The 2021-22 school year for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville has been challenging as it has navigated the Omicron variant of COVID-19 virus.
“Definitely, it’s been a more challenging year than last year because of the uncertainties of the variants and the changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control,” said Dr. Rebecca Hammel, diocesan superintendent of schools.
But at the same time, “it’s been a highly successful year,” she said. All the schools in the diocese have been open for in-person learning, and enrollment continues to inch upward despite obstacles presented by the pandemic, Hammel said.
The goal of Catholic schools is to teach students goodness, truth and beauty, Hammel said. “When parents realize what our schools offer, they can easily buy in.”
Catholic schools in the diocese and across the country will be celebrating their accomplishments and successes during Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5.
Among those successes this year has been staying open for in-person learning during the pandemic.
“We’re doing our best working with parents to keep students in school and to keep teachers in the classroom,” Hammel said. Parents have been appreciative of those efforts, she said.
In-person learning in school promotes the overall social and emotional wellbeing of the students, Hammel said. “Certainly, through the faith, we know we’re meant to be together,” she added.
Also, studies have shown there is a loss of learning with remote instruction, Hammel said. “We haven’t experienced learning loss because we’ve been in school.”
“All parents appreciate our efforts to keep children in the classroom this year,” Hammel said.
But there have been challenges.
During the 2020-21 school year, there was a universal mask protocol for Catholic schools in the diocese for nearly the entire year.
“We intended this year to allow parents to decide on masks,” Hammel said. But a surge caused by the Delta variant just as the school year started, forced the schools to re-institute the universal mask protocol on Sept. 1.
When the Delta variant surge waned, the protocol was relaxed at the end of October. But the Omicron variant caused another spike in cases in the community as 2021 turned into 2022.
With the help of a medical advisory board composed of health care professionals from throughout Middle Tennessee, the diocesan Catholic Schools Office has been able to track the number of cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19. The protocols for protecting students and teachers are re-evaluated every four weeks in light of the current number of cases and hospitalizations.
There was a spike just before the Christmas break and into the first week of the spring semester, but those numbers are starting to level. “What we’re seeing in our schools reflects what’s happening in our communities,” Hammel said.
Being able to remain open during the pandemic has led to more students for schools in the diocese, as parents have moved their children to Catholic schools to take advantage of in-person classes.
“Throughout last school year we grew quite a bit from the start to finish,” Hammel said. And a great percentage of the students who transferred to Catholic schools to take advantage of in-person learning have stayed, Hammel said.
This school year started with an enrollment jump of more than 9 percent, fueled in part by the addition of the middle school grades at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School, Hammel said. And when flooding in Humphreys County over the summer forced the closing of public schools there, several families enrolled their children at St. Patrick School in McEwen, which was able to stay open, Hammel noted.
But schools across the diocese saw enrollment increases, she said. The area’s Catholic schools have seen a boost from families moving to Middle Tennessee from other parts of the country, Hammel said. “They continue to come,” she said. “We’re still growing.”
Schools are in the midst of enrolling students for next school year, and the upward trend is continuing, Hammel said. “A lot of that is attributed to our students and to our admission teams and school administrations.”
Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville will mark Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5 with a variety of events and activities.
One of the highlights of the week will be the annual All Schools Mass, which will be celebrated on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at Sagrado Corazon Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville.
All the elementary schools will send their second and seventh grades, and the high schools have been asked to bring as many students as they can.
The date is the fourth anniversary of the episcopal ordination and installation of Bishop J. Mark Spalding, who will celebrate the Mass.