What did the 2020-2021 school year look like? - A Year of In-Person Learning...Throughout the Pandemic
“Unlike so many public schools, we were able to continue to meet in person,” says Barbara Dean, Principal of Holy Cross School.
Untold in that sentence were the countless hours spent, countless hours in preparation for what was to come; time spent outside of teaching, additional meetings, phone calls, logged into Zoom conferences, scouring the web, and speaking with mentors, advisors, and other experts on how they also plan to move forward.
Principal Dean doesn't speak about the importance of our school’s educational commitment to students without mentioning the role of the school to protect and keep our students safe. Shelley Henn, teacher and incoming principal for Holy Cross, echoes that sentiment. “Safety was as much of a priority to our students and our staff as education is.”
One of the most effective ways both Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope were able to ensure student health and safety and preserve the in-person learning environment was to group students into cohorts, keeping them together as much as possible. Meals, recess time, and of course, classroom learning at both Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope provided a safer and healthier space to diminish potential exposure and halt school-wide spread if there was a positive COVID test.
If a positive test was presented these small groups could shift to online learning and quarantine for 14 days without additional disruption to the remainder of our student body. The goal all along was to have as many children in our building actively being educated in as familiar a manner as possible each day.
Incoming Principal Henn of Holy Cross reflects, “I liked having students in their classrooms for meals. It was a perfect way to start the day because I knew that our kids had all eaten before jumping into learning.”
Families were also given the opportunity to keep their children home full-time for online instruction, challenging teachers to fine-tune their lessons for both in-person and virtual students. For example, Kerry Ysals, pre-K teacher at Our Lady of Hope; ensured that the online instruction option was still optimal for her students, building lesson plans producing at-home packets for these children weekly. “The simplest tasks become difficult over Zoom, like teaching proper holding of a pencil,” Miss Yslals remarked.
Another way we navigated the challenges of the pandemic was through our events. Choir concerts were one such example as they needed to be fully reimagined. Where music rehearsals could take place in-person during school hours with students in their smaller ensembles, concert attendance was hosted via Zoom and social media streams to adhere to health guidelines.
Students worked in our classrooms to record their performances, with Jennifer Weiman, the choir teacher at Holy Cross, managed all aspects of production. Her efforts in filming, editing, and streaming created a fantastic full virtual Christmas recital of our students for their families, friends, and our community that was shared in a safe manner. This school year has included many changes and challenges, for students, families, teachers, and administrators alike. The learning environment certainly has been different for all, and we are pleased to see how open to change our students and their families continue to be.
By Kendra O'Sullivan
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By Graciela Cabrera (4th, 5th, and 7th grade parent)
My family has been a part of the Holy Cross Catholic School family since 2009. My oldest son, now a college freshman, and my son who is now a high school junior, both graduated from Holy Cross. My daughter (7th grade), son (5th grade) and youngest son (4th grade), are all attending Holy Cross this year.
Holy Cross goes beyond the standards of reading, writing and math. The school nurtures the education and development of the whole child.
Holy Cross continually strives to update the school facilities. We have the latest technology in the classroom that allows our students to learn the latest education curriculum. Recently we obtained a state of the art heating and cooling system that makes learning, in any weather, possible.
"As a parent, I am grateful for the dedication that all teachers give my children. I would recommend Holy Cross Catholic School as a place where any child can receive the best education ever."
Parental involvement is what sets Holy Cross apart from other schools. We meet other parents in kindergarten and form friendships that continue until graduation…and beyond. Families all work together so that our children get the best education possible both in and out of the classroom.
As each year passes, our principal, Mrs. Deane works to provide more after school activities and enrichment programs that will help our children. Because our children love sports, Holy Cross has partnered with local organizations and programs to bring a variety of sports to our kids.
My children love going to school, feel trust in their teachers, enjoy being with classmate—in and out of school—and genuinely feel loved by the entire faculty and Holy Cross staff. As a parent, I am grateful for the dedication that all teachers give my children. I would recommend Holy Cross Catholic School as a place where any child can receive the best education ever.
Not many judges send two-page emails congratulating students who didn’t receive a top award. However, one of the judges at a recent robotics competition did just that. The Holy Cross students, per the judge, were unanimously applauded as a team that deserved recognition. To quote the email, “This first year team was small but mighty. They are obviously on a crusade to work together and excel in the world of Robotics.” To which their coach, Kittie Batiste says, “Amen.”
Ms. Batiste’s team of 5 th and 6 th grade Holy Cross students was tasked with identifying a
challenge within the human water cycle. They had to research the problem and then offer an
innovative solution. The group of three (reduced from seven) spent two and a half months on
the project. All time invested was after school—for both kids and Ms. Batiste. Not only did the
Holy Cross team get a late start on the challenge, in contrast to many schools in the competition, they didn’t have funding.
What they did have, according to Ms. Batiste was eagerness, resilience and tenacity. “The kids
were gung ho,” Ms. Batiste continued. And then she shared the moment they were (almost)
overwhelmed. “When we arrived in our mismatched clothes and saw the teams from 39
competing schools, all in matching shirts, it was intimidating.” Yet the toughest moment was
when the kids were unable to print out their material for a computer code presentation.
However, that was also the moment when the judges took notice. Since they couldn’t print it
out, the students drew the code by hand. According to the email-writing judge, “We were
Next year? According to Ms. Batiste a Holy Cross team will be back. She is already seeing
interest, and she’ll be ready to work with whatever students show up to compete.
Though Ms. Batiste loves teaching at Holy Cross she didn’t start her career at a Catholic school. In fact, she was getting ready to start a job in the public system when she felt a pull toward something different. “God was calling me,” she shared. She has never regretted her decision. According to Ms. Batiste, at Holy Cross the smaller class sizes, respect for teachers and personal faith coalesce to create a more comfortable learning environment. And then there’s the positive attitude of her students, such as the three youngsters she took to the robotics competition.
Again quoting the judge, “They were poised, deferred to each other and obviously understood
what they were doing.” And that, more than any award, is recognition to be proud of.
Typically second grade Holy Cross students show up the first day of school knowing how to read, having mastered their know-how the year before. One young boy didn’t. A reserved, quiet youngster, the little tyke, nevertheless, was the first student to reach out to the school’s new reading mentor, approaching her with a book of his choice and then sitting down to read the words out loud. The book was Clifford the Big Red Dog. The mentor was Addy, a Labrador retriever mix.
Barbara Deane, principal, had been interested in the benefits of dogs to soothe anxiety while encouraging student participation for a number of years, but had never had the opportunity to have a dog on staff. Two months ago the right dog showed up with the right credentials.
Shelley Henn, second grade teacher, heard about “Puppies for Parole”—a program for rescue dogs trained by prison inmates. With the responsibility of having a dog to share their limited space, the prisoners taught their four-legged cellmates to be adaptable, attentive, and—most importantly—patient. Once Shelley visited Holy Cross’ prospective pup, she know it was meant to be. Addy was bundled into her car and arrived for work in the classroom the very next day.
According to Ms. Deane, “Addy is available for hugs, ball-toss games at recess, and especially reading.” The classroom includes a reading chair which Addy sits near when she's ready to work. When she needs a break, instead of heading for the teachers’ lounge, she simply lies down on the floor. When she does, the kids respect her need for rest, just as Addy respects their eagerness and enthusiasm when they sit by her side with a book—and sometimes her fur—in hand.
Even reading-adverse middle school students line up to read with Addy. Though the typically self-conscious kids will do anything to keep from reading in public—a responsibility they’re occasionally asked to fulfill at Mass—they seem more open to the idea when they get a chance to practice with Addy.
“Another terrific side effect of having a reading dog,” Ms. Deane chuckles, “is that we're having a lot of requests for books about dogs!”
When first time efforts equate to big time success, kids jump up and down. Parents cry. Teachers feel a deep sense of satisfaction in work well done.
This past April, seven science projects from Holy Cross School were accepted to compete in the Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Festival. Not every entry makes the cut. Those that do are typically entered by teachers from schools that have—for years—participated in the festival and support their students’ efforts with hefty science-focused budgets, and resources provided by families with sizable means. However, sometimes the little schools win and students with first-time entries receive accolades they never expected.
Not only did five of the seven entries from Holy Cross win Silver awards (two students shared a bronze), two young ladies, Yulissa Cabrera and Viviana Calderon—partners on their physics and astronomy project—won gold, and a purple rosette ribbon. The purple rosette award automatically qualified them in the Broadcom MASTERS®, an international science and engineering competition sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation. This alone is a tremendous honor. The competition is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders around the world and only the top ten percent of science fair projects are selected. After learning of their win, Yulissa and Viviana were elated. Wendy McKellar, their teacher, was profoundly proud.
Yet the biggest winner was hope itself. By stepping up to the challenge, preparing an application, refining their project once the preliminary application was accepted, and entering their idea as one of thousands, the young students realized they can accomplish great things if they want it hard enough and then go after what they want. According to McKellar, “Putting together science projects takes a lot of energy. Yet the kids themselves owned their efforts, they owned their learning. When they realized the responsibility was all theirs, they took charge of the work. I was simply the guide on the side.”
McKellar concludes by reflecting on her students, “They are so sweet, so humble. Their families—though not necessarily able to support their children through financial funding—provided something even more essential. They believed in their children’s future, that education is a pillar of that future, and that where you come from is not where you’re going.” Yet where they come from—Holy Cross—a school grounded in love of family, school, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the best to come from they could have hoped for.