Catholic schools emergency relief fund: A ‘game changer’

Carol Nesbitt

Learning in a classroom has its challenges; learning from home, however, is a challenge all its own.

Third grader Emmanuel attends St. Stephen Catholic School in Glenwood Springs. Since the suspension of in-school learning many weeks ago, he’s been using his mom’s “burner” cell phone to try to access his school assignments. It’s not ideal, but it’s all he had. Emmanuel’s mom, Eladia, shared how getting a computer and internet would impact his education.

Everything would change because right now, on the cell phone, he doesn’t have access to sites that require the internet and can’t read the books on EPIC,” Eladia said. “It will help our family because he will be able to learn more. It will benefit Emmanuel and us, too, to be able to be online with his principal and his teachers.”

Many of our Catholic school families, like Emmanuel’s, were struggling to access their children’s distance learning content, putting the students at real risk of falling behind. Kathleen Peek, a third grade teacher, said, “My students who do not have access to computers at home are not able to view my lesson plans (and therefore complete the lessons), join class Zoom meetings, or turn in completed work.” For other students, the challenge is having only one device in the home when both parents are trying to work from home at the same time several of their children are scheduled for online classes.

“I have students who have not been able to attend Zoom meetings because families are doing their best to work and learn from the same devices. They have lost the opportunity to communicate with their peers in this isolating time,” says fifth grade teacher Sara Guerrieri.

Hard to track progress

For teachers, the challenge is trying to assess how well their students are learning when they don’t have access to technology.

Without access to YouTube videos, online lesson plans on parents’ web, and Google forms for assessment it is difficult to track the learning that is occurring,” says Katie Glennon, a middle school science and math teacher.

Now, however, thanks to the new Catholic Schools Emergency Relief Fund launched by the Office of Catholic Schools and Seeds of Hope, Emmanuel and more than 500 students across our schools now have access to computers, their lessons, and their teachers.

Donna Bornhoft, principal of St. Mary in Greeley, holds newly purchased computers which made distance learning for the school’s students much more feasible. (Photo provided)

Sara Alkayali, Principal of Frassati Catholic Academy, says they’ve been making it work. “Our administrative assistant has been printing items for our families and coordinating delivery to further assist them, but having their own technology in their homes to attend Zoom meetings and watch video tutorials allows our students to fully access all of the quality learning our teachers are providing.”

A “game changer”

“This is a game changer for our students and their ability to connect with their teachers and classmates; these computers will allow the learning and teaching to continue during this pandemic,” says St. Stephen Principal Glenda Oliver.

In addition to the computers for kids, the Emergency Relief Fund is providing about 50 of our Catholic school teachers the technology they need to better facilitate their distance learning programs, improving their students’ overall engagement.

Donna Bornhoft, principal of St. Mary in Greeley, expressed gratitude that is echoed by all of our principals who received computers for their students in need. “This donation is an amazing help for these families. We are so very grateful for the generosity of the donors.”

Much more than providing devices

The other critical piece of the fundraising effort was to help our Catholic school families — and staff members as well — who have been most impacted by job loss or cutbacks due to business closures, causing real financial hardship. This fund will allow them to apply for emergency tuition assistance or help with registration fees for next year.

Applications for help have started to pour in, with more than 250 requests in only the first two weeks. As the days and weeks go on, that number will likely grow exponentially. The really good news is that the first disbursement of around $110,000 has already gone out to schools to help families.

Hundreds provide helping hand

Jay Clark, Executive Director of Seeds of Hope, the organization that raises scholarship dollars for students in our Catholic schools, says that more than 400 donors came forward to help.

“With just two emails, we raised more than $600,000 and counting to help these students, teachers and families,” Clark said. “To have so many people rally to help Catholic education is another stunning example of the generosity in our community and it is testimony to a belief in what goes on in our schools. Our community continues to shine a bright light and inspire through its actions.”

COMING UP: Preparing your Home and Heart for the Advent Season

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The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  It extends over the four Sundays before Christmas.  Try some of these Ideas to celebrate Advent in your home by decorating, cooking, singing, and reading your way to Christmas. Some of the best ideas are the simplest.

Special thanks to Patty Lunder for putting this together!

Advent Crafts

Handprint Advent Wreath for Children 
Bring the meaning of Advent into your home by having your kids make this fun and easy Advent wreath.

Materials
Pink and purple construction paper
– Yellow tissue or construction paper (to make a flame)
– One piece of red construction paper cut into 15 small circles
– Scissors
– Glue
– Two colors of green construction paper
– One paper plate
– 2 empty paper towel tubes

1. Take the two shades of green construction paper and cut out several of your child’s (Children’s) handprints. Glue the handprints to the rim of a paper plate with the center cut out.

2. Roll one of the paper towels tubes in purple construction paper and glue in place.

3. Take the second paper towel and roll half in pink construction paper and half in purple construction and glue in place.

4. Cut the covered paper towel tubes in half.

5. Cut 15 small circles from the red construction paper. Take three circles and glue two next to each other and a third below to make berries. Do this next to each candle until all circles are used.

6. Cut 4 rain drop shapes (to make a flame) from the yellow construction paper. Each week glue the yellow construction paper to the candle to make a flame. On the first week light the purple candle, the second week light the second purple candle, the third week light the pink candle and on the fourth week light the final purple candle.

A Meal to Share during the Advent Season

Slow-Cooker Barley & Bean Soup 

Make Sunday dinner during Advent into a special family gathering with a simple, easy dinner. Growing up in a large family, we knew everyone would be together for a family dinner after Mass on Sunday. Let the smells and aromas of a slow stress-free dinner fill your house and heart during the Advent Season. Choose a member of the family to lead grace and enjoy an evening together. This is the perfect setting to light the candles on your Advent wreath and invite all to join in a special prayer for that week.

Ingredients:
– 1 cup dried multi-bean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
– 1/2 cup pearl barley (Instant works great, I cook separate and add at end when soup is done)
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
– 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– Salt to taste
– 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (basil, oregano)
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
– 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
– 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra for garnish

1. Put 6 cups water, the beans, barley, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, 1 tablespoons salt, herb blend, some pepper in a slow cooker. Squeeze the tomatoes through your hands over the pot to break them down and add their juices. Cover and cook on high until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours. 

2. Add the spinach and cheese, and stir until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. 

3. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve with a baguette.