At long last, our kids are coming back to school!  The first day of school will be this Wednesday, August 26th (Happy Birthday, Mom!), and it will be great to have the kids back in the building.  Five months without students in the school has been way too long – we’ve missed you!

Getting ready for a new school year is always a hectic time, but this year has obviously been especially challenging.  Our principal, Mr. Hoffman, and the rest of our administrative team have worked nonstop throughout the summer, without getting their usual summer break.  We’ve also been blessed to have a dedicated task force comprised of administrators, teachers and school parents (including some health care professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic) who have met weekly to help us put together the most comprehensive plan we could.  Their dedication to our parish and school is both humbling and inspiring.

Our school families have already seen a copy of our plan and have received weekly updates throughout the summer, but I think it’s important that all of our parishioners hear the basics of this plan since the school is the largest ministry of our parish.  First and foremost, I think it’s important to know that our plan to return to the classroom was reviewed in detail with the Director of the St. Joseph County Health Department and has received his blessing; as badly as we want to return to school, we would never want to make the decision to bring students into the classroom without making sure it’s safe. 

The cornerstones of our back-to-school plan are mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene.  Students and teachers will wear masks throughout the day, although teachers will have the discretion to offer breaks from masks for their students at times when they are socially distanced and facing forward.  Desks have been socially distanced in each classroom, and where this isn’t possible, partitions are being placed between desks.  Students are also staying with their homerooms all day, in order to facilitate contact tracing and to minimize the number of people to whom they’re exposed each day.  Hand sanitizing dispensers are being installed in each classroom, with the expectation that students will use it every time they enter or leave a room.  And eLearning is being offered for families not quite comfortable returning to the school building, as well as students who might have to stay home due to illness or quarantine.  No plan can guarantee the health and safety of every student and staff member, but we’ve taken every precaution we can think of to set us up for a successful year.  A complete copy of our plan is available on the school website. 

Ultimately, though, what will make this year successful is our teachers.  We are blessed with such a tremendous group of teachers (and instructional aides) who are so dedicated to their craft and to their students.  They will be teaching under very challenging conditions and will have to adapt many of their long-standing teaching methods, but their willingness to go the extra mile for our students has never been more evident.  Please be sure to thank and encourage our teachers at every opportunity this year!  And pray for them often – St. John Baptist de la Salle and St. Angela Merici are two good choices for intercessors.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge our maintenance staff, including Dan, Leslie and our summer college/high school workers, all under the direction of our Business Manager, Abby Doyle.  Without going into all the gory details, let me just say that you have no idea how crazy the maintenance of our facility has been this summer!  Between building a new addition (more on that in next week’s column), beginning new programs in the school and preparing for COVID-19 restrictions, it has been a flurry of activity all summer long.  I’m really grateful for their hard work and dedication.

With that, I’ll simply ask all of you for your prayers for our school community.  Yes, it will be a year of exceptional challenges, but with exceptional challenges comes the opportunity for exceptional growth in virtue, wisdom and holiness.  Ultimately that’s our mission, and perhaps that mission is more important this year than it’s ever been.