Lighting the Way with Prayer
2020 has been a stormy year – the pandemic, raging wildfires, and ongoing social unrest around issues of justice has impacted all of us, even the students entrusted to our collective care. As a community of faith, we are called to stay fixed on Jesus, the way, the truth and the light. Christ lights the way for our Lumen Christi Academies. We stand united in mission and rooted in prayer. Students and teachers unite in prayer as they offer daily intentions to our loving God. We especially hold everyone who has been impacted by the devastating fires and ongoing pandemic in steadfast prayer.
Lighting the Way from a Distance
Authentic distance learning experiences were developed for students during the planning process for the 2020 – 21 school year. We researched best practices and analyzed students’ lived experiences from the Springtime to implement balanced schedules and engaging distance learning experiences to effectively support students’ holistic needs during these unprecedented times.
Our schools utilized a variety of resources to design synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences to guide student progress through authentic tasks, demonstrations of learning, creation of media or other content. The synchronous experiences happen in real-time, face to face through video tools such as Zoom or Google Meet, allowing for discussion, small group targeted instruction and 1:1 instruction. The asynchronous experiences occur through online channels or occur offline and allows the students to move at their own time, place, and pace.
Lighting the Way with the Light Within Students
Our students’ sense of faith, emotional health and social development is always a priority, now more than ever. Much has changed in the world so we have made Social Emotional Learning a priority in our classrooms, whether virtual or in person. Every day of instruction this year features protected time for community-building and sharing.
At St. Paul School, Mrs. Schoenrock is using multicultural texts as a way of Culturally Responsive Teaching. She has added new books to the 2nd Grade Library that represent her students’ rich diversity, ensuring students see themselves in the literature they experienced. The class began the year reading I Am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes, whose son was the inspiration for this book. Barnes wanted black boys everywhere to know they matter and they can be represented as considerate, humorous, sensitive and so much more. Each page contained "I Am" statements using beautiful figurative language. After they read the book, students wrote their own "I Am" statements after reading the book. Here are some of the “I Am” statements from Mrs. Schoenrock’s class:
“I am a child of God with lots of great abilities.”
“I am like a flower that grows everyday with knowledge.”
“I am a little sister and I work hard.”
“I am a student and I love to learn about God.”
“I am a student that never gives up.”
“I am a smart cookie.”
“I am a St. Paul Panther.”
Lighting the Way with STEM
Our teachers creatively integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum into their distance learning plans. Students have engaged in hands-on STEM activities based on real-world applications. The 2nd graders at Queen of All Saints worked with Mr. Perez to make chairs for a special stuffed animal or doll. The students were challenged to engineer and construct a chair with four legs and a back, they were only allowed to use paper and tape. The free-standing chair needed to be strong enough to hold up their distance learning friend on its own. Mr. Perez shared, “The student engineers had so much fun with this STEM Project.”
The same class was later invited to put on their agriculturalist thinking caps to design and build a robot that would be able to support the planting and harvesting of crops. Students were instructed to utilize whatever building supplies accessible to them at home. The robot needed to have a container to hold seeds, a process for the seeds to come out and be able to move. Students also had to explain the robot’s function, the best time of the year to plant and how their robot will impact the lives of agriculturalists. It was amazing to witness students’ ingenuity in their designs and creative builds. These STEM activities develop foundational skills such as communication, problem-solving, and creativity that are central to the engineering process.
Lighting the Way with Faith Families
Our schools have integrated virtual Faith Family activities into their distance learning programs. Faith Families normally meet about once a month for activities that promote fellowship across grade levels, leadership by upper grade level students, and a deeper understanding of what it means to put our Catholic faith into practice by all students. Students at St. Catherine of Siena look forward to participating in their weekly virtual Faith Family activities as part of their Wellness Wednesday, which begin with live streaming of the Holy Mass. The theme for their first Faith Family activity was "Saints as Friends." Every week students learn more about saints and make connections to various virtues and gifts through videos, slide deck presentations, and opportunities to compose their own prayers, images, or coloring pages during their time together.
Lighting the Way back to In-Person Instruction
The health of our students, teachers, staff, and families remains at the forefront of our planning efforts to return to in-person instruction. Our Lumen Christi Academies collaboratively developed reopening plans based on the guidelines from County health officials. We originally targeted the week of November 9th as the planned reopening for our Lumen Christi Academies.
Since making that announcement both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have continued trending in a positive direction. The reductions of COVID-19 transmissions in the counties may allow our school communities to safely reopen prior to the original targeted week of November 9th, which is quite promising for our students, faculty, staff and families. As a community of faith, we find comfort in knowing Christ will continue lighting the way for our Lumen Christi Academies. We give thanks to Christ for lighting the way, whether in the midst of distance learning, preparing our reopening plans, or when we ultimately return to in-person instruction. We also give thanks to the incredible faculty and teachers across our diocese who have found creative ways to prioritize Christ and the human connection, as they creatively form the minds and hearts of our students from a distance.
The face of education is rapidly changing and the Lumen Christi Academy schools are ready!
Last year, our LCA schools began to reimagine the traditional classroom focusing on innovative strategies and techniques to reinvent our schools. In partnership with Loyola Marymount University’s “Innovation in Digital Education and Leadership Institute” (iDeal), we began to further integrate technology into each of our classrooms. During our first year, we focused on becoming blended learning schools.
Blended learning is a way to blend technology and various learning platforms, including traditional teaching, within the classroom. Blended learning allows teachers to provide each individual student with adaptive personalized online curriculum as well as individual learning pathways during small group or individual instruction.
With properly implemented blended learning, students can easily work at their own level; advancing/moving forward with accelerated, grade level, or remediated material. Students are often in a station rotation model during this time which allows the teachers to work with students in smaller groups to differentiate/tailor the material for each student.
LCA schools are lucky to have built this foundation prior to the pandemic, as it is in perfect harmony with remote learning. As we returned to school, with the guidance of LMU, we were able to immediately jump into building a strong classroom culture whilst in a remote setting. The classroom community is vital for academic success and again, we realize the importance of our student’s social-emotional needs during this time.
We have been learning best practices for starting the year remotely to guarantee the academic success of our students. LCA teachers are also focused on intentional planning of our instruction by designing lessons and units to intentionally chunk the material while incorporating all the standards. LMU has helped us enhance our lessons in an impactful way for our students.
Mrs. McMillan, a teacher from Queen of All Saints, stated, “Although we have been faced with a whole new challenge, it has been inspiring to be part of such a connected and faith-filled community. Watching the students learn and grow from their homes is incredible. They are producing work that is empowering and impactful. The connections and conversations that we are having live are full of hope, joy, and faith. We all want to be back together in the classroom, but this experience is beyond compare. As teachers, we have given our students the incredible opportunity to demonstrate their thinking and learning through choice and voice in Blended Learning, and as a result, I have learned so much about them. The resilience, dedication, and courage that our community is showing is like no other, and makes me proud to be part of it all.”
Families are equally as excited about blended learning. A first grade parent from Saint Elizabeth School stated, “My child is excited to work on Freckle after school has ended. She is able to progress at her own pace and is excited by the coins she earns to spend at the Piggy Store.”
LCA schools are not simply providing education online; we are creating a robust community of learners while continuing to build our faith in God and each other.
In March of 2020 we entered into an unprecedented time in education. As Shelter-at-Home rules were rolled out by state and local governments, schools and teachers did their best to create remote learning plans, parents worked hard to juggle their own work and supervision of their children’s work, and students had to adjust to a greater level of independent learning than they had ever experienced. During the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918, schools were simply shut down; one hundred years later, technology made it possible for learning to continue, albeit in a very different way, but the abrupt change was a struggle for everyone.
Halfway through the Spring trimester I found myself having to have a conversation about academic integrity and plagiarism with one of my students. In upper elementary grades we are just beginning to learn about properly citing quotations and paraphrased information, but I was nonetheless surprised to have this conversation with a student who, in class, stood as an example to fellow students of how to do the right thing. I struggled with how to approach the issue with the student, knowing that distance learning probably played a role in their decision-making process, and as teachers we want to balance holding our students accountable for doing their best work with also holding them harmless for conditions that are beyond their control.
Fortunately, due to professional development offered by Lumen Christi Academies (LCA) to all of its teachers and a focus placed on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the classroom, my path was pretty clear. All I had to ask my student was, “How are you feeling about distance learning?” The answer that gushed forth revealed weeks of pent up frustration and loneliness that broke my heart, and yet was filled with vocabulary we used in SEL lessons throughout the year, showing me that this student was still attempting to use tools learned in class and exhibit a growth mindset when learning got difficult.
Growth mindset is a term popularized by Carol Dweck, an American psychologist and professor at Stanford University. According to Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment (2015).” This is in contrast to the concept of fixed mindset, which is indicated by a belief that you hold all of the talent and intelligence you will ever have already, and it will be the same no matter how hard you work to change it.
Being faith-based institutions, LCA schools also have the opportunity to tie aspects of Social Emotional Learning into religious instruction and activities. During distance learning last spring, many of my students reported that when they were upset or overwhelmed, they would turn to practices we had throughout the year in the classroom. For instance, they would write down what they were feeling, then take time for prayer and reflection—essentially giving their feelings to God and supporting their emotional needs through their faith.
Throughout the summer, principals and teachers from LCA and the Oakland Diocese have met as a committee to address how Social Emotional Learning strategies will be implemented in the virtual classroom. According to SEL committee chairperson and principal of St. Elizabeth School Lynne Mullen, “LCA teachers will be working daily with intentionality to build a Christ-centered, nurturing community within the virtual classroom that both addresses the trauma of prolonged social isolation and builds resilience in our students.” As we move forward into the Fall trimester beginning with remote learning, all LCA teachers will be equipped with tools to address the needs of the whole child: academic, spiritual, social, and emotional. Throughout the year we will continue to receive professional development to grow our skills in order to best serve the children whom we are entrusted to educate. We will be present, we will be involved, and we will communicate with our families to ensure that the individuals in our learning communities are well-cared for.
Remember that student who I talked about earlier? When asked what should be done to remedy the situation in which we found ourselves (as teacher and student working together in a learning partnership), the student took responsibility for making a mistake, asked to be able to redo the assignment, and showed exemplary work through the end of the school year. By using the tools taught in SEL and exhibiting a growth mindset, the student learned a valuable lesson and grew both as a learner and as a human being. If ever there was a time to focus on Social Emotional Learning and growth mindset, it is now, because our students deserve to be supported as they work to succeed—no matter the obstacles.
For more information on Carol Dweck and growth mindset:
For more information on CASEL Core Competencies:
For more information on Sanford Harmony programs:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4:10
Throughout the summer break, the Lumen Christi Academies (LCA) network has been diligently planning for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. As part of that planning, three committees were established: The Health & Safety Committee, Social & Emotional Learning Committee, and Innovative Curriculum Instruction Committee to better serve our students and families in this dynamic educational climate. These committees are made up of principals, faculty, and staff from the Lumen Christi Academies and greater Diocese of Oakland. These committees have been meeting weekly to collaborate on the best ways to meet the needs of all students and families.
We began with the Innovative Curriculum Committee, led by the Department of Catholic School’s Associate Superintendent Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine and Director of Technology Michael Dreyfus-Pai, with contributions from seven of our LCA teachers. The committee developed integrated trimester units for each grade. The units incorporated all subjects while focusing on student engagement, standards based instruction, social emotional learning curriculum, and formal and informal assessments. The units were designed to be adaptable to meet the needs of all students.
Every grade level team constructed dynamic units for the first trimester of the school year. The fifth grade teachers developed an innovative unit about the 2020 Presidential Elections focusing on the concept of “Strong Foundations.” Reading, math, social studies, science, religion, writing, and music, were strategically incorporated into the final project. Each student will create their own Presidential Campaign website while focusing on the question: How do strong foundations, regardless of size, have a powerful impact on the world?
In addition, the second grade team created a project in which students identify a need in their community. Students will formulate and deliver a proposal that includes a solution by creating a public service announcement or infographic poster. Mrs. Eva Schoenrock, the second grade teacher at Saint Paul School remarked, "I think the best thing about being a part of the Innovative Curriculum Instruction Committee was that we were creating something that can be used by all the teachers in the diocese. Meeting together with other teachers to learn and collaborate was such a blessing and beneficial."
Mrs. Katie Wilson, from Saint Peter Martyr School enjoyed working on the committee and collaborating with peers to design a junior high unit. She stated, "Working as part of the Innovative Curriculum Instruction Committee was insightful and encouraging to see how other teachers work within the diocese. We were able to share ideas about best practices and really talk about cross content implementation along with usable resources for the coming year."
When asked about the work of the committees, Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine stated, “We are blessed to have such passionate and dedicated Catholic educators who shared their experience and expertise to create innovative curriculum resources as a response to the needs shared during this pandemic (shelter in place). During our culminating share out sessions, the positive energy, excitement, and genuine appreciation that the teachers shared amongst each other was so inspiring and life-giving. The synergistic effect of each person's unique contribution to their curriculum projects led to the success of the group.”
This curriculum creates a uniform framework across the schools in the Oakland Diocese as well as our Lumen Christi Academies network. Each unit is designed with flexibility for in class instruction, hybrid models, and remote learning. Addressing and meeting the academic, spiritual and emotional needs of each student in every situation is the priority of the Lumen Christi Academies schools.