A student showcases a diorama made during at-home virtual learning. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

“While Catholic schools’ face-to-face teaching methods have been challenged by the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools in the Diocese of Superior are earning praise for quickly adapting to education in a virtual environment.

A robust school culture based on strong family and community ties, along with inherent resourcefulness, has allowed Catholic schools to be ahead of the curve during the Wisconsin stay-at-home order.”

Peggy Schoenfuss, diocesan superintendent, reported that all 14 schools “immediately began some form of at-home learning” and that once school closures were announced, the “phenomenal teaching staff reinvented how we teach within 48 hours to a week of the closure.”

She asserts that Catholic school students are better equipped to “handle challenges, self-advocate for assistance and embrace innovative teaching methods” in part thanks to the nurtured relationships beyond the school building.

Schoenfuss added that the primary goal has been for students and families to feel God’s love during difficult times, to feel supported and cared for holistically. Continuing students’ education was the secondary goal, with cooperation between school and home and affirming the “lessons that the parents can teach through practical everyday life experiences.”

Indicating that schools were concluding instruction either May 22 or May 29, allowing for a week or two of follow-up to help students “complete work and end the school year strong,” Schoenfuss affirmed the individualized study plans and ongoing accommodations being continually developed.

Director of Administrative Services for the diocese, Dan Blank, praised Schoenfuss’ leadership and teamwork with school administrators.

“Peggy has been our rock,” Blank said. “Just ask the principals. She has carefully and professionally directed our schools’ moves into virtual education. She has handled with patience and tact all of the administrative, pastor, principal, teacher, student and parent issues that have come with that massive shift.”

He affirmed “we are so very blessed to have her at the helm of our Catholic schools,” as well as the faith formation programs, which are also under her leadership as part of the Office of Catholic Formation.

Statistics shared in the May 6 press release included the following: 193 teachers serving 1,823 students in 14 schools with 71 percent of teachers and 68 percent of students practicing the Catholic faith. More than 1,200 families are ministered to by teachers and a support staff workforce of more than 200, with 41 teachers and administrators holding master’s degrees or higher education.

While planning for the fall academic term is still underway, funding and strategic plans will be in place by the end of this year. Catholic schools in the diocese are supported by financial giving from 41 Catholic parishes, and 23 percent of the student population receive financial assistance.

Four schools offer the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program and two offer the Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship.

A professionally designed enrollment brochure was prepared for mailing to all Catholic families in areas surrounding the schools to help boost registrations.

While tuition has been a struggle for families during the uncertainty and economic challenges associated with the pandemic, school administrators have personally worked with each family who has requested assistance. Financial assistance information is available on each school’s website or by request.

For a listing of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Superior, visit catholicdos.org/school-directory.