Before the COVID-19 virus had the United States in its grip, Saint Raphael Academy was thrust into the headlines as a staff member was the first in Rhode Island to test positive for the virus. We were then tasked with tough decisions that needed immediate answers. Should we quarantine only the students and chaperones on the trip to Italy? Should we close for a few days? How will education continue for students? There was guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there was no blueprint. Nevertheless, Saint Raphael Academy did what it has always done — acted prudently and compassionately. We decided that for the well-being of our Saints family and the communities we are from to send everyone home to recuperate and reduce the risk of exposure. As a result, the virus did not spread within the school community. This is a testament to our administration, our faculty, and most importantly, our students.
With our campus closed and many in quarantine — both required or voluntary — teachers turned to online learning. Thankfully, Saints began our one-to-one technology initiative five years ago, and our faculty as well as students have become experts in utilizing technology in and out of the classroom. On February 28, students and teachers prepared for a few days of virtual learning. Those days turned into virtual learning for the foreseeable future. During the past three weeks, Saints students and faculty have learned that we need to work together to make learning successful. Each faculty member is working with resources that are tailored to his or her own academic discipline and teaching style. Teachers are creating virtual classes to meet the needs of their students — upperclassmen are successful with more independent work while underclassmen need more direct support. Teachers have been given the unique opportunity to explore online platforms for learning and to interact with students in previously unexplored ways. Good teachers are doing what good teachers do — delivering meaningful content to students using innovation and creativity.
Nevertheless, virtual learning comes with its challenges for students, parents and educators. The past few weeks have shown the importance of authentic interactions. Faculty are meeting their students in real-time through video conferencing or online chats. Most students and faculty have realized that we need face-to-face interaction, remembering that social distancing does not equate to social isolation. Simply put, the kids want to be back in school.
After all, that is what it is all about, our students. Faculty members have received many emails from students. They include lines such as: “I appreciate all of the help you've been giving me, and how patient you've been as well. It really warms my heart to have a teacher like you to learn from,” “I just wanted to say that I really liked having the video explanation on today's work. I think it really helped me,” and "I would also like to thank you, your email helped me get back on the right track. These virtual days were starting to take a toll on my ability to complete work." For students, their worlds have been turned upside down. Yet, our students remain steadfast. They embraced the challenges of distance learning with the same care, compassion, and conscientiousness shown in their physical classrooms at Saint Raphael Academy.
On March 13, the administration, faculty, and staff met. There were no handshakes or hugs, just warm words between faculty members, shared thoughts on the progress of virtual learning, and spiritual embraces from an administration filled with pride and faith in our community. Our students, their educations, and their emotional well-beings were at the center of all conversations. As we move forward, we continue to miss each other. Despite this longing to return to our classrooms, we know one thing is for sure: the bond at Saints is stronger than ever, and we have the faith in the community at large to get through this trying time.
Members of the Saint Raphael Academy Faculty