By Nathan Worcester
In this community and nearby, schools are adapting creatively to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and Stay at Home orders. Although all the institutions contacted by Gazette Chicago have implemented some form of remote learning, strategies vary from school to school.
“Every school has created a unique remote learning plan to best meet the needs of their unique student population,” wrote Chicago Public Schools (CPS) press assistant James Malnati.
CPS’s remote learning began April 13.
“What I do every single Monday is I send a video to our school community,” said Joyce D. Kenner, principal of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. “One video I thought was really good—I had a swim cap on, and I was pretending like I was with the softball team in Las Vegas at the pool.” The video referenced a scheduled trip canceled due to the pandemic.
According to Kenner, Whitney Young has surveyed students to see if they need technological support, distributing at least 80 electronic devices so far. “We were also able through some service providers to provide internet access,” said Kenner, adding that many students received hotspots.
Kenner estimated 70% of students are engaged with the school during classes: “If a teacher has not engaged with a student, then that teacher can share that information through a tracker.”
Kenner explained many students are struggling to balance school with new responsibilities at home. “We have students who are providing babysitting service” for their siblings, she said.
“However, we can help a student graduate,” she continued. “I am hopeful we will be able to do that.” She noted she supported moving to pass/fail grading in light of the pandemic.
“One of the main challenges has been dealing with the fact that myself and my classmates will not be able to enjoy fun high school traditions” like prom, graduation night, and graduation “that we have been waiting for throughout the past three years,” wrote Evan McMahon, a senior at Whitney Young. “Establishing a set routine has been definitely beneficial to passing the days, but other than that this isolating time has not been particularly pleasant for me. That being said, as someone with a house, steady supply of food, and two parents who have kept their jobs, conditions not all Whitney Young students enjoy, I have realized my privilege in being able to endure this harsh time in the way that I do.
“I am the president of the Whitney Young chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that facilitates relationships between students with and without disabilities, and we have been able to host virtual club meetings where students can reconnect and share quarantine stories,” added McMahon. “Additionally, Whitney Young’s Chamber Orchestra is working hard to assemble many different solo recordings into a virtual performance.”
“My track and field coach posted workouts for all of March and the beginning of April, which I know many of the girls on the team kept up with on their own,” wrote Charlotte Lawrence, another Whitney Young senior. “We also had team meetings through Google and did a few strength workouts on Zoom, which was really fun and a great way to stay connected and active in quarantine.
“The biggest challenge for me is not being able to see my classmates” every day, Lawrence continued. “I look forward to seeing my friends at school, and being able to interact with people in the classroom is important to me when I’m learning. I feel that physically being in a school setting is a vital part of the high school experience, and completing online assignments definitely cannot replace attending school in person.
“I know that some teachers had issues with participation during the first month of quarantine, but since online classes officially started on April 13 students have been much more active,” she added. “I do feel as though I would be doing more if we were actually in class, but considering the natural limitations of remote learning I would say my teachers and school have adapted well.”
Private schools meet challenge
Chicago’s private schools also have risen to the challenge of coronavirus. At De La Salle Institute, past investments in digital learning technologies have made the transition to remote learning relatively easy.
“When it came time for this to happen, we were already comfortable,” said the Rev. Paul Novak, OSM, president of De La Salle, who noted the school first developed a tablet program in 2006.
De La Salle’s principal, Diane Brown, echoed this sentiment. “Technology is something that our teachers and students are used to using in normal school classes,” she said.
“Our school year ends earlier than the public schools do, and so our students actually are in the middle of their fourth quarter,” Brown continued. “Our students are on time for graduation. What that graduation will look like, we don’t know.
“Students do miss being in school,” said Brown, adding that, although extracurricular events are canceled, some club moderators have been meeting virtually and some coaches are providing virtual workout plans to student athletes.
Brown urged De La Salle students who need food to use CPS’s meal sites, which are open at 270 schools between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Saint Ignatius College Prep has done remote learning since March 2016, according to Ryan Bergin, director of development, who also oversees marketing and communications. “We use Blackbaud,” a program “where teachers can post assignments. They are taking attendance for their classes, and students have to check in each morning. Teachers are working through all of their regular course material so that all of the work will get completed and students can graduate on time.”
“A lot of my classes are lecture-based, so it is easy for my teachers to lecture over Zoom,” wrote Catherine Meyer, a junior at Saint Ignatius. “However, Zoom calls are a little difficult for my biology class because we are not able to do labs. Also, I play violin in the orchestra, and it is challenging to master a song with fifty other musicians over a Zoom call, especially since the calls lag a little bit sometimes. It can end up sounding like a mess. It has also been really strange to not interact with my classmates in person. I can still FaceTime my friends, but there is a major difference between seeing somebody in person and seeing them through a screen. At Saint Ignatius, we are all required to have iPads. I feel really lucky to have such easy access to technology at a time like this because I’m not sure how any of my classes would work if I didn’t have my iPad.
“I think that Saint Ignatius has been doing a great job with their response to COVID-19,” added Meyer. “Principal [Brianna] Latko and Fr. [Michael] Caruso are always reaching out to check in on how parents and students are doing. The top priority of the school is that we are safe and taking care of ourselves. The school has even canceled final exams, which is a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. Moreover, since Saint Ignatius is a Catholic school, the Formation and Ministry Department has done an incredible job of giving us ideas on how to continue to strengthen our faith during this difficult time by sending out prayers and various reflections.
“Overall, this is very surreal to me,” she continued. “It’s really scary, and I constantly fear for the health of my grandparents. However, I try to FaceTime them as much as possible, and they seem to be doing well. I play lacrosse, and it was really upsetting that my season was canceled. I had been preparing for the season since the summer, but my coaches have been really amazing. They send us practice plans every week, and we do some kind of team bonding activity over Zoom calls once a week.”
No immediate feedback
“It’s been hard for me not to have that immediate feedback from the kids,” said Patti Taylor, a preschool teacher at St. Malachy School. “So much of my day came down to talking with the kids—playing with them—interacting during snack time, interacting during mealtime…”
Taylor uses Zoom for remote learning and ClassDojo to track participation. For preschool age children, student participation necessarily involves parents. “I would say I have about half that are very consistent and go on every day and look at activities,” said Taylor. She estimated another quarter of her students participated less frequently, while the remainder had participated sporadically or not at all since St. Malachy’s last day of school on March 12. She emphasized she has not given up on reaching out to kids who have been totally or mostly absent, sending coloring sheets by snail mail to everyone.
“I believe it’s just internet connectivity in some cases,” said Taylor, who mentioned Comcast’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families, which has offered two free months of internet service to eligible customers who apply by May 13. She praised the Big Shoulders Fund for supporting Catholic schools in Chicago.
“Everybody has learned this technology and risen to the occasion,” responded Taylor when asked about how other teachers have responded to COVID-19. “I have not heard one teacher say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m giving up.’ Nobody is giving up.”
“While some districts or states gave a week or more before going online for learning, the teachers at our school hit the ground running the very first day after announcing school closures,” wrote Abbie McDermott, a third grade teacher at St. Malachy. “This allowed a lot of students to have consistency from being in school to still learning at home.”
St. Jerome Catholic School has posted a tutorial video online for parents to make it simple for parents to supervise their children’s e-learning. Principal Elisabeth Dworak is the narrator and gives detailed instructions on navigating the website at to access e-learning links and materials and class calendars. Some teachers have put information on a program called Google Classroom. “The teachers have worked extremely hard in trying to get quality lessons to your students virtually,” Dworak said in the video.
The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, like other private schools, has “indeed gone to remote learning,” wrote Catherine Braendel, strategic advisor and director of communications.
UIC takes action
Many at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) also have responded to the pandemic in distinctive ways based on students’ needs.
“UIC closed for a two-week spring break, allowing the faculty to design the remainder of the semester’s classes for online instruction,” wrote Michael A. Pagano, dean of UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs (CUPPA) and director of the Government Finance Research Center. “The transition from in-person to online has been generally quite smooth. The faculty have been amazingly supportive of the students and adept at moving to online platforms.”
“The shift to online classes has been a bit challenging for me,” wrote Mags Bouffard, a CUPPA graduate student studying public administration. “As a graduate student, I already know that I learn best in a classroom setting… This happened mid-semester, and I already know my classmates and professors, which has made the adjustment far less stressful.
“There has certainly been a technology learning curve for teachers, but for me it hasn’t been too disruptive,” continued Bouffard. “I also feel that my professors have been empathetic to the stress this pandemic is causing for all of us, which is helpful.
“I live in a small one bedroom apartment with my partner,” she added. “We don’t have an office space, so it has been difficult for me to work without being distracted. My partner rearranged our furniture to give me a little makeshift office space which has been super helpful. Creating a daily schedule for myself has also helped me to remember all the tasks that I have to do for work and school.”
“One of the big-picture takeaways I’ve gotten from this experience is that schools can and should be more prepared to allow for remote learning and working in the regular course of things,” wrote Annie Howard, a CUPPA graduate student studying urban planning and policy with a concentration in community development. “I’ve read stuff from disability rights activists who have fought years for some of the accommodations that have been rapidly put in place over the last month and a half, and I think it’s important that when we return to ‘regular life,’ whatever that means, that these resources are still available for folks who need them.
Howard added, “I do miss eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with my 506 classmates, seeing my peers throughout CUPPA Hall, and generally the experience of getting to be a part of the larger community.”
All instruction “has moved to online learning through resources provided by the university such as lecture tools Blackboard, Blackboard Collaborate, and Panopto,” wrote Jacquelyn Bonavia, director of advancement at the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW). “Online conferencing and collaboration options available include Webex, Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, and Microsoft Teams.
“In light of disruptions in academic programs caused by the pandemic, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has offered modifications to current accreditation standards related to field instruction hours, assessment, and other issues,” added Bonavia. “Jane Addams College of Social Work is following these guidelines.
“All student field placement activity came to a closure on April 10. Once again, CSWE has made accommodations regarding a one-time reduction in the minimum number of hours required for field instruction for the MSW degree covering students who will complete their degree program by December 31, 2020,” she added.
“I am currently finishing school, working remotely as a child welfare case manager, finishing up my licensure for child welfare which consists of remote learning and Zoom proctored exams, while also helping with my ten-year-old special needs niece,” wrote Shelby Olita, a student at JACSW.
“If I know I have a busy day with working, I will try to be done by five at night so I can do homework after that,” Olita explained. “I also try to make sure that I keep some time open for playing with my niece. Spending time with my niece has always been something that makes me feel better, so with everything going on I try to take time out of my day to spend it with her.
“I try to focus on the positives like this is the most time I have spent with my family in a long time, I am able to help my niece in school and bond with her on a whole different level, and I got to start my dream job earlier and am getting paid which a lot of people can’t say right now,” Olita said.
“Students are being impacted by the pandemic itself, which overlaps with online learning,” wrote Otima Doyle, an associate professor at JACSW. “Students have expressed concern for their clients’ well-being and the discontinuation of student services, given the challenges.”
Doyle has created a virtual lounge for students, Hallway Hangouts/Virtual Lounge, using the BlackBoard Collaborate platform.
“We implemented remote learning on March 30 for all cohorts, and it will run through the entire summer semester, which extends until August 14,” wrote Toni M. Roucka, DDS, associate dean for academic affairs at the UIC College of Dentistry.
“We anticipated the mandate for social distancing and ‘stay at home’ and started considering a transition from traditional learning to online learning early,” Roucka added. “We chose to extend our spring break by one week and used the time to engage in rigorous planning with our faculty. Very little was changed in the way of content or course requirements on the didactic side.
“The university offers a wide selection of online conferencing programs, which have facilitated the process,” Roucka continued. “The college also purchased a remote proctoring system which allows for high-fidelity remote test administration using biometrics and AI [artificial intelligence] technology. Except for minor glitches with initial deployment, both students and faculty alike have adapted well to this new learning environment.”
Asked what the College of Dentistry is doing to help students graduate on time, Roucka acknowledged some essential aspects of dental training have created difficulties. “The challenge comes with the clinical and laboratory components of courses at both the predoctoral and advanced education level, as the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] has recommended that all dental offices in the U.S. limit patient care to emergency treatment only,” she said. “We are working with our accrediting body, the Commission on Dental Accreditation, and dental schools across the country to develop strategies to bring our students to the conclusion of their education in a manner that does not compromise learning. We anticipate on time graduation for the vast majority of our predoctoral and advanced education residents.
“We are planning to resume simulation, also known as ‘pre-patient’ care laboratory courses, as soon as it is safe,” Roucka explained. “Our plans include limiting groups of students to ten or less with one faculty member, essentially creating teams. These small teams will help to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. We are also planning to practice social distancing in the lab, so the students are not in close contact.”
For more information: Chicago Public Schools (CPS), https://cps.edu, (773) 553-1000; Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, https://wyoung.org/, (773) 534-7500; St. Jerome School, www.stjeromeschool.net, (312) 842-7668; St. Malachy School, www.stmalacychicago.com, (312) 733-2252; University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), www.uic.edu/, (312) 996-7000; UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work, https://socialwork.uic.edu/, (312) 996-7096; UIC College of Dentistry, https://dentistry.uic.edu/, (312) 996-7555; UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, https://cuppa.uic.edu/, (312) 413-8088; University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, www.ucls.uchicago.edu/, (773) 702-9450; De La Salle Institute, https://www.dls.org/, (312) 842-7355; Saint Ignatius College Prep, https://www.ignatius.org/, (312) 421-5900.