St. Louis snowstorms helped superintendent to be a bit more prepared for the pandemic

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Janet Eaton is spending a lot of time meeting with school administrators via Zoom, a web-based meeting platform that many teachers and school officials weren’t familiar with before the Covid-19 pandemic. (Advance photo)

Janet Eaton couldn’t have known that the winters she experienced as a principal in a St. Louis area Catholic school would prepare her for a future pandemic.

“In the school I was at in St. Louis, we rarely had snow days, we had E-days where the students learned from home,” she said last week after concluding a Zoom meeting from her home.

Eaton, who is now the superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Wichita, said she and her teachers learned a lot about giving directions to children who would be learning from home during the school’s electronic days. “Unless they’re very, very clear, it can be a challenge.”

Eaton’s school was the first in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to launch an E-day program.

“It honestly took a lot of time to put that together. I look at what our teachers have done here in less than 10 days and I’m just amazed.”

She said teachers and administrators across the diocese have worked hard.

“To change from how you teach in a classroom to a totally different world where you’re not face-to-face with kids – other than if you’re on a screen – it’s been a big challenge.”

Eaton said she is proud of the faculty in all the schools.

“Our hope is that we focus on two words in this process,” she said, “that we have grace and flexibility to be able to understand what our families are going through and embrace how this can look as we get into it farther.”

The key word last week was “pivot,” she said, because “sometimes you think it’s going to go one way and it goes the other way.”

A report from her principals indicated that school-directed home schooling is going well.

Schools are using several electronic platforms to teach, Eaton said, such as Google for Education or Microsoft Teams.
“We already have some electronic tools that we use regularly with the elementary students,” she said. “Moby Max is one of them.”

A couple of schools, for a sundry of reasons, are using “paper packet” work that is exchanged weekly, she said.
Several parents have contacted her to let her know they appreciate the efforts of their schools to continue their children’s education during this crisis.

Eaton emphasized that parents should feel free to call the school for any reason.

“If you’re having a hard time or you don’t understand the directions of what your fifth grader is being ask to do, don’t become frustrated, just call,” she said.

Many principals have provided their cell phone numbers, Eaton said, and teachers are always available by email.