Children and teachers adapting to a new school year with many new challenges

St. Patrick Catholic School kindergartener Sophia Garcia chose a yellow crayon in answer to her teacher’s question Thursday, Sept. 3. The class occupies the south half of the gymnasium in the Wichita school to allow for extra space between desks. (Advance photo)

The work school administrators and teachers put into preparing for the unusual beginning of the school year is paying off.

Janet Eaton, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said principals experienced an unprecedented summer. With the support of their pastors, schools planned and constructed areas that allow teachers to space students to keep them as safe as possible from the coronavirus pandemic.

Two Wichita high school adapting

The diocesan elementary schools and Trinity Catholic and St. Mary’s Colgan Catholic high schools were able to adapt to allow all students to physically attend school; but the two Wichita Catholic high schools have had to adjust to the demands of the pandemic.

The Wichita Catholic high schools are using what they describe as a Hybrid Model. Because of the number of students and the limited space at Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mt. Carmel, students attend classes on certain days and take part in classes via the internet on alternate days.

Principal Brandon Relph helps Mallory Harger, left, and Mary Linnebur construct partitions for students of St. Patrick Catholic School in Wichita. All the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wichita have made adjustments to make environments as safe as possible during the pandemic. Materials to make partitions are in high demand. (Advance photo)

“Right now the numbers are getting better every day,” Eaton said before the Labor Day Weekend. “If we can weather a few weeks past the holiday weekend then, I hope to bring Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mt. Carmel back to ‘full-students.’ But, we can’t make any promises.”

She said the summer months were a time when administrators and teachers had to be ready to pivot as new situations occurred.

“It’s been eye-opening,” Eaton said, adding that her office is blessed with a team of physicians and professionals who are advising the diocese.
“We meet weekly. It’s been helpful to see what they’re seeing.”

No one-size-fits-all

A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for all the schools, she added.

The superintendent said she spent the first days of school visiting schools in the metro area. “I’ve been seeing students with their masks. It’s a different look, but they’re adjusting to it.”

Eaton said she also texted principals to find out how the school openings went. “I got so many responses back similar to, ‘once we got our kids back, it’s all been great!’”

Despite the many headaches the pandemic has caused for students, families, and schools, Eaton said, much good has come about – one of which is a dependence on prayer.

“The reliance on prayer has always been there, but it’s a different reliance right now. It’s a reliance that you pray that you can find the good in situations, and you pray non-stop that you are making the right decisions.”

The prayer is necessary, she said, because the pandemic is unprecedented for all those living today.

“There’s nobody to call,” Eaton said. “Often you think: What from my background can I bring to the table? That’s not the case now. So, I feel very fortunate to be connected to other good, strong leaders from whom I’ve learned a lot.”