Schools re-imagine Catholic Schools Week


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Schools in the Diocese of Davenport are celebrating Catholic Schools Week with social distancing thrown into the mix because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some examples of how schools are adapting their celebrations this year:

St. James – Washington

“Some aspects of the week remain the same,” said Lori Fritz, faith formation coordinator for St. James Catholic School in Washington. Activities will revolve around a theme and students and staff are encouraged to dress up for theme days. The theme this year is “Count the Stars” to align with God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah in Nehemiah 9:23: “God’s blessings are as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

Nicole Stoutner, a teacher at St. James Catholic School in Washington, accompanies a small group of students at Mass earlier this year.

The Washington school will utilize technology to help more people celebrate Catholic Schools Week (CSW). “We will be kicking off the week with Mass on Sunday. Most families will be joining us virtually, but a few students will attend in person with their parents and teachers to help with the parts of the Mass,” Fritz said. During the school week, “Mass Families” consisting of one teacher and a few students will participate in activities. As a bonus activity, alumni will “join” students at lunch via Zoom video conferencing to talk about their experiences at St. James and about their career choices. At home, families will be able to participate in educational Family Night Zoom Meetings.

As a service project, the St. James School family will collect items to send to service men and women through Operation Care Package. The entire St. James faith community will be able to participate in Catholic Schools Week by acting as virtual judges in the classroom door-decorating contest. “The parish will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite design by going to our Facebook page,” Fritz said.

St. Joseph – DeWitt

St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt has adapted some of its annual CSW service projects to allow for social distancing. In the past, students assembled in the gym to make cards for nursing home residents. “This year, cards will be made in the classroom,” said Principal Sharon Roling. As in years past, the school will participate in a “penny challenge” to raise money for DeWitt Referral Center, but the emphasis this year will be on using paper money.

In the past, students invited grandparents to attend Mass and share a pizza lunch. “This year, we are having a Grandparent Kindness Project where the students will be writing letters to their grandparents and then snail-mailing the letters,” Roling explained. The school will also send postcards to all priests, deacons and religious in the diocese.

St. Joe’s has moved all-school activities into the classroom. Each morning, Roling will lead a game of BINGO over Zoom. Bishop Thomas Zinkula will join in on Thursday after leading the school in prayer. Students will be treated to a movie and popcorn; in the past, students would have walked to the theater for a showing, but this year will watch the movie from their classrooms.

Notre Dame – Burlington

Notre Dame Elementary School in Burlington is also putting more emphasis on classroom activities this year. “In the past, we have shown a movie in the gym, gone to the theater as an entire school, played games in the gym together, and had the high school students ‘buddy up’ with an elementary school student,” said Michelle VanZuiden, elementary secretary. “Most of our activities have been scaled back and shrunken so that they can be done in the cohort that the kids are in.”

Activities this year include “Classroom BINGO,” which will be played school-wide over the PA system. Classrooms will participate in door decorating contests, religion classes will participate in a pen pal program, and an all-school “thank you” banner will be passed around for each classroom to sign. Each day, staff will take short video clips of students sharing what they love about Notre Dame; these videos will be posted to the school’s Facebook page.

Service projects include each homeroom writing “thank you notes” to area agencies “that are not commonly thought of,” such as the forestry department, area recyclers and the city street department. “We are still trying to make this a wonderful week for our students, parish and staff,” VanZuiden said. “Hopefully it will show our community what a great school we have here!”

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