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Hawaii Catholic Schools: Full Return-To-School Well Underway

September 17, 2020

From the Hawaii Catholic Schools


All Catholic Schools in the state of Hawaii fully opened in the July/August time frame, utilizing various learning models--in-person, distance/virtual, and hybrid. A total of 33 Catholic Schools in Hawaii provide instruction to 6,723 students statewide. In Hawaii, 1 in 4 private school students receive a Catholic education.

Hawaii Catholic Schools have taken an innovative approach to adjusting their campuses, curriculum and methods of instruction to adapt to the ever-evolving pandemic situation. They have utilized evidence-based science, along with government recommendations, to address the prevention and management of COVID exposure risk on their campuses statewide. The result is a comprehensive plan and sound protocols that have allowed the students at Hawaii Catholic Schools to begin this unprecedented school year safely and successfully.

Hawaii Catholic Schools, both private and parochial, employ 785 employees statewide. In a letter to all Hawaii Catholic School educators on 8/15/20, Bishop Larry Silva stated, "Now, more than ever, our Catholic schools are needed in these very trying times. Yes, of course, they are needed during the pandemic, because children still need their friends, socialization with others, and the spiritual and intellectual stimulation that our schools offer and that they may have missed during the lockdown...I am certain the Lord will use all of you to accomplish his will in fun, in joy, and in great love."

Of the 11 pre-kindergarten (PK) - grade 8 schools on Oahu, 8  are offering primarily in-person, on-campus learning with the other 3 offering distance learning during the current stay-at-home order. All neighbor island schools are offering primarily in-person, on-campus learning supplemented by online curricula. All Catholic preschools and Early Learning Centers in the state are offering in-person, on-campus instruction.  Catholic high schools are currently utilizing distance learning or hybrid models, with all planning their return to on-campus instruction soon.

Eight (8) Hawai'i Catholic Schools have seen a significant increase in enrollment this school year.  Topping this list are St. Ann School, Kaneohe with a 31% increase, St. Louis School, Honolulu with a 16% increase, and Mary, Star of the Sea School, Honolulu with a 14% increase. Several neighbor island schools, including  St. Theresa School, Kekaha and St. Catherine School, Kapa'a as well as Sacred Hearts School, Lahaina have experienced a surge in enrollment with most of their grade levels at full capacity with wait lists.

Many schools, especially preschools and Early Learning Centers, have had to significantly reduce their student enrollment in order to comply with social distancing requirements. Due to the financial impacts of the pandemic, two Hawaii Catholic Schools closed at the end of last school year--St. John the Baptist, Kalihi and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ewa Beach--resulting in a loss of 217 students. Overall, there was a 7% decrease in enrollment among all Hawaii Catholic Schools this year, compared with last year.

All Hawaii Catholic Schools have instituted new health and safety measures to limit the risk of exposure on their campuses and to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment.  These measures include daily home wellness checks, mandatory face masks and/or face shields, no-touch temperature checks on campus, sanitization and hand-washing stations, enhanced classroom ventilation, socially-distanced learning environments, staggered arrival and dismissal times, and limited exposure to other classroom cohorts/bubbles. To further limit exposure risk, many schools have closed their campuses to parents, visitors and guests. All faculty and staff have received extensive training on distance learning so that they are poised and ready to transition to virtual learning, if so required. In addition, many schools have invested in online curricula and provided iPads, Chromebooks or other digital learning devices for all of their students to allow for a seamless transition to distance learning, if necessary.

Hawaii Catholic Schools Superintendent, Dr. Llewellyn Young, shares, "I am so proud of our schools and what they've been able to accomplish during this difficult time. They really took to heart the notion of not simply surviving, but thriving through the pandemic."

All Hawaii Catholic Schools have customized COVID Response Plans that exceed the standards and recommendations of both the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). All Hawaii Catholic Schools have protocols in place to effectively manage the potential of positive COVID cases that directly--or indirectly--affect their campus communities. The Hawaii Catholic Schools office works in collaboration with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) to provide the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-related matters to its schools and their families.

Margaret Rufo, Principal of Mary, Star of the Sea School, Honolulu shares, "Mary, Star of the Sea School (MSOS) and its Back-to-School Planning Team have prioritized the safety and health of everyone. Our decision to offer a hybrid platform took into account both the physical and social and emotional needs of our students. Currently, 85% of our student population is in-person, and the remaining 15% have selected the virtual option. Our plan is designed to create a 'normal' learning environment and to minimize stress and anxiety for students, teachers, staff and parents. We are blessed to be entering into our 7th week of in-person school."

Caryn DeMello, Principal of St. John Vianney School, Kailua says about the current school year, "We are truly blessed to be concluding our first quarter of school. Our teachers are with their students from the moment classrooms open until they close at the end of the day. Disinfecting, hand-washing and sanitizing, and protecting the integrity of their bubble, have been vitally important throughout these past weeks. Every year we select a scripture that we'd like our entire community to focus on for the year. This year we selected the following:  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12. It has been very fitting."

Mandy Thronas-Brown, Principal of St. Ann School, Kaneohe states, "COVID-19 keeps us rewriting our daily narrative. We understand that there is more than one perspective when it comes to our families. Providing a safe teaching environment has always been our school's mission and we feel accomplished that we continue to provide this to our students in more than one way."

All Hawaii Catholic Schools accept applications and enroll new students year-round, based on space availability. The Hawaii Catholic Schools office works to foster the Catholic identity, networking and collaboration, leadership development, academic excellence and operational vitality of the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Honolulu. For more information, visit www.CatholicSchoolsHawaii.org or call 808-203-6761.

*** Pictured above is Emalia Alencastre, a 4-year old preschool student at St. John Vianney School, at the start of this school year. (Photo used with permission)