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Silence echoes through the halls of Catholic Central High in Troy.

On what would normally be a busy day, all 200-plus Catholic Central students are spending their school day at home, after the Albany Diocese announced the temporary closure of all diocesan schools to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On Friday, April 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said all New York State schools would be closed until at least April 15, which falls right in the middle of Easter recess for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Albany.

“It’s very eerie,” said Christopher Signor, principal of Catholic Central, who is the only person on staff in the building. “I’m command central, answering phone calls and parent concerns. There’s a lot of nervousness in the community and rightfully so.”

As public and private schools across the Capital District closed their doors in response to the mounting concern of COVID-19 spreading, teachers are facing the unexpected challenge of how to teach remotely.

Still, the show must go on. While classrooms are empty, Catholic Central students are attending school through two remote learning programs, Google Classroom and Google Meet, to ensure their education isn’t halted.

Michael Dempsey, dean of students, spoke with the media through Google Meet from his home to discuss the new programs. The transition has been an adjustment, he said, but both students and teachers “have come around really quickly.”

“We want to try and keep some sense of normalcy,” Dempsey said. “Kids are going through a social-distancing time and we know the best thing for their development is interacting with each other and interacting with their role models and with our teachers.”

Catholic Central had already been utilizing Google Classroom since the start of the school year, which allows teachers to distribute and grade assignments online, and students to submit and share files and assignments. After the Diocese announced all schools would go remote, teachers had days to learn Google Meet, a new online video conferencing program that allows teachers to live stream classes from their homes as either a live video or by displaying their computer screen for students to follow along with class notes or power points.

“(Teachers) are either doing a video conference like this with a board behind them and talking through it or they are doing a screen mirror and showing their screen in Google Slides that way,” Dempsey said.

Serving as a monitor for teachers, Dempsey pulls up a few live shots of classes being taught on Google Meet. He pulls up a Spanish class being taught by Brother Edgardo Zea, OFM, who asks a student for her response. Her icon, customized to be an alien from the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch,” pops up in the corner as she answers. In another class, Christine Cochrane, CCHS math teacher, addresses the entire class: “If “Y” becomes negative, what is seven going to be?” There’s a brief pause of silence, then, “Negative seven!” is shouted, as a student’s icon pops up in the corner. Students laugh, and the class ends with a surprise of no homework.

How students attend class is the same as before; at the time they would have walked to their class, students now sign in to Google Meet. Dempsey added that students can pass the time and “join a Google Hangout and discuss as they would in the hallways. It gives them that nice sense of normalcy.”

While the school is closed to students, Catholic Central’s cleaning company has been sanitizing the building 24 hours a day for any guests or faculty who enter: “They’re putting people on overtime, so there’s at least one person on 24 hours a day going through every service, cleaning every classroom,” Signor said.

Until the doors open again, Signor said Catholic Central is ready to help its students any way it can, even if it’s from afar.

“We’re a private school and a Catholic school, and one of our missions is to bring the love of Jesus to everybody. And this is just one more way to love our kids and to provide for them.”

BISHOP MAGINN HIGH SCHOOL

Much like Catholic Central, Bishop Maginn sprang into action when Principal Michael Tolan asked John Harden, a faculty member and director of technology, to devise a plan for distance learning. Maginn also selected Google Classroom as their platform of choice.

“Our goal was to be ready for the inevitable school closure,” said Harden via email. “We were successful. Students received training (March 13), and we were operational as of Monday, March 16.”

Harden added that by the beginning of last week, “every faculty member has posted assignments, including assessments, and we have over 90 percent of students participating.”

Harden refers to Google Classroom as an “asynchronous learning platform,” which gives students the flexibility to learn the same subject at different times and locations. These platforms, which are the standard in colleges and universities, are ideal for the culturally diverse Maginn student body, who may have to watch over younger siblings or help assist with family responsibilities during the day as well. For students without laptops, the school gave them loaner laptops and partnered with Albany Public Library for students to take home data modem hot spots, Harden added. Comcast and Spectrum are also offering free Wi-Fi for anyone in need for the next two months.

Faculty now have virtual hours, are grading students’ work and are available for individual instruction via Google Hangouts. Harden was quick to point out in the email that the school will continue to live out its Catholic mission.

“We are determined to participate in Christ’s healing ministry despite the limitations of the COVID-19 virus,” Harden said. “As part of our mission as a Catholic School, our Theology professor (Susan Gilligan Silverstein) is engaging in an online service project with our students to assist those who are lonely, sick, or quarantined.”

NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS SCHOOL

The school is using the Remind App, which can be used with your phone or desktop, and allows students, parents and teachers to stay on the same page and remain current with assignments. And like most schools, Google Zoom is prominent in the school day.

Mickie McGuiness Baldwin, director of development and advancement, added NDBG used Facebook Live the morning the students came into the building to get their books. She added school counselor Sam South is in contact with all families, particularly the seniors making final college decisions, and keeping everyone informed regarding changes in state testing and requirements and SAT cancellations.

ST. MADELEINE SOPHIE SCHOOL

The school, which is pre-K through 5, started planning March 6 for distance learning, Principal Kelly Sloan said via email. A survey was sent to all families “assessing the capability for online, remote teaching and learning,” Sloan added.

Families responded, were told about Spectrum’s free Wi-Fi offer and students were equipped to learn remotely. In all, 37 students received devices for remote learning. The entire faculty shared lesson plans in case one teacher contracted the coronavirus, and families are receiving daily email and text updates from Sloan and their teachers. Like the high schools, the younger students are being taught through Google Classroom and programs like the Pearson Math program, iReady and Seesaw.? Sloan added students were encouraged to use traditional pencil and paper to prevent them from being online all the time. Families were also given “an editable sample daily schedule for home learning” so they could track how “learning, physical activity, family time and down time would fit into each day.”

Sloan said students learning and parents working remotely together is not the ideal situation.

“If a child cannot complete the daily assignments, the last thing we want is for families to feel more stress,” Sloan said. “We have tried to give options, choices and ideas that can be modified if needed.?We understand that many parents will be working from home so we are trying to make sure students can complete anything we assign independently or with minimal help, allowing parents to work.  We want to make this manageable for each family’s situation.”

The faith component was equally important. Sloan said at the start of Lent, families received a “Lenten Challenge” packet that was chocked full of activities and ideas. Families were also given the Lenten Prayer for Children, which the school prays together every day, and a special prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe to fight the coronavirus. 

“We couldn’t be prouder of our faculty and staff for the tremendous thought, preparation, flexibility and love they have put into this new reality of learning for our children,” Sloan added in the email. “Our families have come together as they always do, appreciating the complexity of the situation and looking out for us and one another. … We know we will get through this time together.”