he tries to correct technical challenges or change lesson plans in the middle of class when he realizes students aren’t responding.
“It is a challenge, but it’s always been the challenge so it’s just trying to find that you’re doing it right,” he said. “I certainly feel I was a better teacher in May than I was in February, and I’m a better teacher in October than I was in August. I feel this makes you more reflective and think about what you’re doing.”
“What I’d really like to say is I’m in awe of the resilience and the hard work and dedication of my students. I every day think about what would this would be like if I was one of those students and I’d be doing this at their age. I’m just blown away and so proud of them, how they’re willing to roll with it and to work with me on these types of things,” he said.
“It’s got those extra challenges built in there that make it a lot harder. The rewards when you’re successful are also there, too, like a normal year.
- Marian Catholic teacher doing double duty: in-person and remote (Oct. 30, 2020)