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Schools, students and parents deal with remote learning

At St. John the Evangelist School in Lawrence, middle school math teacher LeeAnn Hartwick, left, and school counselor Lauren Yoshinobu discuss current and future plans for education and community and school togetherness on a conference call with 10 other teachers. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Molly Mahoney found out Kansas schools were suddenly closed for the rest of the school year, she was “devastated.”

“I was overwhelmed with memories, and I was disappointed knowing that I wouldn’t get to make anymore,” said the senior at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas.

Mahoney wasn’t alone. Kelly Lane, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, said she “didn’t want to believe it.”

“I was in complete shock and immediately began to regret any snow days I had begged for in the winter,” she said.

“Not to be insensitive to the situation,” she added, “because I do understand its gravity and what was done needed to be done. But I was just so overwhelmed that these amazing four years had come to an end so abruptly.”

On March 17, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly ordered schools to close for the remaining 2019-20 school year to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Although the archdiocesan school community was prepared to close schools for a few weeks, many never expected the entire school year would end.

‘God is in control’

The office of Catholic schools is working with archdiocesan school staff to send learning materials home to families, said Vince Cascone, superintendent of Catholic schools.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “That’s what the challenging part is for everybody — there’s a lot of questions.”

Rosary beads adorn on a crucifix, which hangs on a coat hook in an empty classroom at St. John Catholic School in Lawrence. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

But the delivery of remote learning materials to families is expected to be implemented the week of March 30.

“Many [staff members] already have online resources that they’re utilizing to communicate with parents and students to provide learning opportunities for students,” said Cascone.

“We’re still — as much as possible — reaching out and showing them that we’re together as a community,” he added.

Teachers will play a large part in the implementation of remote learning.

But for those like Maggie Hair, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies and religion at St. Agnes School in Roeland Park, the transition hasn’t been easy.

“For me, as an eighth-grade teacher, it’s difficult knowing that their last quarter at St. Agnes will be very different than we expected,” she said.

“This is always such a special time of year for a graduate,” she continued, “and it’s tough knowing that they will miss out on things.”

Hair said the St. Agnes staff is getting creative as it takes on the challenge of reaching students virtually and wants her students to know she’s there for them.

“We would love to be able to meet in person still for class and for Mass,” she said. “But God is in control of this and we need to lean on him and lean on those closest to us.

“I know we will all meet again, and we will be stronger and more faith-filled than ever when we do.”

A time to ‘slow down’

For parents, the transition to remote learning has also been a challenge.

Diane Leibson and her husband Seth have 9-year-old triplets. Two attend Nativity Parish School in Leawood and the third attends Ascension School in Overland Park.

“We both have concerns over effectively teaching our children to ensure they thoroughly learn the remaining academic requirements for third grade,” said Diane.

Armed with disinfectant wipes, Patty Hill, Terri Broadwell and Rachel Paradise, teachers at St. John Catholic School, discuss their next move in continuing the education and community spirit of the school children. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Both Diane and Seth are now working from home and taking shifts to assist their children with remote learning. Although it’s a challenge, the family is grateful to experience a slower pace.

“Up to this point, we were caught in the whirlwind of activities without really stepping back and determining if the activities were enjoyable,” said Diane.

“With the absence of all these activities,” she added, “we have time to catch our breath and assess the importance of each activity.”

Ben and Stephanie Broxterman, who have three children — two at St. Matthew School in Topeka — both work in health care and were expecting changes with the school situation, but were surprised at how quickly it escalated.

“Over the course of three days, we went from our local districts stating they would be returning to school the following Monday, to a two-week delay, to being closed for the remainder of the year,” said Ben.

“We were supportive of the decisions made, but it was at that point that the gravity of all of this really set in,” he said.

The transition to remote learning was hard on the Broxterman kids.

“When the announcement was first made, both kids were in tears about missing their teachers and their friends,” said Stephanie.

Classrooms throughout the archdiocese are closed thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept through the nation. Though the buildings are closed, the education of students will now be done remotely. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

But the children adapted quickly, and the family has also noticed the benefits of being at home together.

“The kids are more talkative and generally very content,” said Stephanie. “It’s been eye-opening for sure, with lots of hidden positives. We just had to slow down and look for them.”

‘I’m heartbroken’

Perhaps the most affected by this situation are high school and college seniors, who didn’t know they had experienced their last day at their schools until several days later.

“It never crossed my mind that it could be a possibility we might not return,” said Lane, who plans to attend the University of Notre Dame this fall.

“Looking back now and realizing that was my last day ever walking those halls as a student, sitting in the desks or eating at the lunch tables with all my friends,” she said, “I’m heartbroken.

“Had I known, I would’ve taken some moments or exchanged words that would bring some closure.”

Lane and her classmates have relied on one another during this difficult time.

“We’ve cried together about it and smiled as we remembered all the memories made. But we all share a sense of loss for what we will never get to experience,” she said.

St. John Catholic School principal Chris Reffett walks the dark hallways in the nearly empty school on Thursday, March 19. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Worse still, the best memories were yet to come, said Lane, with Aquinas traditions like the spring Olympics and senior Mass that will no longer happen.

“I feel the community at Aquinas is something that cannot be recreated, and I’m going to miss all the people that made that school feel like a home,” she said.

Mahoney, who plans to attend the University of New Mexico, had just finished the spring musical and never even had the chance to break the set down or celebrate with her friends.

She was looking forward to events like Ward’s annual “Wardskers,” a drama club event similar to the Oscars where students recognize the talents of their classmates and relive senior year memories.

“I’m going to miss the community at Bishop Ward,” said Mahoney. “We really are a family. I love every one of my teachers, and it is obvious how much they care for each of their students.

“I’ve made lifelong memories with my high school friends,” she said, “and I don’t know who I would be without them. It’s the people who make Bishop Ward what it is, and I’m going to miss them most of all.”

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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