I have thought on more than a few occasions, that if this pandemic and resulting shutdown would have occurred way back when I was in grade school, who knows how we would have kept up with learning. I shared that thought with Principal Pat Nickler of Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Connellsville, PA.
“I grew up in Greene County, Pennsylvania, which is very small and very rural. I don’t know if I even would have known if the school was closed,” she said. “We didn’t even have the means for communication of that, to let people know, except over the news. Now we can be in constant communication with students, parents, community, all stakeholders involved in the school.”
The transition to on-line learning at Geibel was made very quickly.
“Things have been going relatively well, considering the situation that we’re all in,” Nickler said. “We found out late on a Friday that schools were going to be closed and we hit the ground running on Monday, so our students have had quite a bit of time to adjust to this new way of delivering instruction and the teachers and students seem to be adjusting pretty well.”
Nickler said that Geibel has had a one-to-one device environment for the past five years, which made it easier to transition. She also said it’s been their second year in using a learning management system.
“And fortunately for us, the State of Pennsylvania had permitted the use of flex days to cover snow days this year, so we had submitted a plan for that. We already had the ground work then for remote learning because we just adjusted that. You can’t use that one every day for 45 days…but we did have that basic foundation already built for that.
The big challenge for administrators now is trying to make this a special time for seniors and those moving on to a new school or the next level.
“Of course, it’s a tremendous milestone in the lives of students,” Nickler said. “Our goal when this all started is ‘how do we continue to reach out students spiritually?’ And how do we continue to deliver a rigorous faith-based education virtually. So those were our top two priorities when we were starting out with this. Then you start to look at those types of things, like senior graduation and the different traditions that lead up to that. So we are planning—right now we have a different senior every day on our social media pages, with information about then, where they’re attending college and those things…We have secret yard bomb signs that we’re putting up in their yards.”
When I talked to Nickler she said they had not yet cancelled the in-person graduation ceremony. All they did was take the ceremony that was scheduled for May 29th and reschedule it for July, with a follow-up date in August if needed.