OLW School Opening Update (Part 1)

Posted on August 26, 2020 by Published by

Our Lady of the Wayside School is proud to be open for in-person learning.

We are carefully following the guidelines and framework of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Reopening with Trust Plan. The Administration Team and the teachers made numerous preparations throughout the summer to get the school and curriculum ready for this new, unusual school year. We are happy to share with the parish community more about the school’s approach for a safe school year.

As part of the Reopening with Trust plan, OLW created an Academics Team to work on curriculum, including faith opportunities and social-emotional checks, and a Health and Safety Team to prepare a safe and clean school building.

The school day this year starts with new arrival procedures which include using more doors for student entry; safe distancing while outside those doors (that’s what all the painted paw prints are for); temperature, mask and symptom checks by teacher aides and screened parent volunteers; and a squirt of hand sanitizer. The students then walk directly to the classroom. For safety’s sake, parents may not walk their children into the school building, fifth grade helpers aren’t able to help the preschool students at their lockers, and students can’t bunch up or congregate outside before the day starts. While frustrating and difficult, we will all work together, knowing that these changes will help ensure the health and safety of our students and teachers while on the school premises.

The Office of Catholic Schools’ framework calls for OLW to use a ‘cohort model,’ which means that each classroom and classroom teacher is designated as a ‘cohort’ that may not mix with other cohorts. Specials teachers (Art, Choir, Health, Library, Music and PE) will travel to each homeroom to keep the cohorts intact. Students must maintain the proper safe distance when walking in the hallway and eating in the lunchroom. Plexiglass partitions will be used for small group table work in the younger grades. Face shields are available for teachers. Students use individual manipulatives and do not share supplies.

If a student or staff member within a cohort is diagnosed with COVID, that particular cohort will immediately go into quarantine and begin remote learning for a two-week period. When a cohort moves to remote learning, they will continue to be taught by their teacher, unless the teacher is ill. If needed, a substitute teacher will be used for remote learning, the same procedure for in-classroom learning. Teachers will be using popular programs such as IXL, Google Classroom and Seesaw to manage remote learning.

During remote learning, the students will work through a typical school day from 8am-3pm. They will break for lunch; they will have religion class and all their core subjects; they will have assignments that need to be submitted on time and they will have tests. The school is equipped to give each student in grades 1-8 an iPad for use during remote learning. Our middle school students already have a school issued iPad for use during the school day and for homework.

OLW teachers performed exceptionally well during the state mandated closure at the end of our last school year. Parents (in and out of OLW) were extremely impressed with how OLW teachers adapted and pivoted to remote learning last spring. With additional summer preparations, OLW is in an advantageous position for remote learning should a cohort need to move to remote learning, or if the state or Archdiocese orders a closure.

OLW families were offered a remote learning option through the Archdiocese of Chicago and through our school. Fewer than 5% of families exercised that option. Those that did will follow the same curriculum, but they may not have their typical grade level homeroom teacher and will be one day behind with lesson plans. Each family can review their choice for remote learning at the end of the quarter.

Because OLW opted for in person learning when District 25 chose remote-only learning, we welcomed many new families and as well as families that previously had students in our classrooms. We are delighted by their trust in allowing us to educate their children. Our class sizes are small and, even after accepting additional students, we remain committed to preserving small class sizes to maintain a safe learning environment. In first through fifth grade, the largest class has 18 students and in middle school, the largest class size is 23.

The first day of school this year was Friday, August 21, pushed back from August 19 to allow the teachers a few extra days to prepare their classrooms. Getting certified by the Office of Catholic Schools to reopen involved all teachers and staff. Communication and cooperation have been especially important parts of the process. We are incredibly proud of, and thankful for, the dedication of everyone: the administration team, teachers, nurses, school secretaries, aides, and maintenance staff. We are also thankful for our school families who have been patient and supportive of our efforts to reopen. We believe that we are better together, because we are one school family – we are many parts of one Body of Christ. We know we are called to support each other and to put others before ourselves. This is just one of the many strengths of OLW School. We are blessed.

Next week, we will offer numerous “thank yous” to the donors and volunteers who enabled us to make some needed changes to the classrooms and school grounds.

Please continue to pray for our school, students, teachers and staff as we navigate this new, atypical school year. Pray that we will all be safe, healthy and in school.

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