WESTFIELD – For students at St. Mary’s, online learning quickly became the new norm during the coronavirus pandemic, especially for those at the high school.
“We had school March 13, found out we were closing for two weeks, met as a staff March 16 and started online learning March 17,” said St. Mary’s High School Principal Matthew Collins. “So, we have been doing this for a while now.”
When it was announced two weeks ago that school buildings would remain closed through the end of the current academic year, Collins said students and staff alike were disappointed, but they were academically prepared.
“We have not missed out on learning,” he said. “We continue to follow our typical class schedule and the middle school and elementary school have a similar schedule as well.”
Collins said students are given assignments each morning and are expected to complete most of them during what would be their normally scheduled class time during the day. Of course, said Collins, there are bigger projects that have a longer timeline, but for the most part, the work has continued as normally as possible. And, he said, it’s working.
“Students are engaged every day and our staff is teaching every day,” Collins said. “Our teachers are amazing and many of them offer zoom times outside of the class schedule to tutor students.”
Collins said while St. Mary’s has some students with Individualized Education Plans and 504 accommodation plans, they do not have students with severe educational disabilities and are able to accommodate those students who need support online. Collins, who was a special education teacher, said large schools have a more difficult time offering equitable online learning for students on IEPs.
While online classes are running smoothly and students are continuing to be challenged and follow curriculum, it’s definitely not the same.
“The students miss their friends and their teachers, the teachers miss their students and colleagues . . . I miss everyone,” said Collins, “but with zoom and social media we are able to still connect.”
The tight-knit group of 31 seniors are sad that they are missing out on being together for their last months of school, but Collins promised they would be celebrated.
“Being a small school, we can find ways to host some sort of ceremony,” he said. “A bigger school can’t really do that.”
No plans have been made yet as Collins is hopeful some of the stay-at-home orders will be loosened by June.
“We don’t want to make plans yet, but even if we have graduation on a flatbed in the parking lot, we are hoping we can somehow get together to celebrate the Class of 2020,” Collins said.