School’s not out

Bishop Noll has seamless transition to remote learning during COVID-19 school closure

Aaliyah Sierra, Staff Reporter

What was supposed to be only a couple weeks of closing school buildings turned into districts closing for the rest of the academic year. The coronavirus pandemic has hit regional Indiana schools with obstacles in giving students a quality education online. Since the closure of schools in March, all districts have turned classes into online sessions.

Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jennifer McCormick, acknowledged some issues of schools who are unable to provide electronic devices for students to complete their work—or students who may not have any internet access. McCormick argued that she understands not all schools established devices for their students, but they had more than enough time to set up Internet access for their own buildings.

“There are different levels of inequality…we need to make sure that all people, that all citizens in the state of Indiana, have access to the Internet…” says McCormick.

Bishop Noll is one of only 25% of schools in Indiana who had a virtual learning plan intactand and have managed to stay on top of academics through a seamless transition. Noll’s last day of school before the quarantine was Friday, March 13, and teachers and students picked up with a full curriculum the following Monday.

Part of the reason for their success is the 1:1 iPad plan that is now in its 2nd full year.

“Prior to this quarantine, we had several virtual learning days over the past two years which gave our faculty and our families a little bit of practice in the world of remote learning,” said Ms. Marisa Renwald, director of instructional technology at Bishop Noll. “Obviously, it was nothing like an entire quarter of the academic school year; but it helps that we’re all familiar with the technology, most of our materials and texts are digital, and we’re well-seasoned in conducting digital assessments and providing feedback and grades online.”

Every teacher has utilized a landing page for each class for the past three years, in which they post announcements, links, video, and assignments. They can also grade their students’ digital work and provide feedback through their landing page as well. Additionally, teachers use a digital testing software that locks students iPads into a test or quiz.

An Indiana principal has taken further steps in helping her school’s community. Through her dedication to work, she has managed to keep Bishop Noll Institute on top compared to other local schools. Mrs. Lorenza Jara Pastrick, Bishop Noll’s principal, has worked together with staff members through daily conferences to ensure operations are going well. Mrs. Pastrick and her “task force” collaborate in helping at-risk students and families.

“We meet regularly to plan our further COVID-19 challenges…If we know of families in need, we take groceries, devices, some financial breaks in registration and service hours,” says Mrs. Pastrick. “We are also working with Big Shoulders Fund to help families who are most seriously affected.”

The administration team worked really hard the week before the school closed to provide teachers with the resources they needed for remote learning and explain the modified schedule and teacher/student expectations.

“We’re working on setting the bar for other area schools with our stellar virtual learning curriculum. It’s important to note how we haven’t missed a beat when transitioning to e-learning.

We don’t want to give away our secrets, our equation for what’s working; but it’s important to let the Noll community know that it is working and we’re not settling either. We meet on a regular basis to gather feedback, make adjustments, and essentially improve on what we’re already doing pretty well,” Renwald said.

Bishop Noll is assisting other nearby schools by offering any help needed and essentially providing a model of a seamless E-learning system for students. A teacher from St. Stanislaus finds connecting with her students over distance learning difficult. Ms. Juana Valdes, a Literature and Language Arts teacher, is focusing on keeping a positive connection with her students. Ms. Valdes and her students reminisce of old classroom memories. She sends out a weekly video of photos taken throughout the school year to motivate her students. But she believes the school will be back on track for the fall if we all remain focused.

“We [the students and Ms. Valdes] meet to pray a rosary weekly… Our school has sent out support information for emotional wellbeing, parent education hotlines and websites, and food banks in our area.”

Eric Copeland, a sophomore at Bishop Noll helps his family and other elders during this pandemic by grocery shopping for them. He keeps himself busy by doing homework or staying connected with friends via FaceTime. But Copeland is struggling with his self-motivation because of his natural gratuity, he is unable to help all those who are suffering. He hopes for schools to go back to normal, but is satisfied with online classes by Noll.

“Zoom meetings with teachers definitely have been challenging…It is better than nothing. I really do appreciate the teachers for doing the most they can, and being very flexible during this tough time…”