In March, the coronavirus hit our city and took all Chicagoans, our health and our economy, by storm. As the number of sicknesses began to rise, our elected officials made the brave and right move to close our schools and cancel in-person classes. We all thought it would be for just a few weeks. But now, there is no end in sight to our home-schooling situation.
I have two children, a kindergartener and a fourth grader, and they both attend Catalyst Maria, a charter public school in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. I also work there and run an after school drama club.
Before the pandemic hit, life at Catalyst Maria was exciting and busy – there was so much going on! It’s a school with scholars in grades K-12. Each student had classes that were focused on supporting each other to grow, with a heavy emphasis on learning new technology.
There were so many after school programs – music, sports, mentoring. My drama club was one of them. We started the club a few years ago with just eight students. This year, we were over forty! We were going to perform Madagascar. It’s very sad to think that mid-April would have been when our performance would have happened.
Despite the fact that Catalyst Maria was a busy school, we were also a very tight-knit community. The scholars were close to each other – even though their ages ranged so widely. The school was close to us parents. They included us in everything and made learning the policies, new teaching methods, and technology accessible. It’s been a dream school.
Now, our lives and my children’s education have been turned upside down by the pandemic. As a mom, I worry about the health, safety, and education of my children. But, I have never been more grateful that we signed them up to attend Catalyst Maria. Here’s why:
Catalyst Maria took care of us right away
In mid-March (which now feels like eons ago), when we learned that all Chicago schools would be closed, we were scared and didn’t know what our children’s education would look like. Fortunately, Catalyst Maria developed a plan well ahead of time for our children to start learning remotely. To jumpstart that plan, they made sure that all scholars had the right tools to use at home. They quickly reached out to us parents and asked who needed the technology. For those of us who needed it – and there were hundreds of us – we came to the school to pick it up.
We had already been socially distancing for a few days at that point, so my family was missing our friends. At Catalyst, they threw us a party! When we went to pick up the technology, everyone was a safe 6-feet apart and appropriately covered, but it was clear that they missed us as much as we missed them. They even brought out live music while we were waiting. It was fun for me and for my family, and I was so relieved that my children had tools and a plan for remote learning so quickly.
Once we got the technology, there were many parents who needed to learn how to use it. The school staff set up video conference sessions to teach us how to use the equipment and also the online learning programs so that we can support our kids.
Our kids were already prepared to learn independently
Since our very first day at Catalyst Maria, it is clear that my children would be guided and nurtured through their education. The teachers and staff went above and beyond to show us that. But now, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone is scared and worried about their own families. I know the teachers and staff at Catalyst Maria must be. But are they letting that get in the way of going above and beyond for their students and my children? They are not.
Both of my children’s teachers, among other staff members, reached out to my children immediately and continued to check on them regularly. During these check-ins, the teachers ask how my children are feeling and what kind of help they think they need. They taught them months ago how to identify what they need as learners and how to ask for it, so my children have no trouble getting what they need to continue their education now. The Catalyst teachers are AWESOME.
My son, Hiram, is in kindergarten. He misses school so much, with his friends, teachers, and fun daily activities. But he knew exactly what to do with his iPad as soon as he got it from school. He’s been learning every day! My daughter, Xochitl, uses a Chromebook regularly at school, so she didn’t miss a moment of learning at home. They’ve been using programs like Classkick, IXL, Zearn, and others for months. Scholars would take what they learned about technology and transfer that to learning from home. It’s like Catalyst Maria was preparing my children to be independent learners all along!
Through the immediate, loving phone calls, the quick technology distribution, and parties in parking lots, my children know that times are hard, but they are loved, cared for, and that they will not be forgotten. I only hope that they will take those lessons and feelings with them for years to come. I know I will.
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