Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco Katie Flanagan begins teaching through distance learning on March 31, 2020, for her St. John Neumann Catholic High School students in Naples. (COURTESY)

Distance learning off to strong start in Venice Diocese

Venice  |  The terms virtual instruction and distance learning are becoming part of the lexicon of everyday language as the Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools joined the growing number of education institutions offering learning online.

Ben Hopper, Diocesan Interim Superintendent of Catholic Education, sent a letter to families of Catholic school students describing the exhilarating experience of getting both the teachers and the students prepared for the new learning experience which began March 31, 2020.

“The enthusiasm and spirit of engagement was palpable,” Hopper wrote. “I am sure that there will need to be some adjustments along the way, but our teachers and students are resilient and willing to adapt as needed. Thank you for the love and support that you have given to our schools during this challenging time. Please be assured of our prayers and support in the coming weeks.”

Hopper expressed his gratitude to the students and families who were eager to learn in some new and exciting ways and to the talented people working in our schools. 

He also thanked the students for waiting patiently to get back to learning; the teachers, who demonstrated incredible creativity, collegiality, and compassion as they have prepared for the resumption on instruction and for the weeks ahead; the school counselors and student support staff, for remaining positive source of support, love, and concern for our students, their families, and our teachers; the technology teachers and coordinators, who jumped right in to find resources, offer tech support, and be available; and finally to the administrators and their support staff, who worked day and night to ensure that the schools and teams were prepared to launch eLearning.

In the same letter, Hopper announced that in the wake of Gov. DeSantis’ March 30 announcement about public schools, all activities and classes on the campuses of the Catholic schools throughout the Diocese will remain suspended through May 1, 2020. Diocesan schools will continue to deliver instruction through distance learning through this date.

The new distance learning provided the students and teachers an opportunity to be creative as everyone adapted to the new educational experience.

Computer screens were filled with smiling faces as students logged onto virtual classroom links. Teachers were creative in setting up their at-home classroom, some with backgrounds that were familiar, bulletin boards with calendars and announcements. Teachers of the youngest students were the most imaginative with colorful props to brighten and personalize the learning experience.

To include a reassuring component to the new experience, many of the schools provide a daily morning prayer service which includes the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements. The days are also structured just like a school day with breaks between classes, lunch and even time for exercise. Gym teachers have become inventive in encouraging their students to stay active from the confines of their home.

 Before the classes began at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota, several of the teachers did a drive-by tour of student homes, waving from the car while students held up “We Miss You!” signs. This was a fun way to stay personally connected while remaining responsible.