Learning Leads to Independence
Our students come to Saint Catherine Academy with a need: a need to learn; a need to belong; a need to be recognized. We meet the student where they are and work to move them forward in their interpersonal skills, academic skills, vocational experiences—all to build life skills that leads them to independence.
After more than three months at home, Academy students were glad to be back as summer school opened in early July. And while students quickly adjusted to a “new normal” that includes face masks, daily temperature checks upon arrival, and keeping a safe distance apart, their enjoyment at being back with their classmates in person is evident.
“It’s so good to be back and hanging with my friends. I’m having a good time,” said Anna Stowe.
The Center’s new routine is the result of several weeks of collaborative planning. From staggered scheduling to cleaning and classroom layout, the Center has carefully incorporated the requirements and recommendations of the State Department of Education and the Department of Developmental Services, as well as other guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC.
“We’re reopening with confidence,” said Helen Burland, Executive Director. “We convene each day and decide what needs to be adjusted, striving for as much accessibility and individual attention as possible. And while there are extra layers of caution now, this is what we’ve always done at Saint Catherine.”
In the classrooms, desks are spaced apart and facing the same direction. Using consistent, positive messages such as “Be Safe” and “Quiet Hands,” staff emphasizes the importance of hand washing and social distancing. Illustrated signs throughout the building reinforce these messages.
Students are appreciating the structure and familiar routine. Yoga was held in the gym and was also live streamed to the students at home from a nearby laptop. Therapists are also back on the schedule, providing individual speech and occupational therapy both onsite and online. Weekly music sessions with Mr. Matt continue online.
Lessons learned during the four-week summer school session will provide a model for the reopening of the Adult Program on July 20. In “Phase I,” 17 of the 26 adult participants will join staff onsite in a carefully staggered schedule to reduce density and allow for maximum use of the building. Some participants will attend daily for fewer hours while others will attend for full days every other day in three “cohorts” that will stay with each other and designated staff.
Brady Cronin, Director of the Adult Program, and her staff have been planning how to optimize the space in the building. The main program room and library have been set up with stations for art and reading, shredding, and other hands-on activities. The bedroom in the Life Skills Apartment has been reappropriated as an isolation room in the event that any individual does not feel well. Partitions have been ordered to create smaller spaces in the gym and picnic tables with pop-up tents will create outdoor classrooms.
Recognizing that not all students and adults are ready to return in person, both programs will maintain a hybrid approach. While two classes are in session, a third teacher logs in to Zoom to connect with the students who have elected to attend summer school virtually. When adults return to the Center, Zoom sessions will continue daily for the participants still at home.
As the first week of summer school came to a close, it was clear that one important thing in our “new normal” hasn’t changed: the sounds of laughter and encouragement. “I love hearing everyone’s voices and the laughter. It’s been too quiet around here,” said Helen.
View more photos of the first days of summer school
Although the outdoor venue was different, Saint Catherine Academy Graduation 2020 was no less joyful for this year’s graduates, Ronald Scott and Elise Hilton. The two were celebrated in a ceremony at the Center with immediate family, staff, and a few classmates in attendance.
Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown and Center Board Member, led the prayer service and offered a short homily in which he noted that even while the pandemic has taken away so much from many, it has also reminded us of what really matters in life. “You truly see the goodness of people… Certainly today is an example of that as we celebrate Elise and Ronald and the great gift that they are for each one of us, the love and joy they bring us in their own unique ways, reminding us of the preciousness and joy of life.”
Lorraine Hilton, Elise’s mother, offered Prayers of the Faithful. After the presentation of diplomas, Eric Spencer, Principal, read words of affirmation from staff about the graduates, noting Elise for her “warm, angelic smile” and Ronald for his “great spirit and enthusiasm.” Ronald was also one of several students recognized by the Diocese with the St. Thomas Aquinas award for academic improvement and exemplifying Gospel values through service to others.
In his closing prayer, Msgr. Weiss repeated the message of the scripture reading. “The message today is to be grateful,” he said. “Even in the midst of our darkest moments, to find reasons to be thankful. Certainly this holy place provides reasons for being thankful every day.”
The ceremony closed with a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine,” a Saint Catherine Academy tradition. “It was a wonderful day, in the true Saint Catherine way,” Helen Burland, Executive Director commented.