At St. Martha and other elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the motto this year is “Catholic Schools Onward.”
While Catholic high schools are implementing a hybrid instruction model and most Philadelphia-area public and charter schools are going virtual, Catholic elementary school students will be attending class in person five days a week.
“The kids need to be here,” said St. Martha principal Karen Donofry. “The teachers are 100 percent for in-person learning. I’m very positive about this.”
Schools closed on March 13 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“On the 16th, teachers began virtual teaching. They didn’t miss a beat, and the kids did well,” Donofry said, adding that eighth-graders graduated during an in-person Mass in July.
At St. Martha, second- through eighth-graders will report on Sept. 9. First-graders come the next day. Kindergarten and pre-K begin Sept. 14-15.
“We’re doing everything we can to give them the most normal school year possible,” said the Rev. Jonathan Dalin, the new parish administrator at St. Martha.
All but three of the 190 students at St. Martha will be coming in each day, and those three are able to opt in to in-person learning at any time.
The school day will go from 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. Parish school buses will carry no more than 11 students at a time.
Students will wear masks entering and exiting the school. In the classroom, students and teachers will wear clear face shields. Teachers will also have a large, mobile glass partition separating them from the kids.
The biggest classroom will feature 24 students, and students will remain in the same room all day.
“We’ll be able to socially distance in the classroom,” Donofry said.
Recess will take place outside, with students required to remain in a designated area.
Water fountains have been removed and replaced by water filling stations.
All students receive free lunch and a snack, and will eat in the large parish hall over two lunch periods. The food includes personal pizzas, packaged fruit and nutritional options.
“The menu is pretty good,” Donofry said.
Donofry said she has received positive feedback from parents.
Dalin, who taught 12 years at schools in Yardley and Collegeville, called the parents of all returning students. He’ll teach religion in the upper grades.
St. Martha will also offer after-school care, a benefit for working parents.
While the archdiocese is not allowing CYO sports practices or games, St. Martha will offer something that will be like an extension of weekly gym classes.
Donofry considers the students to be like her grandchildren, and is confident that St. Martha will have a successful, healthy year.
“I’d feel safe with my grandkids coming here,” she said. ••