The North Star Catholic
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Schools within the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau were able to provide in-person learning to students for most of this past semester, albeit in a very structured environment with thoughtful mitigation plans. And it was with these plans that the schools have been able to help keep teachers, staff and students as safe as possible the past few months. Since it’s been a challenge to deal with the pandemic and provide in-person learning, we’ve asked our schools to share some of the successes in this COVID-19 world.
The following are thoughts from some of the schools.
Our Lady of the Valley, Wasilla
Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School (OLV) continues to navigate the challenges of this new era of uncertainty with a greater determination to serve our Heavenly Father. Students long for the traditions of the past but have accepted the reality that creative ideas need to be embraced. Putting our challenges to prayer daily is a new normal for faculty and children as alternatives to daily school life are accepted.
Friday Mass has always been a highlight of weekly school life. Students now attend Mass one class at a time, social distancing themselves, participating as lectors and musicians. Our priests inspire OLV students to embrace their faith and find ways to lead others with their faith example. All of the Friday Masses are livestreamed via Sacred Heart’s Facebook page to the classes that remain in their classrooms and parishioners viewing at home. OLV’s technology administrator, Brenda Almenas, coordinates this ministry for the school and parish.
Before the COVID era, the entire student body would gather together and start their day with chapel at Sacred Heart Church, with prayers, announcements, birthday blessing and a decade of the rosary led by students. This year, daily morning chapel takes on a new approach as announcements, the saint of the day, prayers and a meditated decade of the rosary is livestreamed via Zoom from the 7th/8th-grade classroom, concluding with the Pledge of Allegiance. After the initial announcements, students in their classroom continue their morning prayers at a pace most suited to their age and prayer fluency. Each child was given a plastic zippered pouch containing their own rosary in a homemade rosary bag made by the St. Jude quilters of Sacred Heart Parish. The students also received a votive candle and their very own copy of the St. Mary’s Press Catholic Children’s Colorful Prayer Book.
Even though there is no group singing during the
pandemic, the OLV students fill the church with music by playing the hand chimes.
The chime choir includes students from the different classrooms who are increasing their repertoire of various songs.
In addition to chiming at the Friday OLV Mass, their beautiful music was heard at the Sacred Heart Confirmation Mass and the Veterans’ Day Mass. Mrs. Lund’s piano students play prelude music before Mass. Sixth-grader Jonah Cler has also performed several violin solos during the different Masses. Mrs. Lund, OLV music director, states, “Even during this pandemic, the children are enthusiastically showcasing their musical talents and want to contribute to the music ministry with their God-given gifts.”
School life is different, but still vibrant!
Monthly virtue spirit rallies led by our spirit presidents are pre-recorded and shared via Seesaw. At our most recent All Saints Days celebration, many students wore saint costumes depicting their saint while reading or reciting their saint report. Each class was videotaped, and parents could view it online using Seesaw, allowing us to continue the OLV tradition of celebrating the communion of saints.
Even recess is different at OLV, with each class having their own playground time, following a staggered recess schedule. These accommodations were instituted to comply with our mitigation plan, enabling social distancing, learning pods and health precautions, and keeping our school safe and in session!
Even though our students and families are following a new normal, we trust God and His continued love for all of us. In addition to masks, shields, hand sanitizers, and defoggers, faith, hope and love will always be our strength at OLV. We are not strangers to challenges, so we pray for God to again guide our every action. The lyrics to our school song clearly state, “The school that our God has built.” We keep everyone in our prayers during this historical time. God bless all our Catholic Schools and their families!
Holy Rosary Academy, Anchorage
Holy Rosary Academy (HRA) opened its doors for regular in-person classes on the 17th of August 2020. As of November, HRA is still holding in-school instruction. We have also been able to offer Mass most every week.
Before beginning classes in August, the school purchased an air purifier for each classroom. The filters can be cleaned periodically and replaced as required. They are working well. Social distance is observed in each classroom and masks are required depending on the mandates from the Municipality of Anchorage. Individual classes do not interact very much with each other as an extra measure of caution. Sports outside of our school and field trips are rare and there are no before or after school care programs offered, as another precaution. Current enrollment is at about 125 students from K through 12th grade. Grades limit out at 15 students. Yes, we have room for more students in specific grades.
Our staff, our students and their parents did not care much for the online instruction that we were required to provide during the 4th quarter of our 2019-2020 school year. Our online classes for that school quarter were well thought out and taught by our tremendous staff, but it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that there is no comparison for classes being offered with a real live teacher working with students, face to face, in the same room.
One particular success story would be our middle school and high school retreats, which took place on the 12th and 13th of November. To mitigate the spread of germs, the retreats were only held during the day, instead of being an overnight experience. The students were required to wear masks and follow standard COVID-19 precautions. These steps did not hinder the retreat though, as students listened to and questioned the guest speakers, and most importantly, spent time in prayer. During their breaks, they could also attend bonfires and play their beloved games of carpet ball and ping pong.
As for plans for any possible changes, the staff realizes that HRA might be required to conduct smaller in school classes or even resort to online classes again like we experienced last spring. We are developing plans that would include live smaller classes that could meet for only half of a day, or perhaps on alternate days of the week. The methodology and other options for remote online classes are also being revamped and improved.
Bottom line: Holy Rosary Academy is open for business during this pandemic and intends to keep it that way for as long as the good Lord, His Mother and local officials will allow!
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Anchorage
Since the beginning of the school year, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School (SEAS) has provided in-person schooling. Our mitigation plan prevented us from having any positive cases of the virus within the school (as of the writing of this article). Staff and student temperatures are taken each morning, masks are worn throughout the day (unless we are eating or drinking), and rooms are sanitized while the students are at recess.
There is also frequent hand washing, restricted movement throughout the school, and “fogging” to disinfect the rooms in the evening. And our parents and staff have been limiting their social bubbles and places they visit.
We have had many successes during this COVID-19 semester, but one of the greatest successes is the ability to learn together, in person. To best understand the success at our school in a COVID-19 world, the following is part of a paper written by Nora Graham, a 6th-grade student sharing some of the challenges, but also the joys and successes of being in school together:
“In-person school gives me a purpose. I wake up and I think about what I’m going to do at school and why. You have so much more fun at school than at home too; you get to do fun projects and activities. Every day I look forward to seeing all of my wonderful teachers. I appreciate all of the amazing work that my teachers are doing.
“They are so incredible, and they are working so hard. I really appreciate all they are sacrificing to help me and my classmates succeed.
“I have noticed that having an in-person school makes me more careful outside of school. When I put a mask on to go out, I think about school and how much I want it to stay open, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Being able to go to Mass every Wednesday helps me to connect to my faith and feel closer to God. I feel so lucky that I’m getting the opportunity to go to Mass once a week.
“Wearing a mask is a small price to pay for in-person school. Something that I really appreciate is in-person school makes everything feel a little more normal. It feels really good to have something feel normal right now. My last and most important reason is it makes me thankful.
I feel thankful all the time now, and I feel so lucky. There are so many advantages to in-person school and I feel so thankful to have this opportunity!”
These sentiments were echoed by many other SEAS students in similar papers.
In closing, it’s been said that the key to success is to focus on goals and not on obstacles. We are proud of our Catholic schools and how they continue to educate students in a Christ-centered academic environment in the Catholic tradition with all of today’s challenges. And, as Nora shared, we are also very thankful. Please pray that we can continue in-person learning into the New Year!