SFDS Takes On the New Norm of Online Learning


 St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy (SFDSCA) proved this week that being prepared and proactive can enable any school to meet even the most inconceivable challenges. SFDSCA is a one-to-one device school, meaning every student has his/her own Google Chromebook or iPad. The students are permitted to bring the devices home, and they utilize programs like Google Classroom, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Classroom Dojo daily.

In the week prior to the closing of all the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, SFDSCA teachers were trained on how to teach virtually through several programs, including Google Meets and Zoom. Principal Dr. Chris Scharbach Ed.D grouped the faculty into three sections with different student and teacher expectations for each group. Grades Pre-K through two are using various resources to teach virtually. With the focus on Classroom Dojo, the teachers are able to pre-record lessons, stories, and activities to engage the young learners. Pre-K 4 teacher, Mrs. Kelly Schmitt says, “I miss seeing my students' smiling faces each day, but I look forward to receiving their work. I have been overwhelmed by their kind words and messages.”

The teachers in grades three and four incorporate more live interaction with their students. The students’ day is quite similar to their usual day in the classroom. Students start at 8:30 a.m listening to Dr. Scharbach recite the daily prayer, pledge, and announcements. Then the students attend their classes online with a great deal of instruction coming from various sources, including Education City and Mathletics. The students, in all grades, also participate in weekly Masses, some from NetTV, a Catholic news service, and some have been live streamed from SFDS Parish itself. Rev. William F. Sweeney and Rev. James Cunningham have been extremely involved in assisting with this challenging endeavor.

Even the teachers are impressed with the effort to keep things as normal as possible. “Dr. Scharbach and Assistant Principal Megan Faughnan have truly thought of everything to serve the students,” second-grade teacher, Mrs. Meg Morpurgo Cronin, said. “They purchased a Sprint Data plan for students who do not have wifi, and starting next week, Special Education services will be available virtually, as well.”

Grades five through eight  students have said they cannot believe how similar their online instruction is to that of a normal school day. After participating in morning announcements, the students log on to their Google Meets through the Google Calendar portal, which is accessed from the SFDS@home link on the school’s website. The students participate in live lessons taught by their usual instructors in each subject. The students are able to ask questions, discuss and debate topics, and chat with the teacher and one another. After the live instruction is completed, the students log on to their Google Classrooms for their daily assignments, which are later completed individually and sent to the various teachers via a shared Google Document. Many of the teachers are also utilizing Google Forms and Slides to educate and even assess student progress. In addition to the core academic program, which includes ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies, the students are also taking Religion, STEM, Physical Education, Art, and Spanish online.

Despite the quick changes, parents are grateful for the effort from the school staff. “You guys are doing an amazing job,” sixth-grade parent, Carolyn Smith, said. “I am sure you are receiving many accolades for your efforts during this wacky time! Thank you so much, it is appreciated beyond words.”

On Tuesday, March 17, the students began this new way of learning. And as of today, it is scheduled to continue until April 20. However, the SFDSCA teachers are prepared and ready to continue virtual teaching for the remainder of the 2020 school year, if deemed necessary.

By Marina Cregan