The spread of COVID-19 began to make headway into New Jersey in early March, creating panic and anxiety. How were schools, businesses, and life in general going to function with this increasing pandemic? On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, school was still in session at Saint James in Basking Ridge, NJ. Behind the scenes, though, teachers and administrators were preparing for the worst – an extended time away from school.
Mrs. Sue Florendo, the school principal, wanted to make sure every student from grades 5 through 8 were going home with their Chromebook, and students from Pre K through 4 were all going to be supplied with a device if they did not have a computer at home. As children left the school that day, they were packed to the hilt with all their books and every resource they needed to continue their education from home.
“We wanted to be sure that students had materials they would need to learn from home if the decision was made to close schools. Teachers had already been planning out for 2-3 weeks and most knew what the students would need. Now, as time goes on, we’ve developed a plan for parents to pick up new materials that are needed or converting physical materials to digital. ”
On Friday, March 13, teachers met for a professional day to create Zoom and Google Classroom accounts. Middle school teachers who had already been using Google Classroom became teacher-partners with elementary teachers to act as a guide in using Classroom, and lesson plans were adjusted for online learning. The trial run on the following Tuesday worked well. Miss Kayla McDonald, middle school science and one teacher-partner, did not know what to expect.
“Initially, the thought of virtually teaching science was slightly intimidating. Using Zoom has, thankfully, exceeded my expectations. I am able to cover new material while being able to see and listen to my middle school students. They are able to present their assignments to their classmates. You never know much you take for granted until it’s gone. Thankfully I have amazing students who took on this new challenge and have executed it with ease. This resource will allow my students and I to communicate, learn, grow, and continue our academic journeys.”
Writing teacher Dennis Schneider remarked how he saw these tools as a way to further connect students.
“Using Zoom as a virtual learning environment provides us with benefits that are more than merely academic. Being able to communicate and gather virtually, as classes, allows us to continue to function as a community, rather than just as individuals. During times like these, when many of us may feel isolated, maintaining a communal relationship among our students and coworkers is vital. The virtual tools we have been given have allowed us to do just that.”
Sister Joann added, “I am very proud of our entire administration, faculty, staff and students for being flexible, thorough, creative and positive about distant learning during these challenging times. We have joined together as a school family and have created a new educational culture and environment to meet the needs of the present time. We continue to place priority in helping our students grow in their Catholic faith by providing daily opportunity for prayer and times for developing their spirituality.”
Located on South Finley Avenue in Basking Ridge, Saint James School is a co-educational Catholic school providing Christ-centered academic excellence for children in grades PreSchool through eighth.