School at a Distance
The blessings and challenges of remote learning at Salesian High School.
Alex Chacon, president of Salesian High School in Boyle Heights, sits in his office alone five days a week. Other administrators may be in the building, but they are confined to their own offices and stay at least 6 feet apart. Each morning, he utilizes his amateur film-making skills and operates a livestream of Salesian High School’s daily mass for his school community, before he and his Principal, Mark Johnson, get to work responding to concerns from parents, and students, and supporting their staff in every way that they can.
School days are business-as-usual for Salesian students – except they are all at home. Every student has an iPad with a data plan that they use to attend virtual classes via Zoom, a video conferencing platform. In the virtual classes, students will listen to lectures, ask questions and work together in small groups, just as they would if they were in the classroom.
Two years ago, Salesian launched a remote learning initiative to ensure that students were not tied to the walls of the school building. All teachers became certified in Google Apps for Education and teachers experimented with distance learning in some classes.
It’s a blessing that these processes and procedures were already tested before the COVID-19 crisis required all students to stay at home. But, Chacon admits, Salesian’s students do face unique challenges.
Many of the young men at Salesian High School – especially the 200+ CEF Tuition Award Program recipients – have difficult circumstances at home. Often, Salesian High School is the nicest building with the nicest resources to which they have access. The high school campus is a “home away from home” and students thrive because of the personal connection and community. Replicating that feeling is a challenge for Chacon, Johnson and their faculty. He and other administrators have been in constant communication with parents, reminding them that this is not a vacation, and their children need to be focused on their classes and homework during and after school hours.
Last week, the 90 members of the senior class met via Zoom with the President, Principal, and other teachers and administrators, so that students could share their own blessings and challenges and administrators and teachers could provide news from the school. These gatherings reinforce the feeling of brotherhood and sense of home at Salesian High School and remind students and families that even if they are isolated at home, they are never alone.
In addition to the innovative distance learning taking place in all classes, the school has conducted club meetings, office hours with various staff members, and athletic team workouts with coaches, among their many activities. Future plans include a talent show, and monthly awards assembly, and a school-wide Mass. Yet, the closure of the physical school building for an indefinite period of time is still very difficult for those who work at Catholic schools. “We miss the students. It’s why we’re here.” Chacon says. “There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes, and a lot of time for reflection, by a lot of people. How appropriate that we are in the middle of Lent. We are in our own deserts, ready for profound renewal.”
– Katie Kevorkian