BCCHS instructors learning new ways to educate

Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita is empty and quiet, nothing Principal Vanessa Harshberger would have anticipated at the beginning of the school year. Construction work, though, is going more quickly than anticipated because of the shelter-at-home order. (Advance photo)

Vanessa Harshberger didn’t notice the din of hundreds of students moving about and chatting in the halls of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School earlier in the school year, but the silence today is unnerving.

“Having a building with no students in it is pretty crazy and no fun at all,” she said last week from her office.

She laments the cancelation of activities such as Eucharistic adoration, a Fight the New Drug anti-pornography presentation, and the Monday Lenten projects that were among several all-school events planned before the shelter-at-home order was issued.

“When you look at all of those things, the plays, concerts, competitions, and all of that with one swoop being gone, it’s a lot to wrap your head around,” she said.

Teachers and administrators didn’t get much of a spring break as a result of the rush to shift from in-school to internet schooling, Harshberger said.

Like most schools across the Diocese of Wichita, administrators were meeting with their teachers daily to assist in the transition to web-based instruction. Bishop Carroll’s first challenge was assessing a family’s ability to access the internet. After surveying the families, those who lacked internet access were instructed as to how to access free, temporary internet, and those who didn’t have a computer were able to check one out.

The school’s ability to communicate was paramount, she said, adding that the school reached out to parents several times through School Messenger through phone calls and emails.

One of the biggest challenges was finding out which families needed internet access and which needed devices to successfully work on the school’s continuous learning plan.

Teachers are using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom to teach classes via the internet. “That’s the way the kids are turning in their assignments,” she added.

The teachers are learning a lot, too. They are discovering how to teach using various web-based education tools and how to connect for meetings via the internet.

To determine how they can improve their teaching in this unanticipated development, Harshberger said, the school sent out a survey last week to a cross-section of students. “We’re going to get their feedback on how’s it going and what issues they’re having.”

BCCHS seniors may have been impacted the most. Their plans for graduation hinge on how long the stay-at-home order lasts. “Graduation is postponed, not canceled,” she said. “We are collaborating with the Catholic School Office at this time.

Although the pandemic was never anticipated, she said, it has been a learning experience for her, her teachers, and the students.

“As long as people stay healthy, I think in the end we will all be better for this.”