Saint Paul's Choir School

April 3, 2020 Update

Dear Saint Paul's Choir School Families:

We have now nearly completed three weeks of learning from home and it is time to reflect on our experiences. Our transition to remote teaching and learning has been packed with excitement as we have tried out new ways of engaging. We also are experiencing the challenges of separation, both emotionally and spiritually. I cannot be more appreciative of all the support and encouragement from those who have written to thank our teachers for their dedication and resilience.

Our Goal: Maintaining our Excellence in the face of Remote Learning

Throughout the last few weeks, we are frequently reminded that learning remotely is not ever going to be as good as meeting in person. Nevertheless, our goal is to do all that we can to maintain our pursuit of excellence despite the challenges of remote learning. In the process, we are also learning along the way and we hope that you are too. Our teachers are being guided by Director of Academics Ms. Fox. They have explored research best practices to bring all that we find to be effective and put it into action to serve our students in these challenging times.

Each week our staff reviews progress during meetings and explores lessons learned along the way. We are sensitive to the different ages of students we serve and are making adjustments that accommodate different stages of development in our approaches to delivering online learning opportunities. As you have experienced, the results are innovative and oriented to the feedback we are receiving from students and families, but altogether rooted in what works best. Our teachers are in frequent contact with specialists from the Catholic Schools Offices and other professional organizations in order to stay abreast of what works. We have received feedback from many who admire how creative and agile we have been in meeting the many challenges we are facing. Our Parent Guild meeting yesterday evening further affirmed our early success in meeting the expectations of families who shared their appreciation for all that our teachers are doing.

Our transition continues to develop as we are increasingly aware that the duration of the learning from home timeline is expanding. While we long for a quick return to school as normal where we can greet each other and experience the joy of personal interactions, we are also acutely aware of the need to heed the guidance of health and government guidance for the safety of all. We have postponed or cancelled most of our planned events and celebrations through the end of the academic year with the hope that we will return and have a chance to say good-bye before the summer break.

In my conversations with other school leaders, we have unanswered questions for several important aspects of the current period of learning online. I have instructed our staff to make every effort to continue to follow learning objectives we have for our students so that the time away from school will be productive. Our current progress looks promising. We have every intention of finishing the year with the ability to award grades and document learning progress for each grade level. Our 8th graders will graduate on time and have a smooth transition to high school. We will, of course, continue to monitor this progress and let you know if there are any changes.

We are, at the same time, deeply aware of the social, emotional and spiritual needs of our students. We miss the need to connect daily with our students and know that they miss each other. Our faculty are working to reach out to their advisees when help is needed and encourage parents to take notice and share with us if you are concerned with your boy’s progress. We will continue to seek ways for the boys to interact through our contests and weekly assemblies. The boys are finding ways to keep virtual relationship alive in ways we would never imagine and sometimes in ways that might require a little more parental supervision.

Our Community during Holy Week

Next week is Holy Week and I am devastated that the boys will miss this extraordinary time of year to produce the most glorious choral music for the Holy Week liturgies. Nevertheless, we look forward to still being able to deepen their spiritual lives while participating in the week’s liturgical events. I was very grateful to hear from Fr. Kelly and Mr. Kennerley that the parish will be live streaming the Holy Week liturgies on the parish YouTube channel. I encourage all families to use this time sheltered at home to take advantage of the virtual ways to engage with the offerings available. Preparing for these virtual celebrations requires special care to honor the ageless traditions with loving care. Here are some suggestions from a Harvard graduate who is now a priest serving at the United Nations:

The exterior preparations are likewise important. They begin with trying to create, as best we can, sacred space in our home where we can block out distractions. The place should be cleaned and put in order, like a well-cleaned Church. We should dress up like we would if we were attending our parish. We should actively participate in the liturgies to the extent possible, praying aloud the responses, kneeling, standing, and sitting as we would when attending. Even though we will not be receiving Holy Communion, it would be good nevertheless to live a Eucharistic fast in preparation for Mass, to increase our hunger for God and to prevent needing to run needlessly to the restroom. We should turn off all our other devices, to prevent interruptions and distractions.

Despite all our preparation and efforts, nothing we do will replicate the participation in Holy Week services, traditions that are steeped in history, meaning and sacramental life. As I have stated repeatedly, our remote educational initiatives cannot replace the real presence of being with each other. There’s nothing like the camaraderie of the boys saying hello in the morning when we arrive at school, joking around in the hallway between classes and engaging in focused lessons under the talented guidance of one of our teachers. We remain determined to make the most of our circumstances, constant in our mission to develop resilient, compassionate, and spiritually grounded young men as they develop under our school’s multifaceted academic, musical and spiritual programs.

While we look forward to the emergence of a bright and cheerful spring that we know will soon blossom, we know that we will not reconvene at least until May 4. As parents we all know that this means another month at least home with our children. We will take a welcome break for Holy Thursday through Easter Monday and then return for a short week before being off again for April vacation. I wish to take this moment to encourage all families to treasure this time together at home. We may never again have such an opportunity.

Many of us have been impacted in extraordinary ways and have experienced the impact of the virus through the illness and loss of friends or family. We expect that there will be more who will experience grief and loss in the days to come. I wish you all good health and that the strength and love we have for each other will sustain you throughout these challenging times.

May God bless you all,