By Gloria Stravelli
METUCHEN – As a regional school, Saint Joseph High School in Metuchen has been in a better position than some other schools to adjust to the challenges of remote learning made necessary by the pandemic, according to a school administrator.
With a student body of 500-plus young men drawn from several surrounding counties, remote learning was not a new instructional mode, explained Jack Timko, assistant to the president and director of advancement at the Catholic high school.
“Obviously, St. Joe’s has been poised for remote education because basically we’re a regional high school,” Timko said. “We have students that come from six different counties that come to St. Joe’s.
“Some schools have snow days, we don’t have snow days. The whole idea was go to remote education on those days. So we were already established for remote education and the fact that COVID came about has just allowed us to implement a plan that we already had in place for remote education.”
According to Timko, students began the 2020-21 academic year with remote learning and were then offered the option to attend classes remotely or in-person with safety protocols in place.
“So we started out with full remote and then offered a composite of remote and live (classes) and we continued that into the spring semester, where we were still remote/live, but the percentage changed as the year progressed, once people got vaccinated,” he said. “There became a greater acceptance of being able to get back to normal.”
According to the school website, www.stjoes.org, new software was acquired to improve remote learning as well as the technology to facilitate live streaming classes.
Teachers continued to use the Google platform as well as others, including Screencastify, Screencastomatic, Turnitin, edpuzzle and Flipgrid, and Swivels was acquired for live streaming.
Also, students could opt for remote learning or live instruction and teachers were available to students on a daily basis during their class time, on campus and remotely, for instruction, additional assistance and guidance.
Athletics continued, following NJSIAA guidelines.
Safety measures put in place included: wearing masks at all times while in the building; screening upon arrival to school including temperature checks and visual/verbal symptom checks; medical evaluation and risk assessment by the school nurse for anyone who failed the screening; and elimination of food service.
The school day was shifted to a rotating block schedule to minimize contacts between students, between students and teachers, and during the change, and to assist with contact tracing, if needed.
New protocols included: hand sanitizer and wipes in classrooms; daily cleaning of classrooms and highly touched surfaces; and upgrades to the ventilation system.
This year, classes begin Aug. 31 for grade levels 9-12 on the 70-acre campus bridging Metuchen and Edison, and protocols for the 2021-22 academic year will continue to follow state and federal guidelines, Timko said.
“We’re going to adhere to the state guidelines and also CDC recommendations. So all of our faculty and our students will be masked,” Timko said, adding the school’s extracurricular calendar is filled with 16 varsity sports, clubs and activities.
“We’re anticipating a full schedule of fall athletic events. We’re still anticipating all of our clubs and activities will continue to be engaged,” he said. “Again, we will adjust our activities and our education based upon state guidelines.”
According to Timko, the previous academic year showed that remote learning is effective.
“The big takeaway was we were prepared for it. Nobody was prepared for the pandemic, but we were prepared from an academic standpoint. We just instituted remote education because we already had it in place,” he said.
“It worked very well, as matter of fact. A lot of the parents whose sons were experiencing remote education, other than the fact that they weren’t with their classmates, their friends … we got huge kudos from many of the parents who said it was very effective.
“The kids did very well, they continued to perform, continued to get good grades.
Our seniors got financially rewarded through academic scholarships to colleges, plus the roll call of colleges that our boys were accepted into is outstanding,” he added.
Timko credited the school’s administrative team for facilitating remote learning.
“We owe a lot of that to our Principal Anne Rivera and her team, because they had the foresight to be able to plan for this and to be prepared for it,” he said. “Nobody saw the pandemic coming, but the fact that it did come, other than the emotional aspect of it, the educational side of it, we just turned the light switch on and started.
“We pride ourselves on the type of students that we have here and the faculty that we have here and their commitment to remote education. That’s what made this successful,” Timko said.