Supporting Students During an Epidemic

A roundup of resources for schools, teachers, and families

By Barb Szyszkiewicz and Rebecca Gutherman-Conte

As the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) becomes a reality in more and more communities, schools are tasked with finding creative solutions to the problem of continuing to educate students as the possibility of quarantine looms.

The high school my (Barb’s) youngest son attends has already notified parents that they are in frequent contact with the Health Departments in our county and state, as well as the Centers for Disease Control. Because the school already has cyberinstruction capabilities for all students, parents know that there’s a plan in place in case of any emergency that could cause a school closure, including but not limited to quarantine.

Does your school have a plan? Take our online poll and tell us about it.

This article will be updated as resources become available.


Wash Your Hands!

From the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: Make prayer part of the hand-washing protocol to fight virus

From St. Mary’s Catholic School in Vineland, New Jersey: First-graders remind us how to wash our hands and keep the germs away


Up-to-the-Minute News: Find it on Twitter

But don’t go just anywhere. You want to make sure you’re getting information from a credible source. Try these:

The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: @CDCgov

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention account with focus on flu: @CDCflu

US Department of Health & Human Services: @HHSgov

Secretary of the US Department of Health & Human Services Alex Azar: @SecAzar

Former US FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb, MD: @ScottGottliebMD

Follow your local bishops on Twitter! Here’s Nelson Perez of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: @archbishopPerez.

The Church in a Time of Epidemic

All public Masses in the Diocese of Rome have been canceled until April 3, Catholic News Agency reportsWednesday, March 11, 2020 will be a day of prayer and fasting: The Diocese of Rome has called on all Catholics in Rome to observe a day of fasting and prayer for the victims of coronavirus on March 11, and invited people to tune into a special televised Mass.

Catholic response to outbreak of coronavirus, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), from February 28 and March 13.

A prayer and reflection from the president of the USCCB in time of coronavirus (from March 13).

General Health Resources

Centers for Disease Control information on COVID-19

Talking with Children about Covid-19, from the National Association of School Psychologists. Rebecca Conte notes, “This is something I was reiterating to our faculty over the past few days. Children, even high-school children, look to adults for answers in times of crisis. It is even scarier for them when the trusted adults in their lives do not have answers. My mantra in school has been: ‘I know you are scared and unsure; that is okay. I do not have many answers for you. But I will do what I can to help in this matter.'” This article is worth sharing with parents!
From, some background information you may find helpful: Epidemic vs. Pandemic

Educational Resources for Schools Adopting Distance- or Cyber-Learning Programs

If using a video-calling app like Zoom, use a fun digital background or create a fun background space in your home. This can help ease the awkwardness for both students and teachers. It can also be made into an assignment: create a background for your subject.
Remember that consistency with how your conduct in-class class is helpful. If you follow a schedule in class, follow the same schedule in virtual school.
Start each class session with a prayer, whether it be the school prayer like the one used at Mt. St. Joseph Academy, where Rebecca teaches: “Gracious God, make me an instrument of unity and reconciliation, so that like you, I may serve the dear neighbor,” or a familiar prayer or even a guided meditation to help center your students. Apps that are good for this: PrayAsYouGo and ReimaginingtheExamen.
Use appropriate humor in your virtual instruction. “If we cannot laugh, we will cry.” What is most helpful is humor appropriate to your subject matter.
Assign assignments that require collaboration that can be done over Facetime, Google Duo, and other such platforms. Students often collab in the school during lunches and study blocks, but cannot do this do the quarantine. Requiring it will make sure they talk to others even if they cannot be with one another.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s educational technology experts (@aoptech on Twitter) have assembled a detailed list of e-learning resources and tips for using them.

Technology educator Clay Smith (@ClayCodes on Twitter) shared his own roundup of strategies, resources, and links to important information and services. This includes videos, information for kids, preparedness tips, and edtech strategies for remote learning.

Veteran educator and author Kate Messner offers resources for teachers, parents, librarians, and students to make sure that learning continues even if classroom instruction is disrupted.

From Kahoot! Guide to Distance Learning

From Google: Teach from Home, a temporary hub of information to help teachers (includes a section for families)

CoSpaces Edu Pro offers free access for the period of your school’s closure

The National Center for Learning Disabilities explores two new resources for special-needs students

Free educational resources for schools closing due to COVID-19: Bookmark this site, which is frequently updated.

Catholic Brain is offering FREE access to their entire platform of thousands of Catholic games and activities for children. This content entertains children while also giving the hope in Christ to calm their fears. This special access lasts till Divine Mercy Sunday.

Encyclopaedia Britannica is offering all schools and students free access to its popular LaunchPacks® Science and Social Studies learning content. To access the platform, schools can register at and refer to the ‘how to use’ guide for remote learning at LaunchPacks. A team member will promptly help users set up free access to LaunchPacks and share remote learning information and resources.

Disney’s free Imagineering course (created in partnership with Khan Academy) features 32 videos that showcase real Imagineers from around the world sharing their skills and passions. is offering a special collection of resources organized by grade and subject area. Find videos, lesson plans, and activities that support learning at home. Create a free account to save and organize content.

MEL Science, an established expert in the development of hands-on science kits for home use, has launched MEL Academy, a series of webinars delivered by science teachers giving online science lessons and hands-on demonstrations for students aged 5-16 years. For the next three months, the compelling webinars will cover the core curriculum science learning objectives, through hands-on practicals, theory, and digital resources. MEL Science’s virtual reality app with award winning science simulations will also be free, enabling students to build and play with science at a micro level. Please visit free home science experiments to preview more than 200 experiments. To register for MEL Academy please see the online schedule.

Major League Baseball and EVERFI, the leading social impact education and Official Education Partner of MLB, today announced the widespread availability of the “Summer Slugger” digital education platform to assist some of the 39 million students currently learning at home in the United States and Canada. Parents, legal guardians and teachers can access the program for students at Originally created as a first-of-its-kind program to address summer learning loss during vacation months, Summer Slugger is a free baseball-themed and gamified education course focusing on math and literacy skills.

Utilize apps such as Apple Clips, Garageband and podcasts.

Have students sign up for the Remind app so you can send them positive daily messages … Rebecca uses this to send a daily hope-filled scripture verse to students in her theology classes.

Have students involve their siblings in assignments so they are utilizing social interaction.

Set a good atmosphere for yourself and for them: light candles, open windows, sit outside if possible, put on music, and so on.

Try to avoid talking about the virus for prolonged periods.

Encourage them to keep a journal: one active goal for the day, one hopeful thing they’ve experienced.

It’s not spring break for everyone so focus will be short; keep instruction as lively and short as possible.

Read plays together over Zoom. Assign roles to various students and have them read scripts online.


Educational Resources to Recommend to Families

Send your students on a virtual field trip.
Catholic author Lisa M. Hendey will be hosting chats about storytelling and faith for kids on Facebook Live each day on her Chime Traveler Kids page, daily at 1:30 PM Eastern.
The Cincinnati Zoo will host daily Facebook Live educational programs about its animals.

The Philadelphia Zoo will also host Facebook Live presentations each weekday at 2 PM Eastern in a series titled “Philly Zoo at 2.”

Wild Birds Unlimited has set up a webcam to monitor a barred owl’s nest. There are 3 eggs in the nest at present. View the Barred Owl Cam.

Learn about weather science and safety with the Owlie Skywarn program from the National Weather Service.

For Parents:

Your students may be relying heavily on technology for virtual school and assignments. Make sure they can get brain breaks during the day. If you are also quarantined, this is easier. If you are not, make sure meals are together and you can do some technology free activities together as a family.
Students are used to strict schedules all day long in school; try to replicate their school schedule OR give them some semblance of a schedule. Make meals at the same time every day, add in activities throughout the day that do not require technology, try to go for walks around your block, have kids play in the backyard, etc.
While it can be a scary time because of all the unknowns, take these weeks to do more as a family. There are no extra curricular activities and so on, so make meals together, have family game night, consider different lenten plans on how to take care of the vulnerable in your neighborhood or families (meals on wheels, if still operating, etc.)

For Catholic families:

Bayard, Inc., the parent company of Today’s Catholic Teacher, has made several faith resources available free to help you pray along with the Sunday readings, continue to study at home with your children in sacrament-prep programs, and enrich your faith.
Teach the Pflaum Gospel Weeklies from home! Publisher David Dziena takes you through in 5 easy steps.

Here is how to access the Pflaum Gospel Weeklies lessons:
1. Obtain the password for free access to our website and the Gospel Weeklies lessons from your parish or school
2. Go to…
3. Click “Log In” in the upper right corner
4. Type in your email address and the password you received where it says “Already registered? Login below”
5. Click “Log In”
If you have a question about teaching a lesson, please email us at

In addition, two Bayard teams are working together to bring you extra spiritual content during this time: Read the daily Gospel reflections from Living with Christ at
If your diocese has suspended the obligation for Sunday Mass, make time to pray with the Scriptures of the day during the hour you would normally spend at Mass. Find these by using the calendar function at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
If you are not able to attend Mass, consider making a spiritual Communion.
If you can get to Mass, do your part in helping others stay well by bringing wipes or hand sanitizer with you and wiping down your pew before and after Mass, wash your hands before Communion, and volunteer to help out where needed — if a lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, usher, or altar server cannot make it to Mass, step in for them.
Make time to pray together each night for yourselves, your families, those who are assisting the sick and are essential personnel, your priests and religious, and those who are sick.
Be sure to celebrate in appropriate ways the feast days this month: St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day, and the Annunciation.

Pray for saintly intercession! Fr. Brian Miller of the Diocese of Allentown offered the following list on Facebook:

For adults:

Remember that children are looking to your for your reactions to hysteria and panic. While it is also scary for adults, adults must usher calm, cool, collective caution and be a good example for the children and the elderly.
Social distancing can be emotionally traumatizing, so be sure to stay in contact with friends and family members just to chat and share fun stories or memories.
Turn off your notifications from news sources and try to limit your interaction with coronavirus panic.
When shopping, buy what you need and resist the desire to overbuy. Be aware that grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies will remain open, but the less work you make for those employees, the greater chance they may have of staying free from interaction, as well.
Consider the possibility of “serving the dear neighbor.” Those who work salaried jobs most likely will get consistent pay. However, those who work hourly jobs at places that are being shut down may not receive pay. Can you make donations to these members of your community with time or resources?
Remember above all: God is bigger than this.

Our School Nurse’s Advice

School Nurse Notes: Keeping Your Classroom Healthy

Staying Healthy as a Teacher

Prayer Resources

From Catholic Digest: A Prayer for the Sick

From CatholicTV: Prayer for healing and the containment of the virus

From Vatican News: Pope Francis composes a prayer to Our Lady, Health of the Sick, to implore her protection during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Prayers for the Sick, and those suffering from COVID-19

Rebecca Gutherman-Conte, MA, is a full-time campus minister and part-time theology teacher at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

Barb Szyszkiewicz is managing editor of Today’s Catholic Teacher and editor of Follow her on Twitter @franciscanmom.

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