A Holy Week reflection on the impact of coronavirus on schools and communities, and our call to respond
By Paulette Santa Maria
On Good Friday, we remember with sadness the day that Jesus was condemned to death. We are sad to think of Jesus suffering and of His time here on Earth with us coming to an end. But when we look at how Jesus faced this, we see that Jesus puts Himself in the hands of the Father and accepts this sad turn of events with love and grace as He always does everything. Friday, March 13th of this year, will be remembered as the day our students in Antioch and the rest of Contra Costa County heard the sad news that all schools in the county would be closing as part of the Shelter in Place called to limit the impact of the ever-encroaching coronavirus on our communities. That same Friday, the Archdiocese of Oakland also notified our school, Holy Rosary, that we would be closing as well.
Just as the human side of Jesus must have felt some anxiety and disappointment when he was first condemned to death, we as school communities, felt disappointment and a great deal of anxiety as we prepared to start this unexpected journey on which we were about to embark.
Jesus always knew that being condemned to death was part of the Father’s plan. We, on the other hand, did not see this coming. As teachers, we saw our students being condemned to a life with no recess and time to play with their friends, cancelled field trips, cancelled proms and graduations, and some students dependent on free school lunches, condemned to a life without even enough food. The US Department of Agriculture, which oversees the country’s school nutrition programs, notes that “more than 20 million students rely on free school meals each day. Many children and teens eat breakfast and lunch at school because their families can’t afford food for their entire families.” (Nicole Chavez, CNN) This is the case for many families right here in our own community as well.
All of these concerns weigh on teachers, parents, and the students themselves, and we ask ourselves, “What can we do?” Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is, “What would Jesus do?” and of course, we see the answer in the First Station of the Cross, on which we are reflecting: Jesus would handle this situation with faith, hope, and most importantly love.
We have seen many examples of people answering the call to face these problems with love and care for their neighbor, as Jesus would. CBS News reported that many school districts have started Grab and Go food programs at school sites where students can pick up breakfasts and lunches for multiple days. CNN reported that when Washington’s largest school district closed, Lashana Williams started raising money to provide oatmeal and eggs for students. There have been news stories and social media postings of parents holding virtual proms and birthday parties for their children, neighborhoods putting Christmas lights up to spread a little joy, kids writing chalk messages of hope on sidewalks, and so much more.
These stories and so many others show people stepping up, keeping the faith, sharing hope, and showing love for their neighbor. Even under these circumstances, when we are condemned to stay in our homes, we can continue to have hope and share our love with one another just as Jesus taught us.
This is a tough time and many of us are sad about the situation, but as we have seen in the past, hard times can also bring out the best in people. Just as Jesus knew that the suffering he was about to endure would bring about the hope and joy of His resurrection on Easter Sunday, if we look at this situation with faith, hope, and love, we can see some positive things coming from this as well. Perhaps this quarantine will bring families closer as they spend more time together. I know that I have a newfound appreciation for my time with students in the classroom. I miss them so much. Many parents have expressed a new appreciation for teachers, and even students who thought they didn’t like school are finding that they miss being with their teachers and friends and having that routine of being in school together.
As a kindergarten teacher at Holy Rosary School, I wanted to work with my fellow teachers to figure out how best to help our students and their families during this crisis. As teachers, we were concerned about our students and wondered how we could make this easier on them. We had little time to prepare for this turn of events, but we knew we needed to support our students and families during this uncertain time, just as Jesus taught us. We spent the weekend, the whole weekend, making plans and preparing packets for our students. It was a lot of work, but by Monday morning we were ready with the things students would need to sustain their learning during the two week Shelter in Place.
Little did we know that the time for the Shelter in Place would be extended, and in essence, this new way of learning would become our new normal for an unknown period of time. At our school, we met as faculty and staff on Zoom and first prayed together and then began to plot our course for this new journey we were now on together. We didn’t want our students and families condemned to a life without learning and growing. We didn’t want them condemned to a life without us in it, helping them to learn. We wanted them to know we were in this together, and we wanted to remind them and ourselves, that with God, all things are possible.
Wanting to take advantage of the technology available to us, we trained ourselves on Zoom, Google Classroom, SeeSaw, FlipGrid and so much more. We created group texts and helped each other find our footing as we all learned to navigate a new way of teaching. I was amazed at the willingness of everyone to jump in the deep end and take on God’s call to continue teaching our kids, even under these new circumstances. I was just as amazed to see our students and families jumping in and coming together to make everything work.
Of course, we know that each family is unique and has its own set of circumstances with which to deal, and we just wanted to support them as best we could with resources and prayer. We also wanted to make sure our kids had the technology resources they needed available to them at home. Knowing that some families may not have enough devices for each child, we surveyed our students and started a Lending Program where parents could sign out a device to use during this time if needed.
As the time for this Shelter in Place continues to be extended and obstacles continue to arise, with God’s help we will work together to find ways to overcome them. We will continue to teach and pray with our students and families and our parish community. We pray that God will help us to face this new normal to which we have been condemned the way that Jesus faced being condemned to death: with faith, hope, and love.
Paulette Santa Maria is a kindergarten teacher and vice-principal at Holy Rosary School in Antioch. She has taught at Holy Rosary for 25 years.
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