By Josh Kinney, Director of Communications
School leadership, faculty and staff of XBSS courageously and competently moved into online learning when schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more, the schools seized the moment, developing ways to keep students and families connected and engaged to their school’s mission rooted in the tradition of the Xaverian Brothers. These measures reassured students and families while providing the structure necessary for a seamless transition to the new reality of learning and community.
Creativity was put to the test, resulting in a new connectedness otherwise not known. From virtual cooking to virtual spirit week, online prayers and daily announcements, digital Stations of the Cross, students sharing photos of staying physically active, to sewing masks for local hospitals, nursing homes, and organizations in need, the Xaverian values were displayed brightly this spring amid one of history’s most dark and challenging moments. Counselors made themselves easily accessible, offering support, and answering questions. Students, parents, and teachers expressed gratitude for hard work and positive attitudes. Despite finding themselves apart, students found more opportunities to connect than ever before.
“There wasn’t a single hesitation,” said Ann Alsfeld, Director of Communications at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, MA. “It was all hands on deck, and everyone jumped to make it happen.” She described how times like these show the true investment and strong community of faculty and staff and how their work is not a paycheck, but a calling.
Leaning on the relationships developed across the XBSS network, the XBSS Office assisted schools by gathering Communication Directors online via Zoom to share information, insight, and ideas for schools to keep families engaged and relationships thriving. Creativity, inspiration, and fun initiatives were shared, and the Sponsorship office scheduled regular online gatherings of cohort groups to discuss best practices. From Chief Administrators working to support school operations, Campus Minister and Adult Faith Formation personnel sharing ideas for remote ministry and responding to the pandemic through the lens of a Xaverian-Catholic identity, to assisting Assistant Principals in supporting remote learning and professional development for faculty and staff. XBSS staff also reached out to IT Personnel to assist with conversations on remote learning, device management, and ensuring internet access to all school community members. They spoke to Admissions about discerning best enrollment tactics and financial aid strategies during to support members joining the school community. Advancement Directors were supported in navigating strategies reinforcing the emergency needs of families and brainstorming new fundraising strategies. XBSS staff facilitated conversations with Chief Financial Officers and Business Mangagers on financial forecasting, budgeting, and accessing the CARES Stimulus legislation funding. They also facilitated discussions with College Counselors on best practices for counseling students on their college acceptances and financial aid as well as School Counselors on how best to care for the social and emotional health of students amid the crisis.
Unique opportunities arose, such as Board Chair, Chris Creed, ’96 graduate, and Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, taking the time to speak with 12 members of the St. John’s High School Investment Club through an online conference. Evan Kristiansen, Ph.D., joined Mr. Gunning’s AP Biology class at Xaverian High School via Google Meets to provide context to the mechanisms of evolution and speciation the students were studying.
“We are spending a great deal of time looking ahead and planning virtual ways we can celebrate our seniors since we usually have so many deep, meaningful experiences that happen in the Spring,” said Joseph Schuberth, Director of Communications at Mount St. Joseph’s High School in Baltimore. “We’re just trying to remotely give our students as much of the Mount Saint Joe’s experience as we can.”
Reaching out to students and families personally moved to the forefront. Student-athletes at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD, refused to be sidelined and traded sneakers for sewing machines as they gathered virtually on a mask-making mission for health care professionals. In just 24-hours, the school raised over $200,000 to support emergency financial assistance for families in need and provided technology tools for enhanced distance learning during the school’s ‘Day of Giving.’ Parents of St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, MD, participated in a ‘Coffee with Counselors’ virtual event with one parent writing a special note on Facebook.
“I just want to shout out my son’s school,” said Monique Logan Mitchell, “And give special thanks to the faculty and staff! Amid COVID-19, Ryken’s transition to e-learning was seamless… and they did it in two days! The students haven’t missed a beat! I am overjoyed with how the teachers continue to provide instruction and keep the students engaged. The same rigor that existed in the classroom exists today. I am so proud and thankful that with all that’s going on, I don’t have to fret over my son’s education. Go, Knights!”
First graders at Lowell Catholic School in Lowell, MA, celebrated pajama day and connected over Zoom for an exclusive chance to meet their teacher, Ms. Conway’s, new baby Owen. Teachers at Nazareth Regional High in Brooklyn went above and beyond to keep students in high spirits, making sure distance learning occurred without interruption to their studies, providing ample opportunity to work through curriculums without sacrificing the quality of their education. Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, MA, began its digital learning program, #RELAX (Remote Education and Learning at Xaverian), encouraging workstations at home conducive to learning and sharing solidarity selfies. Xavier High in Middletown, CT, highlighted different students online for their commitment to the school mission and their willingness to find a way to keep improving.
When students at Saint Bernard’s in Uncasville, CT, learned that a local cancer center lacked sanitizer for visiting nurses, the school’s available sanitizer was delivered to supply the need.
“It was a way for us to reach out tangibly,” said Kim Hodges, Director of High School Admissions and Marketing, “How the network supports one another is impressive. There is a spirit of collegiality and idea-sharing that is wonderful.”
At St. John’s Prep in Danvers, MA, students looked passed themselves and started fundraising to collect gear for local hospitals while Xaverian Brothers High revamped senior service projects to build enduring relationships and show compassion to others in need, reaching out to middle school students, the elderly and homebound, Xaverian Brothers, and communities in which their global encounter programs serve.
Across the world in Bungoma, Kenya, Brothers Daniel Ongeso and Peter Wanga educated their students at St. Xavier High School on prevention and spread of the virus before ensuring their safe return home. Teachers prepared remote learning assignments and stayed in touch with students, making frequent check-in calls, and keeping engaged via WhatsApp.
Malden Catholic in Malden, MA, offered community engagement activities including picture contests, alumni webinar series, campus ministry programs with daily prayers, lunch chats, Rosary sessions, and virtual service opportunities. They joined St. John’s Prep students as well as faculty and staff in a 125-car procession outside the Xaverian House and Putnam Farms in Danvers, MA, in a showcase of affection and gratitude for the Xaverian Brothers. The drive-by left Brothers, staff, and residents extraordinarily grateful, leaving a significantly thoughtful impact on the Brothers who lined up outside in masks, keeping their social distance, to greet the procession.
From medical supply drives to the creation of websites for updates, resources, and information, schools leveraged social media to share, connect, and challenge each other to think creatively. Offering clubs, activities, and sports training sessions were moved online for the continued education of the whole person. Virtual town halls, curriculum nights, and school tours for middle and high school families were also made available.
“When we rise, we must carry our values, expectations, history, and commitment with us,” wrote JR Calvery, a senior at Saint Xavier High in Louisville, KY. “Nothing can be dropped. So far, as teachers, you all have dropped nothing. The waters got tough, and you all are keeping us afloat.”
Amid a trying time, the fundamental vision of supporting one another has led to an even more robust, holistic programming, tested, tried, and emerging renewed.