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Catholic school faculty, staff and students ‘ecstatic’ to be back

With semester in full swing, safety is top priority for in-person classes
Heather Winstead at Christ the King School in Madisonville wears a mask while teaching students during the first week of school in August 2020. COURTESY OF CHRIST THE KING SCHOOL


Perhaps the experiment didn’t go as planned, but for Joan Butterworth, the science teacher at St. Paul School in Grayson County, not finding microscopic life forms in her students’ petri dishes was a great sign.

“In our enrichment classes we’re learning all about germs,” said Butterworth in a Sept. 9 phone call with The Western Kentucky Catholic.

She said one of their enrichment projects involved swabbing around the school building to see if they could identify germs in petri dishes.

“It’s been really hard to find germs because they’ve been cleaning so well,” said Butterworth, who explained that her students had to redo two petri dishes to find any germs.

Across western Kentucky, the Diocese of Owensboro’s 17 Catholic schools have been open in-person since late August. And while the safety, distancing and sanitizing guidelines are strict, the schools are willing to embrace it all if it means continuing in-person.

Chris Reed, the principal of St. Paul School, told the WKC that their days have had a slower pace due to the time it takes to sanitize and line up the students at safe distances between classes, and get them settled into their six-feet-apart desks.

“But we’re all happy to be here, so it works for us,” he said.

Reed said he is proud of St. Paul’s staff and faculty who have more work than ever before. He’s also proud of the students, whom he described as “ecstatic to be here.”

“They’re not even complaining about homework,” he said.

The Lady Raiders volleyball team at Trinity High School in Whitesville wear their masks inside the Horn Community Center. COURTESY OF TRINITY HIGH SCHOOL

Emily Hernandez, the principal of St. Mary of the Woods School and Trinity High School in Whitesville, said she had spent most days from March through May in the building with no more than few other people sometimes.

“It was a very empty feeling,” she said of being inside the school during the period of NTI (non-traditional instruction). “It was a really lonely feeling without the teachers and students; a school is supposed to be full of people.”

Hernandez said that everyone coming back to school on Aug. 26, 2020 was “the greatest feeling.”

While following the diocesan and state guidelines for safety has changed the look of an average school day, Hernandez said what has remained the same is the “teachers’ willingness to educate the children in the faith, and the students’ eagerness to learn.”

“I believe things are going well,” she said, adding that the students and teachers have “adjusted really well.”

Lesley Mills, the principal of Christ the King School in Madisonville, said that their transition back to school was “pretty smooth.”

“We had non-traditional instruction for the first two weeks, with review, small group tutoring and MAP testing,” said Mills. “That helped us to ease back into the school rhythm.”

Mills added that one challenge has been figuring out what the students had lost, educationally, over the past six months and starting to work toward catching them up.

As has been the case with some of the other Catholic schools, Christ the King’s enrollment has increased this semester.

“We have increased enrollment because we have expanded our 3/4-year-old program and because parents in our community wanted an in-person school experience,” said Mills. “Our parents have been so grateful and have told us that they feel blessed to have their children in school. Things are better at home because they don’t have to worry about getting school work finished.”

From March to June, Christ the King operated a limited duration childcare center for the children of essential workers while statewide daycares were closed. The state allowed regular daycares to open back up in the middle of June.

Dividers on the desks in the classrooms provide a way for students to safely learn at Christ the King School in Madisonville. COURTESY OF CHRIST THE KING SCHOOL

“We have been blessed, though, because we have added several of those children to our school family,” said Mills.

Erin Clark is the office manager at Christ the King, and her daughter, Emma, is in fourth grade at the school.

“The most reassuring thing about sending her to Christ the King right now is that she is in a small class size and she is in school five days a week,” said Clark.

Clark said she take comfort in knowing the families of her daughter’s classmates, and knowing “they have the same beliefs and values as I do.”

“I know they are staying healthy at home, just like we are so we can stay healthy at school!” said Clark.

Originally printed in the October 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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