By JOHN HOWELL While public schools have struggled to provide in-person learning, with Warwick secondary schools not offering any in-person classes until Jan. 19 of this academic year, the city's three Catholic parochial schools and Bishop Hendricken
While public schools have struggled to provide in-person learning, with Warwick secondary schools not offering any in-person classes until Jan. 19 of this academic year, the city’s three Catholic parochial schools and Bishop Hendricken High School have provided full weeks of in-person classes since September.
It didn’t come easily, as a visit to St. Peter School on Monday revealed.
Christine Desmarais, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Peter for 12 years, found herself in the unexpected role of guiding the school that started in 1959 through a pandemic. Desmarais was one of finalists to fill the shoes of Joan Sickinger, who retired July 1.
From the outset, the goal was to maintain in-person classes, although there was no knowing the impact of the pandemic, what state regulations the school might face and how comfortable parents would be in sending their children to school.
Desmarais confesses it was not only daunting but also scary. Working through the summer, she and the school’s teachers calculated how they could serve the school’s enrollment while adhering to the spacing guidelines. Fortunately, school classrooms are large, enabling 6-foot desk separations with the exception of the sixth and eighth grades. For those grades, with 21 and 23 students, respectively, desks were outfitted with clear plastic shields in order to comply with guidelines.
Desmarais prepared for the strictest of in-person classes – Level 1 – that limits classes to 15. Using that as a guide, she turned away potential students whose parents were looking for an alternative to either the hybrid or all virtual learning offered by Warwick schools. She wanted to make certain the school could remain fully operational.
Spacing was part of the challenge. Technology was critical. She wanted the school prepared to offer virtual classes to students on quarantine because a family member had been exposed to the virus and to those whose parents wanted them home because of worsening conditions. She also wanted to be prepared for the worst of circumstances and the need for the school to go entirely virtual. That required computers for the students and the means to do online classes.
What’s immediately noticeable on entering the school is that it sounds like a school. There are the voices of teachers and the high-pitched voices of younger students – St. Peter also offers a pre-K class – having fun during lunch break. Outside, kids play on the church parking lot for their physical education break.
Working through the summer, Desmarais said the school “hit the ground running” in September.
To a class, students said they prefer in-person learning. The reasons ranged from being with friends to teacher assistance and being better able to concentrate.
To provide some socialization for those unable to attend in person, some teachers start the virtual connection 10 to 15 minutes before classes start so those kids at home can catch up with their friends and class news.
“We’re going forward,” Desmarais said.
With a current enrollment of 165, Desmarais is hopeful with the pandemic under control and regulations relaxed, enrollment will reach 200 come the 2022 academic year.