As PPS adopts 'distance learning' via the Internet, the Catholic schools in Southeast have been leading the way

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO -  St. Agatha Catholic School 4th grade teacher Laurie Johnsen provides a math lesson via live video conference with her students.About a month before Portland Public Schools implemented a "distance learning" program they call "PPS-HD" on April 13, other Inner Southeast Portland Catholic schools had already been teaching students remotely.

For example, in addition to Holy Family Catholic School in Eastmoreland – as reported in the April issue of THE BEE – Sellwood's St. Agatha Catholic School was also starting up a remote learning program at the same time as Holy Family was, in mid-March.

"Since we began our distance learning on March 16th, it's been truly wonderful to see the parents, staff, and students all jump in with both feet, into this unprecedented circumstance, and support each other through it," said St. Agatha Catholic School Principal Chris Harris.

"Our goal continues to be providing education to our students, while giving guidance and support to our families as they transition to this 'new normal', away from the school," Harris told THE BEE.

They prepared for the possibility of a school closure by sending students and teachers home with materials, and provided an opportunity for parents that needed additional online devices to come to a "drive through" at the campus to get Chromebook laptop computers from Google for home learning.

"Working from their homes, teachers provide learning opportunities, class meetings, and instruction, using video conferencing," Harris noted. "And additional resources are provided via 'google classroom', where students can submit assignments through that platform."

Adding a personal touch, teachers provide feedback and support for families online, with daily video conferencing involving the students – and also offer "virtual office hours" where they can respond to e-mail and phone calls, or video conference with students and parents to answer questions and provide guidance.

"Even our preschool is participating; our team does 'morning circle time' (which includes stories, calendar, numbers/letters instruction, music and dance, and more) over video conference – it's interactive, and helps with social opportunities for the children and advances their kindergarten readiness," Harris said.

They've opted for a four-day schedule of structured lessons, and Fridays have been less structured days to catch up for those that need it, extend for those that are ready for another challenge, and for teachers to have time to engage in professional development on these new platforms and with each other to support student learning.

"It's been difficult on everyone, but we have a strong community committed to the academic, physical, social emotional, and spiritual well-being of each of our families; and, that bond has really helped to carry us through," Harris said.

Learn more about St. Agatha Catholic School online –

Meantime, Holy Family Catholic School Principal Joe Galati tells THE BEE their program is still going well. "I am so proud of our teachers, our students and our parents for their incredible efforts with digital learning. We are in the most extreme circumstances; and yet, I am amazed at the level of student engagement, even from a distant-learning situation. "Now, weeks in, as a school, they are continuing to excel – making me proud of our students!"

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!