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'It's so weird' but school is in session throughout the archdiocese

Despite nearly empty hallways, school is in session throughout the Archdiocese of Miami

MIAMI | As Sister Stephanie Flynn walked around her North Miami school, she reacted to the empty hallways.

“It’s so weird to have a school day without children in the building,” said the principal of St. James School in North Miami.

Sister Stephanie Flynn, left, St. James School principal, shows third-grader Ben Lafortune 8, and his mother, Etanya Lafortune, how to log into his class on the first day of COVID-19 induced virtual school, Aug. 19, 2020.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Sister Stephanie Flynn, left, St. James School principal, shows third-grader Ben Lafortune 8, and his mother, Etanya Lafortune, how to log into his class on the first day of COVID-19 induced virtual school, Aug. 19, 2020.

She was speaking Aug. 19, 2020, the day Archdiocese of Miami schools opened, mostly to virtual learning because of the coronavirus. Instead of student-filled classrooms, teachers introduced themselves to students on computer screens.

And there were some first-day glitches. Sister Stephanie met some parents at the school’s front door who were having problems logging into their child’s class using a Zoom platform on the new Apple iPads they were given.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook,” she said. “So some parents decided to come to the school for help.”

Even though students are not in their classrooms, they must wear their uniforms during school hours and have a dedicated space for online learning.

Sister Stephanie, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, said that distance learning is harder on kids. It requires discipline and focus. Although, she noted, it’s easier to adjust now than it was in the spring. Educators have learned a lot since then.

“It’s hard to teach when you don’t connect,” she said. “I prefer students at school. About 60% of parents wanted their children to stay home.”

St. Mary Cathedral School's second grade teacher, Cristina Gomez-Torres, sets up iPads for students as COVID-19 induced virtual school opened, Aug. 19, 2020.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

St. Mary Cathedral School's second grade teacher, Cristina Gomez-Torres, sets up iPads for students as COVID-19 induced virtual school opened, Aug. 19, 2020.

St. Hugh School pre-K4 teacher Rosy Medina shows Sebastian Reynal, 4, how to social-distance by standing on a red, six-foot line, as Isabel Barbera, 4, stands in front of him. Hans Hertell, 4, and Joaquin Maldonado, 4, are in line behind them.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

St. Hugh School pre-K4 teacher Rosy Medina shows Sebastian Reynal, 4, how to social-distance by standing on a red, six-foot line, as Isabel Barbera, 4, stands in front of him. Hans Hertell, 4, and Joaquin Maldonado, 4, are in line behind them.

Only pre-K students returned in person: two classrooms each with a limited number of students who were using their own materials and sitting six feet apart.

At St. Mary Cathedral School, teachers and staff were handing out packets of books and iPads to parents and students assembled in the school’s cafeteria. School there started Aug. 24, 2020. Eduardo Flor, school principal, also said that online learning was more challenging than in-person learning at the 390-student inner-city school in Little Haiti.

“In our community it’s better for students to be in school,” he said. “Many parents are not tech savvy and can’t help their children. And kids need in-school socializing. They’re interacting on a different level. Since children are not coming to school parents will be able to pick up breakfast and lunch for their children.”

Flor said that St. Mary's has taken steps to improve the school’s technological infrastructure.

“We have a network backbone now, to handle the amount of internet traffic,” he said. “Teachers were trained to use various digital tools to support a virtual learning environment. The archdiocese has been wonderful in providing access to professional development for teachers."

A class is not about one size fits all, he said. Students can be broken down into small groups. Those students that are struggling can get more time with their teacher. High performing students can be challenged to do even better.

"Through differentiated instruction, teachers can meet the needs of each individual student at the level they are on,” Flor said.

The administration has budgeted for technology at the school, he added. Last year, only the middle school had iPads for each student. In other grades, students shared class sets. Now, third grade through eighth grade students have iPads. A school learning package, which includes the iPad, cost $297.

Flor said that most families had internet service, but for those that didn’t, he researched low-priced internet for low-income families.

At St. Hugh School in Coconut Grove, principal Mary Fernandez said about 40% of parents want their children to continue virtual learning until the coronavirus shows signs of decreasing.

As in other archdiocesan schools, only pre-K students were actually in school. They wore masks and sat six feet apart from each other. On their way to the school cafeteria for lunch, teachers and assistants showed the children how to social distance by standing on red lines placed six feet apart as they moved forward.

Corrected: The photo of the pre-K students lining up at St. Hugh School was incorrectly captioned when the story was originally posted. The caption has been corrected.

St. Hugh pre-K student Andres Valverde, 3, gives a thumbs up to smart board on the first day of school, Aug. 19, 2020. Pre-K students returned in person while K-12 students did so virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

St. Hugh pre-K student Andres Valverde, 3, gives a thumbs up to smart board on the first day of school, Aug. 19, 2020. Pre-K students returned in person while K-12 students did so virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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