Historic school year ends successfully

The 2020-21 school year will be one for the record books, according to local Catholic educators, as students stayed safe during the pandemic while learning in the classroom and from home.

“There will never be another academic year as difficult and as rewarding as this one,” said Michelle Peduto, diocesan director of Catholic Schools. “So much information about COVID kept coming in, which required constant pivoting. The key was communication, as well as cooperation and collaboration.”

“This had never been done before in the history of education—teachers simultaneously instructing students in-person and remotely,” said Joseph Rosi, administrator of the Pittsburgh-East Region Catholic Elementary Schools. “A big thank you to our teachers and staff for working so hard to make it happen.”

Rosi made the comments during an interview with Father Tom Burke on Catholic Education Plus, airing Sunday, June 6 at 6:30 a.m. on KDKA Radio and available later online: https://www.audacy.com/kdkaradio/podcasts/catholic-education-plus-20662.

Thomas O’Toole, valedictorian of the Class of 2021 at North Catholic High School in Cranberry, agreed that flexibility was critical this school year.

“I learned about the importance of having an open mind and to play the hand you’re dealt,” said O’Toole, who plans to study neuroscience and behavior at the University of Notre Dame. “It was very challenging, maybe not what we wanted, but we found ways to make it work.”

North Catholic valedictorian Thomas O’Toole with salutatorian Elizabeth Feczko.

Professors from Robert Morris University helped teachers at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis learn new virtual platforms. Google Classroom became very popular, according to English teacher Rachael Wallover.

“It was a real learning experience,” she said. “It taught me what I was capable of doing, and to trust my students. The challenges made our relationship stronger. We knew we were all in this together.”

After getting up to speed on new technology, teachers at Bishop Canevin High School in Crafton came together in August for an in-service day to review their core values.

“We challenged our students and entire school community to keep living our mission,” said principal Michael Joyce. “We found ways to continue providing a quality, faith-based education.

“Many people said life shut down during the pandemic, but our students really learned how to live—to deal with adversity, fear and disappointment, which will help them later in their lives,” he added. “They also gained wisdom, learning what is important—like family, faith and relationships.”

During an academic year in which many public school districts went to fully remote learning, Peduto said Catholic schools followed protocols and kept believing they could keep students in the classroom.

“It was a testament to our people,” she said.

“This school year has made me a better teacher,” said Wallover. “The students and I relied on one another and our faith, and that’s all you can ask for.”