The sound of laughter, “hellos,” students joyfully yelling their friend’s names, and teachers welcoming back students is filling classrooms in Catholic schools across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois once again. Schools have officially reopened, although to different looks and dozens of new safety precautions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite that, the feelings of joy, excitement, positive anticipation and looking forward to starting new friendships, celebrating school Mass, and learning are on new levels this year considering the coronavirus resulted in students learning from home in March, April, and May last school year.
Catholic Times checked in with parents, teachers, and students at St. Patrick School in Springfield, Routt Catholic High School in Jacksonville, Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Bethalto, St. Mary School in Mt. Sterling, and Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon.
What parents are saying
“I’m happy that there is a plan in place at school,” said Hope Williams, a parent of a student at St. Patrick. “I know with a few adjustments that may need to be made while getting started, ensuring the safety of the students will continue to take place. I am excited and my son, Nate, is extremely excited. I feel St. Patrick School is going to be a blessing for Nate, and we are looking forward to a blessed year academically, physically and spiritually.”
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“Education and learning are considered ‘essential’ in my book, and I applaud all the teachers for choosing this profession,” said Jessica Lightfoot, a parent of students at Routt. “Despite it looking different this year, we as parents are very excited and thankful that school is open for in-person learning five days a week. The school is a second home for the children and having a routine and a place to go to see friends, teachers, faculty, and coaches is just what they need to feel more normal. They need to have some direction and guidance for learning as well as enriching their faith as a community. School can provide stability in their lives intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.”
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“Of course we as parents are excited and hopeful that even though some things will be different going back, school families can begin to enjoy as normal of a routine as possible during an extraordinary time,” said Troy and Kelli Lively, parents of students at Our Lady Queen of Peace. “But mostly, we are so thankful to see how happy our kids are to be back with their school family. It means everything to us.”
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“There are no words to describe the level of appreciation my husband and I have for all our teachers,” said Monica Yard, a parent of twins at St. Mary. “I want to hug you all even though we can’t. You have been impacted so much and the teachers have pressed on without fault or hesitation.”
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“We are thrilled that our school has decided to resume in-person learning,” said Steve and Kristi Hyten, parents of students at Father McGivney. “We truly feel this is the right thing for the educational and emotional well-being of the kids. While many new safety precautions were apparent at freshman orientation, the sense of community and family that we have always valued at here remains unchanged.”
What teachers are saying
“I am so excited (to be in the classroom), and I have been preparing for this for a while now, and now that it’s here, it’s real, and the kids have been great,” said Tyler Berola, a teacher at St. Patrick. “It’s so nice to see the kids in the room, laughing, raising their hands, and having a great time. That’s what we are here to do — not just to educate them but make sure they are having a good school experience.”
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“I’m so very happy to be back in the classroom,” said Cleta TerHark, a teacher at Routt. “I really missed seeing the faces of my students and fellow teachers. It just wasn’t the same teaching by computer! For me, technology, while extremely helpful, cannot replace person-to-person interaction. I look forward to re-establishing that personal connection that has made teaching so satisfactory for me all these years.”
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“With school open, I can once again forge in-person relationships with my students and watch them do the same with each other,” said Angie Waldo, a teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace School. “We can be the Body of Christ together again. God made us for interpersonal relationships. This school year, we have the opportunity to form them again the way he intended. I am most excited to see my students grow before my eyes.”
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“Now that school is going to open, I am excited to be with the students,” said Rachel Saxer, a teacher at St. Mary. “They need the time with their friends. They also need that in-person contact at the first-grade level. Teaching is my calling, and I missed not being with the students.”
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“I am looking forward to seeing students outside of the rectangle view that we had for so long and not wearing earbuds to hear them,” said Laura Mannisi, a teacher at Father McGivney. “I am eager to see how they are doing and what I can do to help ease them back to the typical school environment. I am excited to get back into the classroom and try to establish the new normal for the year.”
What students are saying
“After being involved in both classroom and the online learning system for a year, I have a newfound respect and outlook for classroom learning,” said Allyson Hicks, a senior at Routt. “While e-learning still provided me with a great education, not being able to talk to my teachers face to face or take tests in the classroom was very different for not only me, but for many students. Returning after being gone for so long makes me excited to get back into a classroom learning system and eager to seize the opportunities that it will bring me.”
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“I am excited for all of the great traditions eighth-graders get to do,” said Carlie Pritchett, a student at Our Lady Queen of Peace School. “I am also excited about getting to learn in person. It has been so long since I have seen everyone, but it was fun.”
Our people, showing a selfless spirit of giving
As our Catholic schools welcomed back our students to a new school year, our schools could not have done it without the support of so many people. We asked schools across our diocese to let us know if there was an individual, group of people, or business who went above and beyond to help our Catholic schools reopen safely and responsibly. Here are some of examples they gave us:
St. Thomas School — Newton
School families, parishioners, alumni, and community members donated items to their school that helped them reopen more safely and without as much financial burden. This included hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, thermometers, traffic cones, and other items estimated at about $1,000. The school has also received $1,500 in monetary donations to help cover reopening costs.
Christ the King School — Springfield
A local family foundation donated 210 Chrome tablets and 32 teacher laptops with cases. The family of Ryan Link donated 1,000 facial coverings with the Christ the King colors and logo.
Turasky Meats donated 1,000 Beef Dino Styx snacks.
St. Mary School — Mt. Sterling
Several donors contributed $1,400 to purchase 70 new desks for the school.
St. Boniface School — Edwardsville
Anonymous donors contributed $2,000 to purchase Chrome books for students. Parishioners and school families have also made masks for students.
Quincy Catholic Schools
Lowe’s in Quincy donated 500 KN95 masks to Quincy Catholic Schools.
Quincy Notre Dame High School — Quincy
“Sew Masks for Quincy,” a local group of women, sewed masks for QND’s staff. Blessing Hospital donated thermometers for QND’s athletic programs. Families have donated additional money to help meet tuition assistance needs.
Our Lady of Lourdes School — Decatur
An Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner donated $10,000 to help purchase masks, thermometers, desk dividers, and cleaning supplies.
Father McGivney Catholic High School — Glen Carbon
Kelly Jones, mother of Class of 2018 graduate Dan Jones and current senior, Jacob Jones, sewed more than 60 handmade masks as a donation for students who may need face coverings.
Blessed Sacrament School — Springfield
Eleven families donated funds so the school could purchase two 20 by 40 feet tents that will be used for outdoor classroom space. Four families donated 10 by 10 feet pop-up tents that can be used for various outdoor activities, including health screenings at the school entrance. Triad Industrial donated masks with the BSS logo for all students. A school family donated lanyards for all students to clip onto their masks. A $500 M.A.G.I.C. Match donation was given, designated solely for school safety, and needed PPE and equipment for the office’s health protocols.
Blessed Sacrament School donated $3,000 to St. Patrick School in Springfield from unused funds after their Chicago trip and awards night were cancelled this past spring. They also donated another $3,000 to the St. Martin de Porres Center in Springfield.
St. Anthony Grade School and High School — Effingham
Parishioners/school families donated 15 thermometers to be used for temperature checks and 1,000 masks to be used by students and staff. Another donation of 10 thermometers will be used for the athletic department.
Little Flower School — Springfield
Little Flower School is continuing the Pathways for Success scholarship program for St. Patrick students of Springfield who graduated from St. Patrick School (after fifth grade) and want to continue a Catholic education at Little Flower.
And just a reminder . . .
If you are looking for a way to give back to your local school, consider substitute teaching or volunteering. Reach out to your local school for opportunities to help our students, advance our faith, and grow our Catholic schools.