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Catholic schools learn how to handle pandemic, ensuring in-person instruction earlier than other schools

The following story appeared in the June 25 Idaho Catholic Register.

St. Ignatius Catholic School entry (St. Ignatius Facebook)

By Sarah Ouilici

Catholic Schools Superintendent

I am grateful and blessed to be writing this at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

We started school in August (or early September) in a phased-in approach to bring all of our students back to campus for in-person instruction. Our Idaho Catholic schools were venturing into uncharted territory. There were many operational plans that had to be visited and revisited as we tried different methods of bringing students on campus.

Now that the year is complete, I can look back and see all of the blessings.

One of the biggest blessings was that families were drawn to Idaho Catholic schools because our schools were serving students in-person, allowing parents to experience the rich education and in-person connection that their children received. Because of that, many Idaho Catholic schools have waitlists in several grades for this fall.

In addition to working on academic content, students were able to connect with their friends and teachers throughout the school year. Students were able to participate

in Mass and our schools could teach students to have faith during uncertain times. This is just one of many ways that our schools were able to support students and their families during difficult times.

One of the challenges of COVID was the extra financial burden required to implement protective measures and add staff.

Our Catholic schools were able to secure some federal funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools, the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program. Each school received some money from at least one of these programs. These funds were helpful to reduce the unanticipated costs of COVID.

This challenging year also compelled Idaho Catholic schools to work more collaboratively than ever before. Principals met at least monthly throughout the year to share strategies that were working well in their buildings and to discuss challenges they were facing.

We also had some legislative success this year. We were able to pass a bill during the recently concluded legislative session that makes up to $750 available to Idaho non-public school students in grades 9-12 to participate in Advanced Opportunities, a program that allows students to advance by taking dual-credit classes or passing Advanced Placement tests. This presents a great opportunity for our high school students.

It is anticipated that Idaho Catholic school enrollment will be at a record high level next year. We look forward to a return to “normal” without masks.

As we have navigated from digital learning, to hybrid learning and to having all students back on campus with social distancing, we have learned several new strategies. Some of these strategies are effective and will continue to be used in our schools. Each Idaho Catholic school will have the opportunity next year to take the best things we learned from this school year and apply them to help students become disciples of Christ.

As we look ahead to next year, we are excited to welcome staff and students back on campus.

We will have new principals at St. Paul’s in Nampa (Sara Harris), and at Holy Family in Coeur d’Alene, (Sue Styren).

You will be reading more about them in an August issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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