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Nancy Hayes, Principal of St. Cornelius Catholic School

Nancy Hayes, principal of St. Cornelius School in Long Beach, thinks this past year has reinforced the purpose of her school in a positive way.

“When it comes down to it, our job is to serve our families by educating our students. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter how it looks, it’s not political, it’s about serving the students and families in the best way possible because education is the path to a better life.”

St. Cornelius worked hard all summer to create the ultimate “choose your own experience” education model. Utilizing all the campus’s outdoor space and their already robust technological tools, when the health order allows in-person (though distanced) learning to resume, her students will be able to access education through whatever platforms they desire.

The recent debates on education, in a way, have simplified her mission. It really doesn’t matter how, where, or when we educate. No matter the circumstances, it is a school’s job to figure out a way to provide education in the best method possible.

When St. Cornelius raised enough money in 2015 to upgrade to a 1-1 Student-Chromebook ratio, she credits her teachers for stepping up to the plate and working together to figure out the best way to make technology an integral part of learning.

“If we’re teaching the kids to be life-long learners, to be flexible, to be adaptable, we as teachers have to show that too,” says Hayes. “As we get older we don’t always have the motivation to learn new things, but we need to make it a focus. The beauty about our staff is they support each other, incredibly so. If someone has a strong suit, they share their knowledge and help our other staff who need help.”

Hayes feels that in terms of online resources, tools, and integral knowledge of the Google Suite (Google classroom, slides, etc.) her campus was already prepared to teach material from an at-home setting. Her great focus this summer has been on preparing for a return to in-person learning when it is legal to do so.

“We’re using our space better than ever. We’re using every aspect of our space.” Hayes believes there will continue to be a trend toward outdoor learning in the future. More learning in their organic garden, more outside projects and activities. And in the near future, more utilization of every inch of the campus to make sure families who feel comfortable can send their kids back to school.

“Of course we want to have a robust technological curriculum available because many parents will not be ready to send their kids back to school for a long while. But we also want to focus on the whole child. And that means eventually getting back to whatever form of in-person learning we can facilitate.”

Long-term, the teachers’ ability to record lessons online and facilitate synchronous and asynchronous learning may help close the gap with absent students who will miss school for a variety of reasons in the future but be able to stay on top of their work.

Pandemic or no pandemic, education will always be laced with ideological debate on the “best” or “right” way to teach. The silver lining of this 2020 school year is that teachers at Ms. Hayes’ school are reminded that their ultimate goal is to serve through their faith the wonderful gift of education.

When teachers, staff, and schools put themselves in a mindset of service, much of the debate around logistics can be put aside. A student’s education is a wonderful dish served on any platter!

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