Despite preconceptions that working from home might be easier, “it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s way more work, it’s way more stressful.”
Hruszkewycz, however, said he had anticipated the eventual closure of the school campus for weeks and had already mentally prepared the students for distance learning.
He teaches five classes of students in grades 10 through 12, and planned virtual lessons and courses for each class. “On Thursday, I basically made a million packets” for the students, he said, before they went home.
While initially told that the campus would be closed for two weeks, Hruszkewycz has been preparing for a month-long exercise in remote teaching. He conducts classes through video conferencing on Google Hangout, which has video chat and text chat functions for students to interact with him.
He still wears a shirt and tie to mimic a normal classroom environment as closely as possible, and has assigned novels for students to read, so they will have plenty of material to discuss when they return to in-person classes.
“I have really motivated kids,” he said, “but even the most successful kid” will have challenges to study hard at home.
“It’s really tempting to find ways to blow off this time,” Hruszkewycz said. “It’s just one giant impediment between student success and just the ease of moving on with life.”
In the Archdiocese of Washington, which has 18 high schools and 54 elementary schools, Wendy Anderson, associate superintendent of academics and leadership in the archdiocese, told CNA that a significant challenge to distance learning has been lack of internet access for some of the younger children.
“It’s a lot easier for high school kids to kind of get online and keep up, but for younger children we have to have some pretty creative solutions,” Anderson said.
Most important, she said, teachers are acting as “ministers” by praying with the students, even in this extraordinary time.
“I think it’s important that they’re incorporating Catholic identity through this, that teachers are doing prayer with kids, keeping the faith up, giving the families alternatives, prayer services as alternatives to Mass,” she said. “We’re not going to lose sight of our mission through this.”
High schools were “pretty quick” to transition to digital learning, Anderson said, but with the elementary schools “we don’t assume that all children will have access to the internet.”
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A “majority” of the archdiocesan schools are utilizing digital learning, she said, with platforms such as Google Classroom.
“The schools are closed, and we’re not trying to say we’re open completely for academics, but all of our schools are offering things to keep kids busy and up-to-date on their studies as much as possible,” she said.
In the case of Don Bosco Cristo Rey high school in Takoma Park, Maryland, students are also enrolled in work-study programs, so they are learning to work remotely as well.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, there was “anxiety” about having to make mass changes in the pandemic, district superintendent Michael LaForgia told CNA.
However, he said the feedback so far has been “extremely positive” as “faculty and principals have gotten together” and “rolled up their sleeves.”
“We have a very diverse diocese,” LaForgia said, with both affluent and poor sections, and the diocese wanted to ensure schools would receive an equitable distribution of resources and attention.