Spotlight: How one school rose to the challenge of online learning

It may feel like a lifetime ago, but it was just last month when states across the country issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. That meant that schools needed to shift from in-person instruction to online learning – and they needed to do it quickly. Navigating this unknown territory in a short time frame has certainly been a challenge, but schools all over have risen to that challenge and are still providing quality education that forms the whole person, academically and spiritually.

Northridge Preparatory School in Niles, IL, where Rev. Francis Hoffman “Fr. Rocky”, Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio® spent 11 years as chaplain, began preparing for the possibility of remote learning weeks before the Illinois stay-at-home order went into effect.  Peter Fletcher, Head of High School, shared how Northridge navigated the switch to remote learning.

He explained, “On February 25, when there were still only a small number of cases of coronavirus in the United States, our Headmaster asked the Northridge Academic Committee (consisting of teachers and administrators) to begin considering innovative teaching approaches and online resources to employ should the school have to close for a period of time. … Members of the Academic Committee invested hundreds of hours (seriously, we kept track) shaping the new approaches to curriculum and online teaching.”

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While it may seem that, with instruction happening online, teachers have nothing to do – that perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Fletcher explained that teachers needed to not only decide which online platforms and resources would work well with their curriculum, but then needed to master these platforms so they could continue instruction, discussion, assignments, and grading through them.

At Northridge, Fletcher said, “[Teachers] went through four days of training with Zoom, Kahn Academy, and CK12, online resources that many had little or no experience with. Teachers also learned about many unused features in onCampus, our online platform for grades, assignments, and more.”

“They mastered online submissions, online quizzes and tests, and online discussion groups,” he explained. “Different administrators and teachers took the lead with different parts of this training process, and several teachers modeled ways to make a Zoom class as engaging and interactive as possible.”

But what has it been like for students and their parents, who are now tasked with helping their children continue their education from home? Fletcher offered his experience with that as well.

“I happen to have the privilege of watching my own two high school boys and exchange students work from home,” he said. “And they echoed many of the sentiments we’ve heard from families this week.  They found the online world interesting and exciting, but also challenging to navigate.  In some cases, assignments seemed to pile up towards the end of the week, and they put in lots of effort to complete their work on time.”

“Online learning places a greater sense of independence and responsibility on the student,” he pointed out. “At the same time, they expressed lots of gratitude for the way teachers reached out to them or responded quickly to technical glitches or human errors along the way.  Even more, they appreciated the way teachers have worked to check on them and to maintain the close mentor relationships through Zoom meetings and personal interactions.”

Thank you to Northridge Preparatory School, and all Catholic schools, for continuing to provide quality Catholic education during this unprecedented time. And to all who attended the virtual Christ Brings Hope National Broadcast or the Northridge virtual Global Dinner at The Ridge this weekend – thank you for helping families continue to provide a Catholic education for their children!