By Tina Dennelly
“Is anyone fearful about the future of Catholic schools?” a parent pondered recently on the Parents of Long Island Catholic School Students Facebook page in the Spring of 2020, shortly after the pandemic hit and the lockdown began.
With some parents out of work or furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic and Sunday contributions to parishes down because churches are closed, many wonder how the events would impact Catholic schools. But the agile response of Long Island Catholic schools to the pandemic and shift to remote learning has impressed current school families and caused new families to consider enrolling.
While a few responded to the Facebook question that they were concerned about, the more than 75 other commenters were wholeheartedly optimistic.
“Not at all! [Our school] never missed a beat,” said one. “More pleased than ever with our investment in Catholic schools,” said another. And a third: “I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am with what Catholic schools are doing during this.”
Parents in the group whose children attend schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre — from St. Martin of Tours in Amityville, Trinity Regional in East Northport, St. Rose of Lima in Massapequa, Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, and St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay, to name just some — said they were amazed at how quickly and how well the schools responded to the pandemic.
“St. Aidan’s [in Williston Park] has done an impeccable job in implementing distance learning,” said parent Violeta Gromulska in a comment. “The teachers’ dedication is impressive. All my emails get answered, even [at] late hours of the night. The communication is phenomenal. Especially [Principal Julie] O’Connell’s weekly messages. All subjects have been addressed — gym, art, music, Spanish, religion, etc. The structure, planning and implementation has exceeded my expectations. They even have extra help Zoom meetings on Friday for the students.”
Other parents in the group — several of whom said they are public school teachers — noted that some Long Island public school districts took weeks to begin remote learning and struggled to keep students engaged in virtual classrooms.
St. Aidan’s principal O’Connell, who said she had three prospective families reach out recently in one week alone, noted in a comment the biggest factors in Catholic schools’ success: “Our administrators, teachers, students and parents are all working hard together, and the sharing of our faith is the piece that makes it so successful.”
The success in the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s schools mirrors the success of other diocesan school districts across the country during the pandemic. According to a May 11 article in National Catholic Register, after school buildings were ordered to close, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Catholic schools took spring break a week early to come up with a remote learning plan and were ready to go the first day after the break. By contrast, public schools in the Detroit area ended the school year early.
Of course, that’s not to say some Catholic schools did not struggle, noted the Register article: “Through it all, the unifying force in both heartache and success has been daily prayer, to trust and be strong through this difficult time.”
Long Island’s Catholic Elementary Schools worked to maintain the continuity of instruction and the normal social and spiritual structure of the students’ day with prayer, and other community activities. There’s that sense of family. I think that’s what is making parents realize the connection between faith and learning.
Morning Star Initiative continues
In January of 2020, the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced a long-term plan to strengthen, expand, support and revitalize its Catholic elementary schools (see morningstarinitiative.org). As part of the initiative, the Morning Star team in February began in-person visits to each of the 39 diocesan elementary schools to assess each school’s culture, identity and contributions. However, the New York on PAUSE order closed school buildings in March.
The team has remained busy however — it helped launch the Curriculum Leads program, which allows teachers to pool resources and share expertise with other grade-level and subject-area teachers from Catholic schools around the diocese, soon after remote instruction began in mid-March.
“The pandemic may have changed the Morning Star Initiative’s trajectory and the landscape in which we were working,” said Brother Thomas Cleary, S.M., chief revitalization officer for the Morning Star Initiative, “but it has not dampened our commitment to strengthen the Catholic elementary school system one bit!”