On Friday March 13, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker closed all Illinois state schools in an effort to mitigate the community spread of the Covid-19 virus, causing many schools to begin developing emergency plans for remote learning in the coming weeks.
Fortunately, St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School in Palatine had already developed a clear and immediate plan for remote learning. Back in August 2019, teachers provided parents with a comprehensive four-day e-learning curriculum to be used in the event of emergency snow days, a likely occurrence in Northern Illinois. With a strong e-learning plan in place, any school closures due to heavy snowfall or inclement weather—up to four days—would not extend or impact the last day of school mandated by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
To date, no emergency snow days have occurred in the 2019-2020 school year. But when the Covid-19 crisis started to take shape, St. Thomas of Villanova Principal Mary Brinkman knew the e-learning plans her teachers had worked so hard to create before the school year even began would now help teachers prepare for upcoming lessons and continue learning during this unprecedented time.
As school closure became imminent, Brinkman urged her teaching staff to update and develop lessons to reflect the students’ current learning, as well as develop lessons for subsequent weeks of e-learning, should they be needed. For this reason, St Thomas of Villanova students left school Friday March 13 with an updated and clearly defined plan for e-learning the following week, March 16-20, and in many cases, plans for the weeks after Spring Break. The plans were communicated to parents via students’ backpacks, email, and the school’s website and social media outlets.
St. Thomas of Villanova prides itself on a balanced use of technology. Some school work is completed in hard copy, while other work is completed digitally. These digital components have allowed teachers to remotely oversee the completion and accuracy of at-home assignments online during this unique period of e-learning.
Fortunately, these online accounts for various curriculums, from reading to math and beyond, were well established. In most cases, families did not have to create last minute accounts, as students and parents were well-versed in logging into these online curriculums. Any families without internet access were provided comparable assignments to these online components.
Examples of these online programs include iReady, a customized learning tool for students based on diagnostic tests. St. Thomas of Villanova served as a pilot school for the iReady program during the 2018-2019 school year and adopted it fully for the current year. Teachers can assign students activities that target the child’s unique areas of improvement through the iReady program in both reading and math. Superkids, Razkids and Scholastic are other online programs being used to teach reading remotely.
In older grades, Pearson-Realize is also utilized. All of the content from the hard copy reading textbook is available online, even the worksheets and tests. For example, Jennifer Secedi’s third grade students took their regularly scheduled reading test at the end of the e-learning week, just as they would have normally at school.
Because personal connection is also important for learning, St. Thomas of Villanova teachers quickly developed ways to interact with their students at home. For example, Kindergarten teacher and Early Childhood Director Meghan Falkenberg hosted regular online read a-louds with her students.
“They absolutely love the interaction, seeing each other’s faces and sharing stories together,” she said.
Zoom conferencing also allowed Stephanie Pauwel’s second grade class to meet every morning of the e-learning week at a specific time for a story time and check in with teacher and classmates.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for students to have some continuity in their routine and see each other during these e-learning days,” Pauwels explained.
Fourth grade teacher Liz Shepke also used zoom conferencing to teach her math lessons every day of the e-learning week. The students then completed assignments using an online profile called Seesaw. At the end of the day, students were asked to share with Shepke a Target Reflection form via Google docs, answering questions about each subject’s assignments for the day.
Fifth Grade teacher Jane Liquin also utilized Google docs to maintain her e-learning curriculum. She created learning docs in Google Slides for each day of the week for 5th grade. Other applications used in fifth grade included Screencastify, Educreations, Google Classroom, youtube, Pearson-Realize, Go Math online, Google chat, and more. Mrs. Liquin also created a fun Brady Bunch themed video about her fifth grade’s e-learning experience available on youtube: https://youtu.be/30ssEhhJx3g
First grade teacher Laura Klotz is thankful so many programs were already established before this epidemic arose.
“I feel so lucky that Superkids, Scholastic, Razkids and iReady were already in place for online instruction,” she explained. “We had already included a variety of reader response sheets that went with their learning.”
Klotz has also utilized youtube songs and videos that accompany other subjects like Science and Religion. But learning was not all technology based in first grade. The kids took on creative hands on learning as well.
“I think the most fun I had this week was seeing my friends’ Leprechaun Traps,” Klotz said, of her first graders’ St. Patrick’s Day assignment.
For preschoolers, learning was also more hands on. Colleen Twarog’s four-year-old preschool students kept busy measuring toys with paper clips, blocks or pencils, finding or drawing pictures beginning with the letter i, making or coloring a shamrock, drawing a picture with a rainbow in it and creating a ramp to send down various items that move. They also reviewed letter recognition and sounds, number recognition to 20 and counting, while at home.
During this time, the STV staff reached out to thank the FRIENDS of St. Thomas of Villanova School for advancing technology at the school in recent years. The charitable organization has raised funds and purchased a variety of advancements for the school over the past eight years, from the latest technology to cutting edge furniture, from a 3D printer to a new sound system for theatre performances.
Thanks to the items and programs FOSTOVS provided, the teachers and students were well-equipped to continue their quality of education via e-learning. The group also reached out to the school recently to assist in providing staff any additional e-learning resources they need at this time.
In the midst of this crisis, social emotional learning is also paramount, noted Lori Smithe, the school’s social worker and mother of three St. Thomas of Villanova students. Smithe compiled a list of brain breaks, mindful exercises, and social emotional learning activities for teachers to provide to families as well. “In addition to academics, it is so important for us to take care of ourselves and our emotions,” she said.
In the spirit of taking care of each other, the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish staff has spent hours calling all of their parishioners from the church directory just to check-in, talk, or offer help as needed. It is a form of ministry for the church staff. Their office is closed, and there are no masses or services being held throughout the Archdiocese.
Father Kris Janczak, Pastor of St. Thomas of Villanova Church, has kept in regular contact with school and parish families during this trying time, offering prayerful insights and glimmers of hope. He knows St. Thomas families will find ways to connect with each other during this epidemic.
“This is what I love about St. Thomas Parish; this is what struck me from the very first day I arrived here,” Father Kris said. “Here, people care about each other. Here, it really feels like one big family. Yes, this is a really unique parish with unique people. Let us not forgot about each other during this difficult time.”
This week St. Thomas of Villanova students enjoyed a well-deserved Spring Break, with no academic expectations, though many classes still informally met through zoom and other applications to stay in touch with their friends from school.
But after Spring Break comes to a close, and as the state’s shelter-in-place mandate continues through April 7, students will return to the at-home classroom March 30. Principal Brinkman is certain the St. Thomas of Villanova staff will keep e-learning a productive and positive learning experience for families.
“Our teachers are doing an exceptional job of not only providing academic learning but addressing the students’ physical, psychological, social and emotional needs as well,” Brinkman said.
Read the full article here: https://patch.com/illinois/palatine/st-thomas-villanova-completes-full-week-remote-learning