| By Deirdre C. Mays

Catholic Schools Rally in the Face of Adversity

As parents prepare to send their children back to class for the fall 2021 semester, Catholic school officials are looking forward to returning to a more familiar setting.

Looking back at the pandemic and closures, it has had some long-term effects on schools in the diocese, said Bill Ryan, secretary for education and superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Charleston.

“One of the pieces that we are very, very proud of is the way the schools have really looked at technology and ways to support students in the classroom,” he said.

The superintendent acknowledged how difficult the last year has been but thinks our teachers have flourished and benefitted from some of the technological demands that were placed on them. They met the challenges of navigating platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom and other options that now can become a regular part of their classroom.

“So, the pandemic was difficult,” Ryan said, “but I think it has led to some pretty strong accommodations and different strategies that the teachers were using in terms of technology. It will have a long-term impact on our schools.”

When students were sent home because of the pandemic last spring, schools across the country scrambled to adjust to a situation no one expected. When asked about the changes in the way teaching took place and their effects on students, the superintendent had positive news.

“I will tell you one of the things I have been very proud of is we went back face-to-face in August (2020) with some virtual options, and we have really not seen a real dip in academic performance,” he explained.

While some children were adversely affected by the change in teaching and learning approaches, many of our Catholic schools are running summer programs and other types of intervention options to help students through any gaps in learning that may have had.

Ryan said the schools have worked hard to look at where children are in their development by using MAP Growth testing and classroom assessments to identify needs and intervene, as necessary.

Catholic schools have benefited from provisions of the federal government’s relief packages that were specifically allocated for private schools.

“I think our schools have taken advantage of that, whether it’s reimbursement for cleaning supplies or buying newer technology,” Ryan said. “And we had a bump in enrollment because we opened face-to-face across the diocese. So, we have not seen a drastic financial impact on our schools.”

Although the bump in enrollment was small, the superintendent said that was a very positive benefit. The increase came from students who were slated to enter public schools that didn’t open last fall.

“Based on the environment that we have just faced, to show a bump in enrollment, even though it is slight, says a lot about the work our schools did,” he said.

Looking toward this coming year, Ryan said all our schools will go in-person again in the fall, barring some unusual event. Some schools will continue to have virtual options available for students with issues related to COVID-19.

“I think the virtual option for many of our schools will be there as needed. Our social distancing will be lowered, per Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, so they will be closer spaced,” he said.

The superintendent meets with a medical panel that has a reopening task force to determine mask protocols, which will be adjusted per CDC and S.C. governmental recommendations. He said that Catholic schools will be flexible and adjust protocols as the situation warrants.

Ryan was happy to say that “all of our schools really worked hard to keep kids on pace … our teachers have done a great job.”

Deirdre Mays was the longtime editor of The Catholic Miscellany. She is a writer and photojournalist. Email her at dcmphotoj@gmail.com.