Catholic educators get creative to stay connected to students, co-workers

By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor

Catholic School educators across the Diocese of Evansville are using creative ways to stay connected to their students and other educators since in-person instruction has been suspended through at least May 1 in an attempt to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

While school buildings have been closed since around March 13, Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Daryl Hagan said educators have “rallied to ensure the smoothest possible transition to remote teaching and learning.”

Hagan is pleased with the great practices educators from all 26 diocesan schools are exhibiting during this unprecedented time.

“Although the concept of extended virtual learning is still new to most of us, the Catholic Schools Office recognizes that our schools are blessed with committed and hard-working educators who, together, will find ways to support student learning,” he said. “Teachers continue to be an important social, emotional and instructional touchpoint for students, no matter the delivery method.”

Connection is key, according to Good Shepherd School Principal Kristen Girten. She encouraged Good Shepherd teachers to find a way to connect with students using video or recorded voice, and she’s been “overwhelmed” by their creativity.

“Community is what makes our Catholic Schools special,” she said. “You feel it as soon as you walk in. So in this new learning environment, we had to figure out how to keep that connection going.”

Lauren Hayden never expected the YouTube channel she created for her preschool students to get much attention. Hayden, who serves as the Little Rams Catholic Preschool teacher at Good Shepherd, said the channel has reached families in Saint Wendel; Murray, Kentucky; and even the Chicago-area.

“At the prekindergarten level (4-5 year-olds), they need consistency in their lives,” Hayden said. “So being able to see my face reading stories and doing our daily routines with them is beneficial in their learning with the school being closed.”

For one curriculum theme, “What’s in the Sky?”, Hayden read “Little Cloud” by Eric Carle then conducted a science experiment to make a cloud in a jar. The week before, students learned addition skills by adding some gold coins a “silly leprechaun left for us on Saint Patrick’s Day.”

“I just hope my videos are bringing light into children’s lives as we continue to work through this difficult time,” Hayden said.

Girten said educators are also using Zoom to hold video meetings, an app called Bloomz to keep in contact and post pictures, Google Meet/ Hangout to collaborate and teachers are emailing students about assignments. Each morning, Girten leads prayer through Facebook to connect with the whole community.

“I am so proud of all of my teachers,” Girten said. “They only had a matter of days to pull this off and they have surpassed all of my expectations. I love how they are working together to meet the needs of our students. They are all rock stars!”

Donna Richardson, Mater Dei High School Math Department Chair and teacher, is using a combination of videos already available through Delta Math, as well as using Zoom to create how-to videos for assignments. She has also live-streamed and used Zoom for group meetings with students for question-and-answer sessions.

Richardson teaches AP calculus and calculus, AP statistics, AP computer science and Quantitative Reasoning.

“Teachers warned the kids that they would have to exhibit (or develop!) the maturity to work independently, set a schedule for themselves, (and) communicate with us by email when they run into problems,” Richardson said.

Richardson prefers face-to-face instruction, and she admitted she misses her students.

“We'll get through this and we'll be stronger for it,” she said. “I am grateful for the amount of contact I am able to have because of programs like Zoom though. The difference between email and face-to-face communication (even through meeting software) is huge!”

Girten is amazed at the collaboration between educators across the Diocese.

“Administrators are working together to help each other,” she said. “Teachers are sharing ideas of what has worked and what could have gone better. It's a beautiful thing to see. This is a very stressful time for all of us in the schools; however, seeing how our Catholic community pulls together makes me very proud.”