When schools shut down last March, many educators were left wondering how they could possibly adapt to the pandemic’s new normal. But the Catholic Archdiocese of New York lost no time, immediately setting to work designing reopening plans for its more than 150 New York schools, in consultation with a team of architects, healthcare consultants, school leaders, and staff.
According to Kingston Catholic School (KCS) Principal Jill Albert, the large-scale, proactive effort played a vital role in allowing the school to remain open five days a week since last fall. “The Archdiocese sent architects to walk the building with the state guidelines in hand and lay out for us exactly how we could achieve safe distance. Then we trained our faculty and staff in our new plans and protocols, and added additional staff to support the cleaning of high-touch points and a new deep cleaning every day,” Albert says. “Hand sanitizer is everywhere now.”
Remote learning continues to be offered to students and families who prefer it, but in-person instruction of the majority of the 190 students in grades preK-8 has been an overwhelming success. “September was all about creating a new way of being in school,” Albert says. “Students were used to working in pods and small groups, and they came back to desks in rows for the first time in their lives. But they dug right in, and there’s been such a rich quality of conversation and higher-order thinking going on every day. They’re really heroes.”
At a time when so few schools are able to make in-person learning work for their communities, KCS has been able to maintain continuity of daily instruction, including important enrichment programs like art, music, and technology. And the opportunity to be back each day has helped KCS students embrace the changes they've had to make to their routines with the new policies and procedures.“We were expecting pushback from the older kids and that it would be really hard on the littles, but everyone just got it from the get-go,” says Albert.
Some changes, Albert says, have actually added an extra dose of fun to their days. “In nice weather, we were working outside on our beach towels, and we’ll keep that going forward,” she says. “All along, the kids were telling us they just wanted to be in school, together, with us. As an educator, that’s gold. And I’m so glad we’ve made it happen for them.”
While space is limited under the current pandemic restrictions, Kingston Catholic School is welcoming new students for the