This St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, student displays the dessert she made for the virtual bake sale. Courtesy photo
This St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, student displays the dessert she made for the virtual bake sale. Courtesy photo
While the COVID-19 pandemic has put an indefinite pause on certain activities such as sporting events, play rehearsals and other extracurricular activities, Catholic schools in the Diocese are using their social media platforms  to not only educate but also help students and teachers enjoy the lighter moments that are also part of school life.

“It’s important that they know we are there for them and we are a family,” said Michele Langdon, director of student activities in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel.

Langdon explained how the school is using online platforms to invite students to participate in activities like virtual bake sales that feature sweet treats students make, posting pictures that students take of their pets,  or playing “Guess the Teacher,” in which faculty members post pictures of themselves when they were in high school and students are asked to identify them.

“Each day I will receive an email from a student saying, ‘That was fun,’ or parents tell me how impressed they are that we are keeping in close contact with our students while having fun at the same time,” Langdon said.

Virtual Spirit Week proved to be popular in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, the week of March 23-27, and in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Asbury Park, which held two back-to-back Spirit Weeks, March 16-20 and March 23-27.

“Our Virtual Spirit Week was designed so that our students, while at home, could do something fun together with their TCA family,” said Rose O’Connor, TCA’s director of marketing/mission integration and campus minister, who developed the Virtual Spirit Week and shared the events with the school community via social media.

“While I’m sure the past few weeks have been unsettling for our students, they are resilient and have adapted well to our remote online learning,” she said.

“Our teachers and parents are working together to make sure the students feel supported during these uncertain times, meeting their social-emotional needs,” O’Connor said, citing that a few of the week’s highlights included “Move It Monday,” which asked students to share how they are keeping fit and active while at home; “Wacky Wednesday,” which asked students to post a picture of a funny smile, hairdo or outfit, and “Thrilling Thursday,” in which students were asked to name activities they do to keep occupied like reading, gaming or crafting.

Once O’Connor received the photos from each day, she compiled a short video that she shared on social media.

In the coming weeks, O’Connor added, students can look forward to more photo challenges, daily life snapshots, video messages and activities that correspond with the school and liturgical year.

Theresa Craig, principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, explained that the school’s two Spirit Weeks stemmed from a discussion she had with teachers on ways in which they could stay connected with students beyond the online classrooms.

“Our teachers and students are very active on social media already, so we knew this was a great way to reach a lot of our students at one time,” she said, noting that a hashtag was created to keep everyone updated on a daily basis and to share everyone’s Spirit Week photo and video posts on the school’s social media accounts. She noted that art teacher Liz Stahl, and middle school religion teacher MaryKate Sternik developed five themes for the first week and because it was so successful, Virtual Spirit Week extended for a second week with five different themes.

“Technology and social media have been so important during this time. Without it, I’m not sure how we would stay so connected to our students!” Craig said, noting that the students and their families were excited to be more involved.

She shared that on Instagram, there was a 79 percent increase in page views and the addition of five more followers in just a week’s time.

The second Virtual Spirit Week had more teacher involvement, Craig said. “We thought that would be a great way for our students to feel connected to their teachers by showing what their daily life has been like the past few weeks,” she said, noting that students saw their teachers working on lessons plans, delivering breakfast and lunches to students and even making breakfast in their kitchens at home. 

“It was important to have Spirit Week because it not only kept our students engaged while at home, but shows that everything is going to be OK,” Craig said. “While we may not know when things will get back to normal, it’s imperative that we stay in the now and keep things upbeat for our students as best we can.”