With school closings changing the way students are learning across the nation, the leader of Dorchester’s St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, which operates three campuses in Lower Mills, Neponset, and Columbia Road, says she is confident that virtual learning will only improve in the days and weeks to come.
“As hard as this has been, there will be learning and blessings from this,” said Catherine Brandley, regional director of the academy, which closed on March 16. “We’ve learned many things through this process and we will make changes. My teachers and staff have been phenomenal. They’ve done everything I’ve asked and jumped in supporting each other.”
The academy is using the social media platforms YouTube, Zoom, and other sites to meet the needs of students and families. “All of our principals send a daily message to our families along with our teachers, and our leadership team connects on Zoom numerous times a week,” she said, adding, “our number one goal throughout this whole thing is that we are connecting with our families and our students. Academics are part of that, but just like we would in the classroom, our job is to educate the whole child.”
Maintaining some level of normalcy for students in an uncertain time is also vitally important, said Brandley. “The goal is to create somewhat of a normal school day for the kids. Consistency and structure are especially important for younger students.”
As to her educators, Brandley said, “Teachers are connecting with their students daily through email and phone calls. All principals are continuing to lead morning prayer, with birthday announcements, and the pledge of allegiance on YouTube and other social media. Right now, some students are even leading them.”
“At the same time,” she said, “we’re thinking about help to grow critical thinking skills in regard to technology and teaching them how to use tech appropriately. Teachers are really missing their students. And younger students are asking about how their classmates are doing,” she added.
Brandley noted that on Tuesday, the school distributed Chromebooks to students and families who didn’t have devices at home. “Probably about 100 families came to get them,” she said.
She said that academy staff are receiving phone calls and email from parents concerned about tuition payments, and added that the school is “getting creative” in terms of addressing those concerns. Families relying on vouchers, Brandley said, have been provided food. All students can access meals at sites now maintained daily by the Boston Public Schools.
She wants people to know that the school will be open next year, “We’re not going anywhere as a school. We will be there for the long haul, and we’ll have openings for the next year,” said Brandley. “If parents need something from us in the meantime we want them to reach out to us. We don’t want them to live in isolation if we could help or listen. We’re very proud to be a part of the Dorchester community.”