Now that a mask has been part of our wardrobe for about a year, it is difficult to remember a time without one.
“Everything seems so normalized now and to think everything was so completely different a year ago,” Aidan Higgins ’21 said.
Xavier quickly moved to on-line learning last March once COVID shut down schools. On Friday, March 13, 2020, the announcement was made to parents and guardians that Xavier would move to remote learning on Tuesday, March 17 (students were off on March 13 and March 16). Faculty spent March 13 gearing up for online learning, after which Principal Brendan Donohue sent a note:
“Today was a day of firsts for Xavier High School. As much as this entire experience is disconcerting and worrisome, there is a sense of adventure to it as most of us learn new and innovative ways to educate young men in the Xaverian spirit,” he wrote to the faculty and staff.
“I imagine that the original Brothers who arrived Louisville in 1854 felt a similar mix of apprehension and wonder about what would come next. Some might say that is bit of a stretch, but I can’t help but think that if we band together and support each other through this time, we will each become better educators and we will grow stronger as a Catholic and Xaverian community of faith. Thank you for understanding, your patience, your dedication.”
And here we are a year later. Sports are back. Clubs have returned. Events such as the Junior Ring Mass and Class Nights have taken place. Empty hallways and classrooms are a thing of the past, the school once again populated and uplifted by its student body.
From the start, the faculty embraced the challenge.
“Xavier has been able to deal with the challenges of COVID by having a dedicated faculty that has shown great resilience, flexibility, resolve, and the ability to adapt to a changing teaching and learning environment,” Headmaster Dave Eustis said. “In addition, our dedicated technology team has given the faculty the necessary tools to teach in these times.”
When social studies teacher Jim Royce reflects on the past year, one word springs to mind first: flexibility. He talks of a mentor who had a cardinal rule: be flexible. That has stuck with him.
“There’s a dichotomy, if you will, as a teacher,” Royce said. “We set out with a syllabus at the start of the year, and we have rules that you draw a line in the sand, and then when you do your job you have to hold true to all that but be flexible as well. Not that I didn’t see that in other years, but we have gone through a period where the entire theme has been to be flexible.”
A year ago, there was no time to waste.
“Shifting gears the way we did, on such short notice, was the biggest challenge,” said Director of Systems Technology Tim Kramar. “Going fully virtual for every aspect of the school day made for a fair number of late nights and early mornings. We introduced new methods and tools, the Microsoft Teams platform being the cornerstone, with everyone adapting at an unprecedented pace.”
A year ago we also moved quickly into quarantine mode. Good for family time. Bad for friend time.
“I got to spend a lot of time with my family during quarantine and that was great, but I was somewhat estranged from my friends because of the lack of personal contact, and that was not so great,” Higgins said.
As he thinks back to all that has happened in the past year, Higgins thinks Xavier and its students “learned the importance of resilience because we have been through a lot of phases (virtual, hybrid, in-person), and it has been important to be resilient as a group so we could get to the point we are now.”
Last summer gave Xavier time to work toward the 2020-2021 school year. Kramar teamed with Director of Educational Technology Kelsey Doherty, and the administration, faculty and staff time to plan for the school year.
“Over the 2020 summer we worked to design a classroom experience that kept a familiar touch for students and teachers alike but allowed for flexibility,” Kramar said. “Overall, education has changed on a global level, but we have created a way to keep the Xavier-quality education and its invaluable community intact. In some ways, through our faith, dedication to the school mission, and connections to one another, we've actually improved, and none of it would have been possible without those three key factors.”
The faculty, Royce said, faced “the ultimate test. A lot of us have said when we talk with each other, what if this was 10 years ago, what would we have done? When I started here 13 years ago the big deal was that most rooms had a projector on the ceiling. I can’t imagine what this would have been like 10 or 15 years ago, so I think we are fortunate ... God works in mysterious ways, right? … we’re fortunate we had the technology available but the faculty stepped up to the plate. We’ve not only used what we have had, but we’ve gotten creative and found new ways to use things we didn’t even know we had. Teaching in the post-COVID era we will have skill sets we never had before and maybe never would have had if not challenged to do so.”
When Principal Donohue recently spoke to the senior class, he told them, “Adversity will make you stronger if you choose not let it defeat you. … I am very proud of you as a class and of each of you individually. Xavier is stronger today than it was a year ago precisely because we have not let adversity defeat us. I want to thank you, the Class of 2021, for your leadership and your adaptability.”
Flexibility … adaptability … resilience.
“It has made the faculty a better faculty, not that we weren’t good before, but if you go through hard times and if you can make it out the other end, you’re better for it,” Royce said. “We’re better teachers for it, we’re better people for it, we’re a stronger community for it. We have learned to see each other and work with each other in ways we did not have to before, and even when things calm down we will see things from a different perspective. And from a teacher’s perspective, recognize needs of students I didn’t know existed before.”