NEW RICHMOND -- “ I thought, this is only a matter of time before we’re closed. I just had this feeling. This was going to happen. So I hit the ground running.”
St. Mary School Principal Laura Jo Jarchow took the cleaning of the Osceola High School on Tuesday, March 10, as an omen of what was to come.
Although COVID-19 had been in the news since early January, it was not until early March that all of its dangerous implications were coming to light for schools across the U.S.
When it was learned that an individual who had attended the Destination Imagination event at Osceola on Saturday March 7, had tested positive for the virus, it became part of a chain reaction of events that ended up closing every school in the state 11 days later.
Even as many schools were scrambling to figure out remote learning plans, word of Principal Jarchow’s preparedness was jumpstarting such plans at Catholic schools in the Twin Cities.
If you ask her how she got the jump on so many other schools, she will tell you it was a timely combination of her instincts and a little divine intervention.
Jarchow’s jump really started four years earlier when she took over at St Mary and set her sights on leading her school into the 21st century. She knew technology was the key, but it is also expensive and for a small private K-8 school would be a formidable challenge.
A combination of persuasion, persistence, generous gifts and successful fundraisers enabled Jarshow to -- in successive years -- outfit grades 3-8 with individual Chromebooks, multiply the number of iPads in grades K-2, purchase new laptops for her staff of 14 teachers and upgrade the broadband and wireless throughout the building. All came just in time to meet the challenge posed by the coronavirus.
When Jarchow learned of the incident in Osceola, her instincts told her closing schools was a real possibility and she immediately began to formulate her vision of what remote learning would look like and shared that with her staff.
“When it did happen, we were already preparing. We had already started filming lesson videos, getting ready for what was coming. When my teachers left on Wednesday, March 18, we were ready to go,” Jarchow said.
But even as she proceeded with preparations, Jarchow was concerned about losing her school’s rich religious and educational identity to the impersonal world of remote learning.
“I wanted to give my students and parents as many touchpoints as possible, to know, that we’re here, that we are praying for them. We miss them. But most importantly, with the online learning, I didn’t want it to be overwhelming for the parents,” she said.
Jarchow was confident in her students as independent learners and in her staff as quality, creative instructors, but she also wanted to ensure that their online learning experience was as interactive and engaging as possible.
“I told the teachers, I don’t want this to be packets of worksheets, I want it to be video instruction. I want as much online handing in of assignments as possible. Do your quizzes on there. I want project-based learning going on. I wanted it to be very manageable for the parents,” said.
To make sure things got started off on the right foot, Jarchow made the first video. Sitting in for the eighth graders who normally would have delivered that day’s announcements, Jarchow delivered the Pledge of Allegiance, birthday wishes, prayers and the day’s meditation, She wanted to convey confidence and reassure both her students and parents that this was going to work and that the process would be both fun and yet rigorous.
Jarchow built all of this from scratch, no rehearsed plan in place, no other plans as examples and she feels she and her staff are delivering a stellar product.
“Most schools statewide are focusing on just math and reading. Our students are receiving instruction in all classes, even music and phy-ed and we’re going as young as our 3K preschoolers,” Jarshow said.
So far, so good. The feedback has been that it is going smoothly.
Still, Jarchow does not shy away from offering an honest assessment.
“I think what we’re offering is stellar. Is it as good as having students in the classroom? I don’t believe it is. But I think what we are offering is above the grade because we are addressing all of the curriculum,” she said.
Jarchow promises to continue remote learning until the curriculum is finished, continue the school year to the end.
One last key to Jarchow’s success and not just during the COVID-19 threat:
“New Richmond School District Supt Patrick Olson has really been wonderful in keeping me apprised of changes and what’s going on. The relationship that he and I have has been very good in that I couldn’t have done what I did without that relationship being there and his willingness to work with me. He has kept me in the loop on the information so i see what's coming down the tracks.”
To check out the latest teaching tips for parents and students, visit the St Mary School Facebook page at facebook.com/StMarysNewRichmond.