December 8, 2021

St. Mary’s School in Cortland set to teach 5 days a week

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Amber Hoyt, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s School in Cortland, provides seeds Thursday for Kylie Keegan, 4, and Edward Nikulin, 5, during a camp session. The school will open for mostly in-person learning, though students will have the option to learn remotely.

The children sat spaced 6 feet apart at either ends of the tables Thursday in a classroom at St. Mary’s School in Cortland.

Each one worked through instructions for planting seeds in plastic cups given by Amber Hoyt, a pre-kindergarten teacher who has been spending her summer as a camp counselor.

Besides wearing masks and being spaced apart, they talked and continued on as normal.

Thursday’s camp provided a preview for what classes may look like as the school plans to have in-person teaching five days a week.

“I feel really good,” about the plan, Hoyt said. “After working the summer camp, the kids are really great about wearing their masks.”

The Rev. Nathan Brooks, the parochial vicar of St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s churches, who also helps St. Mary’s Principal Denise Hall, said remote learning will also be available for students who want to take advantage of it.

To keep the students safe, they will have their temperature checked when they arrive each day and then go to their classrooms where they will stay all day, he said. Each class makes up one grade — except for prekindergarten which takes up two classrooms — and ranges from 13 to 17 students, allowing for social distancing.

Students will also have to wear masks at all times.

That will mean some changes for how classes are taught, including getting rid of handouts.

“We have to readapt to teaching,” he said. “We have to become creative.”

For example, instead of using handouts, students will use programs on Chromebooks the school will provide.

Earlier this week, the Diocese of Syracuse announced that all 22 of its schools, including St. Mary’s, could reopen to in-person teaching five days a week for the 2020-21 school year.

Brooks though said that the school had already been planning to do so before the announcement after working out health guidelines and determining that the school could safely reopen with its small number of students — about 140 in grades pre-kindergarten through 6.

The decision to have in-person teaching also relied much on the school’s Catholic identity.

Part of Catholicism is about sharing faith and building relationships between people, which Brooks said is challenging to do remotely.

“If we want to continue our identity as a Catholic school, it’s important to keep those relationships,” he said.

Hoyt also said in-person classes are beneficial for students’ growth.

“The kids need the interaction with the peers” even if they are spaced out, she said. “I also think kids learn best in a school environment.”

Classes will begin Sept. 14, Brooks said.