Without a doubt, the global pandemic of 2020 will be remembered as a time in which humans were tested and challenged in a myriad of ways many of us could have never seen coming. As educators, we are keenly aware of the impact the outside world has on our students’ development. And while we have embraced the move toward remote learning, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that even the best distance-learning curriculum may fall short of meeting our innately human need to connect with our peers.
From the onset of our transition to teaching and learning from home, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Newark have recognized students’ need to bond with their classmates, and we are proud to report that our schools have found numerous ways to keep their spirited communities alive. In this piece, we present a roundup of what community looks like across our schools during these unprecedented times.
Academy of Our Lady of Grace in Fairview
The word “superhero” has taken on a new meaning for today’s students, as we collectively recognize everyday acts of service and bravery on the part of frontline workers. Equally impressive are not just the teachers who have transitioned their classrooms to a virtual setting but the students who have embraced their new learning environment. Students at AOLG recognized that they, too, are heroes, and they celebrated by donning their best costumes for “Superhero Day.”
St. Theresa School in Kenilworth
Communicate, communicate, communicate. That’s the summary of how St. Theresa School is keeping the spirit alive among its children and families, faculty and staff. Though they’ve done a great job boosting each other’s spirits through things like video messages and drive-by Easter egg displays, it never hurts to get a little help from one’s friends. STS got just that when an anonymous benefactor had balloon installations placed above the entrance to the school bearing the message, “Stay Strong, Pray Strong.” Parents and students were invited to drive by and honk their horns when they saw the balloons.
St. Michael School in Union
In addition to praying together virtually and celebrating birthdays in video chats, St. Michael’s engaged its community by asking families and faculty members to document in photos what they have been up to at home. The photographs were then compiled to create a video intended to remind families that despite their distance, they remain united as one.
St. Bartholomew Academy in Scotch Plains
Students at St. Bartholomew are taking some initiative when it comes to staying connected. When they participated in a schoolwide “Bear Hunt,” middle school students placed bears in their home windows for the younger students to find. Students in kindergarten, first, second, sixth, seventh and eighth grade have become pen pals, encouraging interaction across age groups. Fifth grade students used Google Slides to share messages of hope and inspiration with one another. To promote their faith, the eighth grade prayed the rosary together on a Zoom meeting, while Mrs. Susan D’Apuzzo read “The First Easter” to her pre-K3 students, and pre-K4 talked about what they could do to celebrate Lent.
Paramus Catholic Regional High School in Paramus
Video production teacher Peter Hastings often wishes the story of his great-grandmother had been documented before she succumbed to the Spanish Flu over a century ago. Drawing on his family story, Hastings has asked his own students to create a daily vlog (or video log) of their experiences that day. Students can document each day by talking about what they did, recapping current world events and sharing their predictions of what may come next.
Since March 20, Hastings has had more than 100 students documenting each day of this outbreak to form a massive library of vlogs. He hopes to store the footage permanently and make it available to future generations of students so they can understand what life was like during this historic outbreak. Hastings hopes that one day his students’ own great-grandchildren will view these vlogs and perhaps take away lessons that may help them in their own lives.
St. Joseph Academy in Bogota
In an effort to maintain the spirit of the St. Joseph Academy community, students, teachers and parents have been participating in Wacky Wednesdays to keep connected and showcase their creativity. Based on weekly themes, participants create and don “costumes” they present to each other during homeroom via Zoom. Themes have included “Pick Your Favorite Character,” “Backward Wednesday” and “We Thank You.” The SJA community has also been encouraged to make cards, signs and posters to thank first responders, health care workers and anyone else they feel has made a difference in this time. Pictures taken and submitted by families are uploaded to the St. Joseph Academy website every Wednesday.
Mother Seton Regional High School in Clark
To kick off spring break, the faculty and school principal created a compilation video set to the classic tune “Footloose” with the message that all students should cut loose and relax during their week off.
Student leaders, on the other hand, held a virtual Student Council Week on social media featuring school-wide activities like Share Your Virtual Workspace, Gratitude Attitude, Wellness Wednesday and sharing photos of their Quarantine Buddies—siblings, pets or even stuffed animals—with Fashion Show Friday wrapping up the week. The community also remains dedicated to the service of others, continuing its Sandwich Run in which non-perishable food is collected and brought to St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth. Despite the temporary closure of the building, the Sandwich Run continues to average more than 170 food items per week.
Holy Trinity School in Westfield
During spring break, Principal Dr. Adele Ellis spent time with students during "The Principal Takes Over" week. Dr. Ellis held Zoom sessions with each grade level from pre-K3-8, taking part in different activities, such as reading stories, scavenger hunts, jumping games and guess the slogan.
Transfiguration Academy in Bergenfield
The Transfiguration Academy Junior Rosary Society led a virtual praying of the rosary for the Transfiguration community. Families were invited to pray the rosary by logging on to Google Meeting or by praying together as a family at the time of the virtual rosary.
Oratory Prep in Summit
An important part of Catholic education is the sense of community that is built within the school. At Oratory Prep, these traditions remain critical to maintaining a sense of normalcy for students, starting with the daily prayer and fun fact shared during each morning's announcements. Virtual Masses and prayer services encourage families to gather and pray, while daily Instagram story challenges, workout plans and Facebook Watch parties allow families and students to remain connected in a more light-hearted way. New endeavors include the introduction of a podcast staring the dean of students and director of student activities titled “The Brotherhood,” along with virtual versions of trivia night, meditation, spirit week and a talent show.
Visitation Academy in Paramus
What many students and teachers miss most about in-person schooling are the daily routines that unite them as one. At Visitation, teachers have found a way to remain a part of their students’ daily routine at home. Each week, teachers take turns reading their favorite bedtime stories and sharing those videos online. At home, family members gather together to watch while “welcoming teachers” into their homes for a time-honored tradition. To see their stories, visit Visitation Academy on Facebook.
Hudson Catholic Regional High School in Jersey City
Like many of our schools, the Hawks of Hudson Catholic have leveraged their social media community to engage with each other over recent weeks. From virtual spirit week to teacher takeovers of the Instagram account and a rap debut from Associate Principal Mr. Terence Matthews, students remain engaged with their peers and their teachers. In the weeks ahead, students will celebrate their Honors Assembly and performances from the cast of “Sister Act.” Find Hudson Catholic on Instagram: @hudsoncatholichs
Academy of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tenafly
Through live lessons taught by faculty, principal story time, athletic challenges and worshipping together, OLMC is exploring new ways of learning and new ways to get moving. Service is also what makes OLMC strong and proud, and now more than ever, they are committed to serving each other through daily good deeds, food drives and letter writing. To keep daily life of a Warrior fun, there have been community sports days, stuffed animal days and pajama days to name a few.
Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Park Ridge
Our Lady of Mercy Academy has been working hard to stay connected despite the stay-at-home order. Families were asked to join the school community at 8 p.m. each night by lighting a candle and saying a prayer for healing. Together, families dedicate prayers to frontline workers and members of the community who are ill. Pictures of families with their candles were used in an inspiring slideshow that was distributed via social media.