By Kenneth J. Souza
Web Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Catholic Schools Alliance of the Fall River Diocese recently posted a two-and-a-half-minute video extolling the diocesan schools’ quick response in dealing with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

In response to Governor Charlie Baker’s March 13 decision to close all schools in Massachusetts, the Fall River Diocese within three days had already shifted “to an online platform quickly for older grades and a blend of online and home packets for younger grades,” according to the video narration.

The video acknowledged how this swift response wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donation made by Jack and Susan Dawley of Osterville back in 2017, that was supplemented with federal funding to provide nearly $1 million in technology upgrades for the diocesan schools.

“This project will provide Wi-Fi in all the classrooms, faster access to data and to all kinds of online information, and that’s going to be the new method of teaching, so that students are not just sitting at a desk looking at the teacher,” Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., said in an Aug. 25, 2017 article in The Anchor. “They will be interacting and involved in a new process of learning. I think that is going to make a huge difference for the teachers and for the students, because they are benefiting from technology that is available now. And if we don’t do it, we are going to be really behind.”

In the video narration it states: “Years later, because of the generosity of the Dawley Family, in conjunction with federal funding, the Diocese of Fall River Catholic schools were afforded state-of-the-art Wi-Fi capabilities to enable teachers to expand their use of technology in the classroom and (ensure) students did not miss critical learning due to extended winter school closings.”

With this plan for snow days or winter storms already in place, the Catholic schools in the diocese were well-prepared for the COVID-19 closures.

According to Sandi M. Duxbury, vice president of Marketing and Corporate Partnerships for the Catholic School Alliance, when the governor announced the school closures, “our immediate thought was to implement the protocols developed for snow days so that our students could maintain a learning environment and not lose skills during what we originally thought was a two-week period.”

“As the shelter-in-place mandate extended beyond two weeks, it was very apparent that some modifications were necessary to make the remote learning more sustainable for both teachers and students, but still ensure the rigorous academics that parents rely on from a Catholic school,” Duxbury told The Anchor. “Most schools sent out surveys to solicit feedback from parents and teachers which helped modify the structure of the remote learning curriculum as well.”

Duxbury expressed her appreciation for the foresight and generosity of the Dawley family in providing the diocesan Catholic schools with the latest technological tools to make this smooth transition possible.

“We are so blessed that the Dawley Family provided our students with a gift that they never expected to be the backbone of our entire educational system just a few years later,” she said. “Parents who choose Catholic education for their children do so for many reasons and surveys indicate that rigorous academics are usually one of the top reasons. Thus, in order to provide a 21st-century education, our schools need to incorporate state-of-the-art technology to deliver our uniquely robust academic program in a manner consistent with other school systems’ technology. Our schools realize that technology is necessary in order to prepare our students for college and the workforce.”

The video also noted how “the positive feedback from parents and families was immediate and plentiful” to the swift transition to online learning.

“The schools responded quickly to families in need in a variety of ways, including providing devices such as Chromebooks as necessary,” the video narrator said. “The online learning isn’t just for science and math. The schools have maintained their Catholic identity even remotely by featuring online prayer services, Adoration and messages from pastors.”

One of the earliest examples of students banding together was when the choir from Bishop Stang High School posted a “virtual” a cappella performance of The Turtles’ hit “Happy Together,” which garnered more than 17,000 views in its first two weeks.

“We are constantly amazed at the creativity of our teachers and school leaders to ensure that our students feel as connected as possible to the community of the school,” said Duxbury. “From show-and-tell with the younger students, to weekly prayer services with the school pastor, to creating and presenting Great American symbols to the class, our teachers have gone above and beyond to deliver a meaningful and impactful educational experience.

“What’s most impressive is that while many other school systems are remaining status quo in teaching skills, our teachers and school leaders are focused on each individual student’s progress to keep them on track as much as possible. Our schools take a personal interest in reaching out to work with families who may be struggling due to this crisis, and offer support, extra assistance, and prayers to help each student reach their best potential — even under these circumstances.”

While future plans to return to the classroom remain uncertain under the threat of the Coronavirus, the video touted that Catholic schools in the Fall River Diocese are “prepared to meet and exceed this challenge.”

“There is a deep commitment to the students and families to provide a meaningful curriculum as well as challenge students to put their best effort into all they do,” the narration concluded.

You can view the diocesan Catholic schools video below …