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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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.
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.