By Marty Denzer,
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY ― In mid-March, the lives of kids across the country turned inside out as the coronavirus swept inward from the east and west coasts to converge in the nation’s heart.
In Kansas City, as in many other cities, businesses and schools closed in an effort to contain and prevent the virus from spreading. Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a stay-at-home order pertaining to all but essential services and businesses, restaurants and stores closed, workers furloughed or laid off and, for kids dependent on breakfast and lunch at school, this was no extended Spring Break. It could have proved bleak.
Like teachers across America, the teachers at schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese switched to online learning, with hard copy lessons for students without the Internet at home. They work to stay in contact with their students, often daily, offering encouragement and study aids.
The principals, faculty and staff at Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope schools are going about 20 steps further.
Each Tuesday, Barb Deane, principal of Holy Cross School in Old Northeast Kansas City, several faculty members and office staff stand curbside by the school – six feet apart – to distribute, without contact boxes of five breakfasts and lunches and 10 small cartons of milk for each student under age 18 in a family. Each meal is prepared by American Dining Creations and comprised of a fruit, a vegetable, a protein and a grain, according to national school meal guidelines. Each box has the child’s name on it and, if there is no computer at home, the box also is packed with hard copies of lessons, worksheets, and folders to return the finished work.
On Wednesdays, the same thing happens at Our Lady of Hope School in the Westport area. Mary Delac, principal of Our Lady of Hope, several teachers and office staff, practicing social distancing, greet each car as drivers pull up, check the list for the family name, and ask the driver to pop open the trunk. They load the boxes of 10 meals, 10 milks and any needed classwork for each student in the family into the trunk, call out “30-second ‘Hi’s,’ shut the trunk and the driver waves goodbye and drives home. No contact.
Holy Cross teachers are using ClassDojo to communicate with their students. Deane said students begin their daily online learning with prayer, the Holy Cross School Pledge: “Just for today, I will do the right thing, even if I don’t feel like it. I will treat people right, even if I don’t feel like it. Today, I will remember that I can choose how I feel and what I think. With God, all things are possible. The Good News is meant to be shared.” followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Not every family had the Internet or wifi in their homes, so when Deane learned that Spectrum was offering a 2-month free trial, she had families set up for the trial so students and parents could access ClassDojo to keep up with classwork and stay connected with their teachers.
March 31 was the first day classwork folders were returned, Deane said. The work of the middle schoolers included Kansas City Science Fair project boards they had begun earlier in the school year. Deane said younger students were making art projects with “found” objects.
Teachers are posting videos and other messages on the Dojo site, including one video of a teacher speaking to his students with his dog in his arms.
Speaking of dogs, Addie, Holy Cross School’s Emotional Support Dog, continues to offer virtual comfort to the students on ClassDojo.
Deane said a teacher or staff member voluntarily comes in daily, so that at least four days each week, if families call, the phone is answered.
Holy Cross is blessed with many community partners, including the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP contacted the school to see which families were not eligible to receive free or reduced lunch, the common denominator of the government food distribution program. Fourteen families were identified, many of whom had applied for citizenship and thus had to be self-sufficient, no food stamps, or other governmental food programs.
In partnership with a local ALDI grocery store, the police delivered 14 boxes of food, milk and eggs donated by the grocer, to the school, and the boxes were then delivered it to the families. This will be an ongoing gift to the families.
Deane shared a prose poem a friend sent her, as a message of hope to school families, in fact to all who read it. It has gone viral on social media. The poet is a retired teacher living in Madison, Wis.
“The people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.’ Catherine “Kitty” O’Meara, 2020
Our Lady of Hope students in grades Kindergarten through fourth, Delac said, receive two-week learning packages with their breakfast and lunch boxes. Teachers post daily assignments on Google Classroom for students in grades five through eight, which are completed online. Students in fifth through eighth grades without a computer at home, have been loaned Chromebooks by the school until classes resume.
Along with online instruction, both schools offer “Office hours” ― opportunities for students to receive help and instruction from their teachers based upon their individual need. Our Lady of Hope teachers also use ClassDojo to stay in touch with their students, post photos, videos and messages.
Every evening teachers of both schools host a “Zoom classroom” where students can ask questions about the day’s work and virtually interact with other students during some communal time to help continue to foster the important relationships that Catholic schools foster. Students and teachers also spend time in prayer to close out the school “day.”
While it is easier to type papers and assignments on a laptop, with ClassDojo and Google Classroom, all technology can be performed on a smart phone, enabling all the families to access it.
Mary Delac said the governmental breakfast and lunch program helps families make it to the end or the pay period, a big help in these unsettled times.
Delac said she heard from a parent that when her family opened the box of food, one of the children said, “It’s like Christmas!”
Last week she discovered a big multi-colored heart drawn in chalk on the sidewalk by the school with the words. “We miss you! Love, Hope, Faith.”
“I feel like a rock star,” she said with a laugh, adding more seriously that the school’s faculty and staff were doing “the best we can. Covid-19 may be dangerous and frightening for many reasons, but we’ll never let it bring Our Lady of Hope down!” Barb Deane of Holy Cross would surely say the same thing.
To see the original article in the Catholic Key, click here.