Catholic schools, like all schools in Vermont, are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but that does not mean learning has ceased or that school communities are disconnected.

But it’s challenging.

“First and foremost, the biggest challenge is not seeing our students every day. The best part of teaching and learning are the children with whom we engage,” said Carrie Wilson, head of school at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville. “Children are the best parts of our job, and we now only have that from a distance. That will continue to be our biggest challenge and we will overcome that challenge when we are all finally together again.”

The second biggest challenge is not being able to pray together and celebrate Mass as a community. That, she said, “is crushing.”

The diocesan TV Masses are posted for the school, but it lacks the engagement the same way distance learning lacks engagement. “It works, but it’s a compromise,” Wilson said.

Not being in school with students is what Lila Millard, interim principal at Christ the King School in Rutland, also reported as the most significant challenge of remote learning. “The biggest challenge that we are facing is to maintain engagement with students when each family’s situation may be different,” she said. “Unlike older students who are more independent, elementary school education needs to be guided, and right now the parents are the ones who are trying to figure out how to balance it all together.”

Schools are using technology for lessons, to communicate and to help students socialize on social media. For example, at Bishop Marshall School, each teacher is using Google Classroom as the primary platform to communicate assignments, post learning videos and message students. Teachers of the younger grades have labeled plastic bins outside the school where they collect and refresh assignments and activities on a weekly basis.

Teachers and staff there are posting videos of themselves teaching lessons and reading aloud.  “This helps students hear and see the members of the school community they know and love. Many classes are working hard to schedule Google Hangouts so students can see teachers and vice versa,” Wilson said.

She encourages families to maintain schedules: “Encourage your children to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and start the day.  Carve out time for learning, reading, praying, cooking and exercise.” She added that it is important to maintain relationships remotely and help stop the spread of the coronavirus so schools can reopen.

“Parents across the board are supportive and working with the teachers to help maintain normalcy with the children,” Millard said. “In order to maintain our community, it is vital that we communicate with our parents, teachers and staff members. Teachers are emailing parents and students daily to inquire about how they are and what they are doing. In this uncertain time, it makes you appreciate just how close the community is and how willing everyone is to working together.”

Wilson concurred: “I will say that families and teachers have really embraced our attempts to normalize a situation that is anything but.  The flexibility and patience displayed by teachers, staff, and families has been remarkable and makes me love our community even more, which I didn’t know was possible.”