Diocese of Des Moines Schools Give Inside Look into ‘Return to Learn’ Plan

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — We are less than a week away from many districts starting their school year. For the Diocese of Des Moines schools, including Dowling Catholic, providing that face-to-face, faith-based opportunity was most important. They ending up putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into technology to still make that happen.

“We are all learning what it means to be resilient and adaptive,” Kelly Parriott, Dowling Catholic High School Economics teacher said.

It’s been a summer of change for teachers all across the state of Iowa, preparing to teach not only in person but also virtually.

Dowling Catholic High School is opting to start the school year with 100 percent in-person instruction, with face coverings required the first week of school. Then in the second week, they will test out their 50 percent hybrid plan.

“In my 20th year of administering catholic schools, there hasn’t been many years that I’ve walked in and said ‘I’m not really sure how the first two weeks are going to go.’ So that will give us some experience,” Dr. Dan Ryan, Dowling Catholic President said.

During that hybrid week, a portion of high school students will be learning from home, but that doesn’t mean they can learn on their own time.

“Regardless of who is in the building, all of the students will be participating in the class. By installing some new smartboard technology and putting new cameras in the classroom with audio, all the students are required to show up every morning every class,” Dr. Ryan said.

It was a significant investment for the school district. With this technology, students log into a virtual classroom where they can see their teacher in real-time and interact, just like those sitting at their physical desk.

“It gives a student a schedule and the interaction with the teacher. You see them at the front of the classroom, and at different times in class actually getting in a Google hangout small groups to work through a problem and in 4-5 minutes report back to the whole class. So it gives them that relationship side,” Dr. Ryan said.

“We’ve got a really cool tool where we’ve got a document and then they can be writing on it and then I can watch what they are doing,” Parriott said. “So if I am dealing with a supply and demand graph, I can tell ‘this is why you aren’t understanding it.’ So I’m getting real-time information from kids because they still will log in every day. They will still be a part of our class every day. I’m still their teacher in front of the classroom.”

For the Diocese of Des Moines’ elementary students, they are planning to be 100 percent on-site from day one.

“That face-to-face connection, that engagement and to redirect that constant engagement is very important, plus we listened to the families,” Donna Bishop, the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Des Moines Schools said.

Face coverings are required when moving throughout the building, and items like face or desk shields will be utilized in the classroom. That is when they are indoors.

“We’re moving into outdoor classrooms. We’ve gotten really creative with the storm that just came upon us. We’ve cut the trees down and turned them into stumps for outdoor seating. So whatever the Lord is giving to us, we are turning lemon into lemonade,” Bishop said.

Utilizing what they call community classrooms, they are hoping to limit interaction by keeping kids grouped together to keep that face-to-face connection as much as possible.

“Were thinking about their entire well being and that social-emotional part is just as important right now, if not more important than the academics,” Bishop said.

Parents of children at all grade levels can still opt for their kids to learn virtually. For those elementary students, they plan to have more recorded lesson plans and worksheets, rather than the real-time virtual classroom like the high school students. Bishop said this is because typically the younger the kids, the more likely parents will need to be present to help facilitate the learning and that requires flexibility in scheduling.

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