BY Rick Cawley

For the Review

Can this really be happening ? After months of being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, some local children will be headed back to the classroom. The IHM school, part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is planning on opening its doors to five-day in-class instruction beginning Sept. 9. The archdiocese, with 162 member schools, is encouraging schools to allow students to return to the classroom. The School District of Philadelphia has delayed in school instruction and will be providing virtual teaching until later in the fall.

Andrew Lowry, the principal at IHM, and his dedicated staff have been hard at work preparing the building to host students in as close to a normal school environment as possible. That may be great news to some parents who look forward to having their children returning to a socially active environment, but not so others who are leery of exposing their children to potential harm. The return to the classroom plan gives parents an opt-out provision to have their kids virtually taught.

The challenge of providing a safe environment for in-class learning as well as addressing the needs of those who will be studying from home will obviously create some logistical hurdles for the school’s staff to work out. Lowry is confident that the school is equipped with the latest technological upgrades to be able to “provide equitable instruction to all students” through this hybrid approach. Students who are learning at home will be able to get a livestream link through “Google Classroom” to allow them to be part of the classroom experience. Lowry will even insist that in-home students be in school uniforms while zooming in to further help foster a real classroom feel.

The school climate will have a dramatic shift towards protecting the health of both teachers and students during these precarious times. Teachers have arranged their classrooms to create maximum distance between students at their desks. The use of masks will be across the board with the exception of the kindergarten and Pre-K populations. Students will remain in their classrooms for much of the day with the exception of recess and P.E. instruction, which will be held outdoors whenever feasible. During recess, the children will be encouraged to maintain as much social distancing as possible given the natural tendency of youth to congregate, especially after being separated for most of the school day.

Each classroom will have a “sanitation station” where students can apply hand sanitizer when entering their classrooms. The building itself will be disinfected throughout both during and after the school day. Building Manager Rich Strickland has been busy all summer getting the facility up to speed and will prioritize his day to keep bathrooms and assembly areas “Spick and Span.”

Lowry strongly believes that he has the tools and supporting cast to effectively pull off a safe and fruitful reopening. For starters, he feels bolstered to have the blessing and encouragement of IHM pastor, Rev. Joseph Casey, who has been 100% in his corner. He boasts of a top-notch faculty that is second to none. He can rely on his grade group coordinators, Katie Rizzo, Dorothy Forster, and Ashley Lapuscinski to help him troubleshoot problems and nip them in the bud.

And the kingpin of the whole enterprise, he feels undoubtedly has been the overwhelmingly positive response to his mission by the student and parent body. They have been the nuts and bolts in his efforts to create community confidence in the quality of faith-based education being offered and elevate the school into “Blue Ribbon” status.

Of course, the recent transformation at the school would not be possible without the inspirational response of staff, parents and the students that have totally bought into the “IHM Strong” message from their “ball-of-fire” guiding light. Lowry believes there is no greater responsibility than the caretaking of the spiritual, emotional and educational needs of his constituents. To that end, he goes full out recognizing the achievements of his staff and students with constant praise and recognition.

The Sept. 9 reopening will test the resolve of both staff, parents and students on many fronts as they battle an unseen, microscopic enemy. However, Principal Lowry wholeheartedly believes in the adage that “where there is unity, there is strength”. Strength to overcome any and all obstacles … even COVID-19.

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