Kathryn Jensen, principal of Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, starts the school day with the Pledge of Allegiance on Facebook Live.  Facebook photo
Kathryn Jensen, principal of Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, starts the school day with the Pledge of Allegiance on Facebook Live. Facebook photo
" "No one is working a nine to five job anymore." " Principal Catherine Zagola Pope John Paul II Regional School, Willingboro
Success stories abound as Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton continue to respond to students’ needs via virtual learning during the COVID-19 quarantine.

The amount of work being done behind the scenes, however, may be surprising.

In addition to planning school lessons, grading and setting online “office hours,” teachers and administrators are contending with internet connectivity issues; different “school hours” for students as parents and children share one computer; teachers taking on more classes, and principals stepping in to help get the job done.

“I don’t think anyone has any idea what this is involving for our teachers,” said Catherine Zagola, principal of Pope John Paul II Regional School, Willingboro. “It is an amazing amount of work. No one can imagine the time involved unless you’re living it … no one is working a nine to five job anymore.”

In recent weeks, Zagola has found herself leading a course for a teacher out on maternity leave. In addition to her principal duties, she spends hours preparing work – and that doesn’t include fielding the 60-plus emails per day from students submitting work.

Likewise, principal Kathryn Chesnut of St. Charles Borromeo School, Cinnaminson, is currently sharing a position with a substitute teacher, which means six hours of preparation for the lessons, not counting the grading.

Carol Bathmann, principal of St. Dominic School, Brick, explained, “We’re looking at the gifts and talents of our teachers of art, music, and Spanish and matching them with faculty members who are teaching core curriculum disciplines. In the event that a core subject teacher becomes ill, one of these teachers with expertise in that subject area would be ready to step in.

“For example, the school’s music teacher formerly taught English, so she is shadowing our current seventh-grade English teacher and attending all Google Hangout Meets.”

Trying to promote connection, many principals have been an online presence just like their teachers, visiting with students and even leading them in prayer.

Kathryn Jensen, principal of Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, has been opening each school day on Facebook Live, doing the day’s announcements. Sister of St. Joseph Patricia Pycik, principal of St. Joan of Arc School, Marlton, uploads slideshows and photos and posted warmhearted video messages for the Triduum and Easter on the school’s Facebook page.

Technology is wonderful when it works and is readily available. But that isn’t always the case when the whole family is confined at home together.

“When I don’t hear from a student, it could be because they don’t have a computer, or there’s only one computer in the house and parents need [it] for work,” Zagola noted.

JoAnn Tier, diocesan Catholic schools superintendent, agreed each school’s situation is different. “The whole experience is so unusual. Beyond the pressure of getting the work done, there’s anxiety,” she noted. “The kids are watching TV, they’re frightened. We’re trying to reach the whole child, not just the intellect.”

Overall, the outcome has been successful, with many schools equipped to go virtual from the start of lockdown, in spite of some bumps along the way.

“It’s great to see the way our Catholic schools have really been proactive throughout this situation,” said Christian Brother Frank Byrne, president of Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.

He commended the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, saying that the staff “has really provided some outstanding leadership over the last few weeks. Our faculties throughout the Diocese have done a great job in adapting to the new reality of remote learning. Along with this, the parents and students are to be commended for being able to adjust to the changes.”

Like many diocesan schools, St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, began its foray into remote learning many years ago. In 2005, the administrative team introduced a one-to-one tablet program, evolving over time into a wireless community – giving every student and faculty members the ability to work from their tablets in school and at home.

“I’ve been amazed at how all of our teachers have developed new methods to deliver content … the ability to have group video / teleconferences with our teachers has helped preserve a real classroom environment.” said Paul Scalzo, sophomore. “I feel like I haven’t missed a step in any of my course work.”