As students of all ages have been online learning for the last few weeks, how does it compare to traditional classroom learning?
“It’s hard to replicate,” acknowledged Archbishop Ryan High School principal Joseph McFadden.
Still, McFadden and Ryan president Michael Barnett are pleased with how things are going while the coronavirus has forced the closure of all Pennsylvania schools.
McFadden, who teaches an AP English class, was asked to give a grade to Ryan students and staff.
“It would be an absolute A+,” he said.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia elementary and high schools went to distance learning on March 16.
Most local private and charter schools are doing the same thing.
Holy Family University students are learning online through the end of the semester, with the May 18 graduation ceremony at the Kimmel Center canceled.
Community College of Philadelphia has moved coursework online and closed its main campus and regional centers, including the one at 12901 Townsend Road.
As for the School District of Philadelphia, the school board last week approved its request for $11 million to buy up to 50,000 Chromebooks for students who do not have access to technology. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his wife, Aileen, will contribute $5 million to that cause. The Chromebooks will be distributed by mid-April.
Before that announcement, the school district merely handed out free meals to students and offered optional learning guides that were not graded. Existing Chromebooks have been sitting idle at schools.
The district, it said, has not been providing formal instruction “due to equity and technology considerations. Our students have differing levels of instructional needs, access to the internet and technology, and family responsibilities while schools are closed.”
Meanwhile, at schools like Ryan, students are experiencing continuity in learning. The school had a crisis management plan in place in the weeks leading up to the closures so everyone would hit the ground running when online learning started.
In general, online learning is the same at each of the 17 high schools in the archdiocese.
Students receive an email each weekday morning, and must sign in by 10 a.m.
“Attendance is very high,” said McFadden, placing it at 97 to 98 percent.
Teachers must be available for a three-hour period from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. They assign work, hold classes and answer student questions.
Barnett, a 1990 Ryan graduate, said remote learning teaches structure and discipline. Many colleges today routinely offer some online learning.
“Remote working happens every day in the private sector. It’s a nice taste of things to come in college and beyond,” Barnett said of the current online learning.
A typical day at Ryan still includes prayer, morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance. The Rev. Jason Buck, a theology teacher, celebrates a Mass that can be viewed on Facebook and YouTube. A video of the Stations of the Cross is available, as a way of keeping the school’s Catholic identity.
While all or most students have smartphones, they can be used for only so much work. Students who do not have a computer were given Chromebooks.
The school uses Schoology, an academic content sharing service, and Zoom video, with a teacher leading a class with as many as 30 blocks on the screen featuring images of each student.
McFadden, a 1997 Ryan grad, is leading a class that is reading the novel Exit West. They try to have some fun, with the class singing Happy Birthday to one of the girls who turned 18.
Ryan and Archbishop Carroll engaged in a friendly competition on Instagram, with students posting pictures of themselves learning virtually while wearing a school pride shirt.
While online learning doesn’t allow for the typical give and take of a classroom, the goal is to replicate as best as possible.
“It’s everybody really adapting,” McFadden said.
The third quarter ended on March 27, and report cards will be emailed.
While a lot of people think schools will reopen right after Easter, Barnett said Ryan will be ready for any scenario, including the school building to be closed for the rest of the academic year.
“This is a very fluid situation. There’s a lot of moving parts,” he said.
The ring Mass for juniors has been pushed back to the fall, and the Junior Prom has been postponed.
The senior prom, scheduled for May 1 at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, has been postponed.
The May 2 SAT was canceled , with the next one scheduled for June 6.
The Ryan boys basketball team won two games in the Class 5A state playoffs before the tournament was suspended three weeks ago.
The spring sports season could be in jeopardy.
The spring musical has been canceled, though moderator Kim Williams has hosted online singing classes.
Jostens is working to produce a yearbook. For anyone in the class of 2020, the yearbook pretty much has to contain pictures and information related to the coronavirus-related school shutdown.
Barnett said the school is being transparent with everything it’s doing, and that the Ryan community has been giving positive feedback. Some students have even said they miss going to school.
“It’s a tremendous group effort,” Barnett said. “We’re doing the right things. We’re constantly collaborating. We really need to have all hands on deck.”
In general, school presidents, principals, teachers and departments are working together, exchanging ideas and sharing best practices.
“We’re all in it for the kids,” McFadden said. ••