KAPA‘A — St. Catherine School principal David Adams said the reopening of the preschool Thursday is a sure sign of hope during these times of COVID-19.
St. Catherine School staff of three teachers — Ginger Otto, director, Zibeth Hada, and Keala Unatoa — welcomed eight students to a modified 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule following lengthy discussions with health officials, government and church leaders.
“Mahalo nui loa to all the supportive people in the various levels of government, the health officials, and the Hawai‘i Catholic School District,” Adams said. “Without their guidance and direction, we would not have been able to reach this point of a modified reopening.”
Preschool student Triton Lizama was celebrating a morning out in the school’s gardens, tending to various tasks that included raking the gravel, harvesting and planting seeds, and topping off the task list by watering the landscaping fronting the classrooms.
“That’s a sunflower,” Lizama said. “You can take a picture of it if you want. It’s not for eating. We’re planting the seeds.”
Adams said the teachers have been very creative in social distancing measures, measuring out and taping various areas of the classrooms, and talking with the students of essential workers on keeping the social and health practices.
“Zibeth brought in some noodles — you know, the ones they use for swimming,” Adams said. “If you’re closer than the noodle, you’re too close. How ingenious.”
Adams said since the school opened on Thursday, there have been numerous modifications to the rules and regulations governing school operations, one major point being the student-teacher ratio.
“It’s always changing,” Adams said. “I notified parents just over the weekend — when we opened on Thursday, the student-teacher ratio was 4:1. As the mayor’s rules expired on May 3, that changed to 9:1. We had to notify the parents of that change just last night.”
Rules also govern students’ parents who need to be “essential” workers in order to have the child in school.
“Even that is dynamic,” Adams said. “I might have people who on Friday were coping with being out of work, and by last night, were charged with figuring out what to do now that they are starting work, again. This is a very fluid situation.”
The road leading to the reopening of the preschool has been long and filled with hard work, Adams said.
“As preschool teachers, 80 percent of what we do is social emotional learning which is done through relationships and connection,” said Otto. “When I was told we were closing and moving to distance education, it was heartbreaking. Along with the rest of our school staff, we created activity packets, and for my students, I made a promise to them, and myself, I would read a story to them via video to share on our class blog every single day, and on Sundays, a bedtime story.”
“At least this was something,” the preK director said. “But as phone calls and emails started to come in from our families struggling to pay tuition and considering un-enrollment, it really made me feel we need to do something more. Realizing that preschool, when providing child care falls under ‘essential,’ I was determined to find a way to reopen in any capacity we were able to.”
That started a journey of meetings with Dr. Michael Rockers, the superintendent of Hawai‘i Catholic Schools who said, “either we evolve, or we close.”
“I saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask the Bishop Clarence Richard Silva for permission to reopen our preschool for our essential working families,” Otto said. “Father Anthony Rapozo wrote a letter to the Bishop requesting permission to reopen under the current regulations. The Bishop agreed, and even though we aren’t able to have all of our students back just yet, I am so grateful our doors are open, and we are here for our families in the fullest capacity we can be at this time.”
The modified reopening of the St. Catherine Preschool follows all the rules, guidelines, and directives as set by government and health officials, Adams said. The school is operating on reduced hours of instruction from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for students of essential working ‘ohana.
“I’m lucky to work here,” Adams said. “I get to visit the campus and see the students daily. I usually get mobbed by hugs. But everyone makes sacrifices as we get valuable lessons in a world of changing boundaries. Everyone on our beautiful island have made great sacrifices during this pandemic — it is a learning experience for all.”