By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Yukon’s Catholic school opened its door this week to start a new school year.
St. John of Nepomuk Catholic School, 600 S Garth Brooks Blvd., welcomed 191 students for “in-person learning” on Wednesday, Aug. 12 to kick off the 2020-21 school year.
“Our main goal is to be together physically as much as possible, but also keeping safety in mind,” Principal Natalie Johnson said. “That is the path we’re on, and I really feel affirmed that our families are committed to that.
“They aren’t just keeping their own families in mind when they bring their kids to school, they’re really keeping everybody in mind.”
The pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students are wearing masks when they can’t adequately distance physically.
“Even during the course of the day, the teachers are taking them outside for a walk around the physical campus to get fresh air,” Johnson said. “Even if it’s just for a five-minute recharge walk.”
The principal was pleasantly surprised how easily her students transitioned to wearing face coverings, which started on meet-the-teacher nights.
St. John of Nepomuk’s average class size is 16 students, with the largest class under the 24 student class capacity for K-8.
“Right now, our largest class is at 18 in-person,” Johnson said. “We’ll probably end up having five to 10 students at Catholic Virtual. The huge majority of our school population will be reporting in person five days a week.”
Student desks and tables have been spread accordingly to provide adequate spacing.
Students are being taught social distancing practices and how to respect distance.
Faculty, staff and students are required to wear masks while moving throughout the school building.
Faculty and staff are utilizing masks and face shields when students are present, in common spaces of the school and when interacting with the public.
When teaching, faculty and staff are permitted to solely use a face shield if they are at least 6 feet away from students.
St. John Nepomuk has a staggered lunch schedule this school year ranging from 10:55 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
“We have a blessing too in that we have a large campus,” Johnson said. “We can spread out and we have some large spaces that we can capitalize on.”
Johnson, in her sixth year as principal, has 22 full-time faculty and staff members.
“We’re all first-year principals and teachers,” she said, referring to the new routine.
As part of starting a new school year, the Yukon Catholic church and school developed a 30-page “Better Together: Back to the Building” plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will get through this challenging time, and we will be ‘Better Together’ because of it,” Principal Johnson wrote in a letter to school faculty, staff and families.
The single most important factor in being able to maintain the routines of in-person classes is the shared commitment of all community members, according to the principal.
“Yes, we are better together,” Johnson said this week. “But in order to be together, we all have to be committed to the community.
“I feel a very strong commitment from the families who have decided to be in person, and they’re committed to it. They have been amazing to pivot with these new procedures too.”
The “Back to the Building” plan describes St. John Nepomuk’s goal of “minimizing instructional disruptions and remaining in-person and on-site for much of the upcoming school year.”
Many health and safety protocols have been implemented for students and staff during the school year. Here are some highlights:
• Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay out of school for at least 10 days and any student or school personnel having a primary exposure must remain out of school for 14 days.
• St. John Nepomuk employees, students, parents, and visitors should practice staying at least 6 feet away from others and eliminating contact with others.
• All schools in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese require face coverings for all faculty, staff and students. Students are expected to come to school each day with two clean masks; the style of mask or design is not required.
• Students are required to wear a mask when in common areas of the school. This includes scenarios such as arrival, dismissal, restroom use, hallway transitions, and any other time deemed necessary by school administration.
• Students are not required to wear masks during recess or physical education classes.
• To help prevent the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of exposure to staff and students, St. John of Nepomuk has suspended visitation in the building when school is in session.
• Employees are encouraged to continuously clean and disinfect their work spaces, giving special attention to commonly touched surfaces.
• If an employee or student tests positive for COVID-19, a deep cleaning will be performed as soon as practical. Or the school site will be shut down for 72 hours followed by a comprehensive disinfection of all common surfaces.
• St. John Nepomuk has alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the school and in common areas.
• To reduce exposure to risks and ensure employee safety, access will be limited to classrooms, break rooms, conference rooms, and other work spaces.
• Water fountains and water filling stations will not be used “for the foreseeable future” – in line with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
• Bringing or sharing refreshments during faculty/staff meetings is prohibited and no food should be delivered to the campus.
‘TRUST IN HOLY SPIRIT’
St. John Nepomuk established a COVID-19 Task Force Committee comprised of faculty, staff and school advisory members to organize and develop systems in place for the school’s reopening.
Principal Johnson framed the school approach to returning to the building using the seven themes of Catholic School Teachings:
Life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, and care for God’s creation.
As this global situation continues to evolve, Johnson told school personnel and students’ families that “we are a hopeful people.”
“We cannot be defined by our fears or the unknown, but rather place our trust in the Holy Spirit to guide our processes and plans,” she wrote in her letter.
St. John Nepomuk officials will continue to monitor the virus situation following advice from civic leaders and health authorities.
St. John Nepomuk is a fully accredited Catholic school for grades pre-kindergarten through eight. The school has provided a quality, Christ-centered education for children in the Yukon area since 1953.
Yukon’s Catholic school has kicked off the new year right.
“The first day of school always has so much excitement, energy, joy, and hope for the year,” Principal Johnson said. “Although it looks a little bit different, having the kids back in the building means that joy and enthusiasm is still there.
“Several kids stopped to thank me for letting them come to school. That was huge. It took so much effort and so much work, but just that one statement makes it totally worth it. And it’s worth continuing to alter how we do things to ensure safety and stability that we can be ‘in person’.”
St. John Nepomuk is open to children of all faiths. The school provides an environment based on traditional values and Christian faith. Class sizes are limited to provide each student with individual attention.