PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- Bishop Larkin Catholic School, among the first in Pasco County to close due to coronavirus concerns, is about to complete its first full month of virtual learning.
- Bishop Larkin Catholic School began virtual learning on March 12
- Students work on two core subjects each day, personalized learning, and specialty areas, like music
- School has loaned families technology if needed, provided advice on scheduling and other issues
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"Our first concern here at Bishop Larkin has always been the safety, health, and welfare of our students," said Principal Stacy Cervone. "One of our parents tested positive for COVID-19, and so we closed actually ahead of many of the other local schools. It was a decision we made quickly, but with a lot of care and concern for our students."
The final day of in-person classes was March 11. Virtual learning began the next day.
"My initial reaction was one of surprise because Bishop Larkin really brought up a wonderful virtual learning site essentially overnight," said Lillian LeBlanc, the grandmother of BLCS third grader, Juliana Acquafredda.
"We, as a faculty, had to work very quickly to have in place a plan for the very next day. So, to say that this was probably one of the fast-moving challenges is an understatement," said Cervone.
Cervone said BLCS already had some programs in place for personalized virtual learning. At first, teachers communicated to parents what to work on through that program, but as the closure stretched on longer than expected, the school had to adapt.
"We quickly realized that that would not be enough to sustain the education of our children, so we moved toward presenting the children with work in all subject areas," said Cervone. "That became overwhelming to our parents, and more importantly, to our students. You know, having instruction in five different subject areas a day is one thing when you're hear in the classroom with the ongoing, moment-to-moment support of your teachers, but we quickly realized that wouldn't work for our families and our students."
So, the school stopped e-mailing parents with instructions and moved the focus to its virtual learning site. Cervone said each teacher has a page where they post tasks and lessons for the day. The education program has been split into three segments: students work on two core subjects a day, personalized learning, and then choose a specialty area to work on, such as art, music, physical education, technology, or world language.
"Not only has it really continued everything she's been learning in the classroom with a lot of interaction from her teacher, it's also enabled us to be able to spend time with her on those subjects where she needs extra help," said LeBlanc.
In an effort to keep life as normal as possible students, Cervone said one tradition that's continued through virtual learning is Bishop Larkin's morning prayer. The school asks parents to send in videos of students to lead the rest of the community in the daily tradition.
"We post that every morning, and all of the students are asked to join in with their families. So, we love that we're able to provide that sense of normalcy," said Cervone.
There have been hiccups along the way. Cervone said the school has heard from parents who've had trouble with virtual learning.
"You know, 'I have a difficult time managing three children at home doing this.' 'Our technology doesn't allow us to play this particular video or this particular lesson.' So, we have worked with some of our families where we've identified needs. We've loaned out technology so that all of the children in their home can work simultaneously," said Cervone. She notes they've also worked with families to offer advice and support with scheduling issues.
"It's actually really good. I really like it," Juliana, 8, said of the virtual learning.
Juliana said one of her favorite parts is getting to meet weekly with her teacher and classmates on Zoom.
"They're fun because I get to see all my friends and I get to talk with them," she said.
LeBlanc said she's especially thankful for the efforts of teachers throughout this process.
"They are putting in inordinate amounts of time creating these individualized videos for the kids. They are always available by text or by phone," she said.
Bishop Larkin serves students from 3 years old up to eighth grade.