(This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Summer 2020 edition)
In early February, signs of the coronavirus started to make headlines around the country and the impact it could have on our society started to become a reality. By the end of that month, the Belen Jesuit administration began discussing “what if” scenarios and started planning the protocol for what would ultimately end up being the closure of the campus and the start of distance learning on March 16.
“It was a historic moment for our school. Not since the Jesuits were forced to leave Cuba has Belen ever had to shut its doors,” said José E. Roca, Principal. “We knew that every decision we made had to be done with tremendous thought and care for every member of our Belen community. Everyone was being affected by the pandemic, and in times of such uncertainty, it’s important to also have something familiar, like school. It was our goal to give that to our students.”
Teachers prepared for distance learning using Zoom through professional development offered at school. Students were asked to follow their daily schedule starting on March 18th by signing in to their classes at the beginning of each block, while teachers took attendance and then taught virtually. Students worked collaboratively using breakout rooms and teachers explained new material through the use of the whiteboard, YouTube, Showbie assignments, online assessments, and various online tools. Distance learning has been a successful endeavor.
During such challenging times, the Belen community has always emerged stronger, more resilient, and more committed to forming young men who will go forth and transform the world for God’s greater glory. This moment proved to be no different.
On April 22, Father Willie announced to the school community that we would not reopen the campus for the rest of the academic year and that we would continue with the virtual model. “We were all disappointed to make the announcement,” said Father Willie. “We had hoped that the situation would improve and that we would be able to end the year like we always do, but we made the responsible choice. Despite the campus being closed to students, it stayed ‘alive’ because construction never stopped on the Our Lady of Belen Chapel, the Roberto C. Goizueta Innovation Center, and on other projects. Now, we are looking forward to the new school year with optimism and excitement.“
In addition to distance learning, communication efforts to engage students and parents skyrocketed. Father Willie began a weekday column entitled “To My Boys” on March 16. The daily column was sent via email every morning at 7:15 a.m. as a way to greet students and start the day with a virtual fist bump. Additionally, social media messaging soared with new content daily including a weekly segment entitled “Cafecito Time”, featuring different members of the Belen Jesuit faculty and staff sharing a cup of ‘cafecito‚ (words of wisdom) with the entire Belen family. Masses were also streamed live on our YouTube channel and Instagram page every weekday and Sunday from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
The goal has always been clear. We will continue to fulfill our mission while prioritizing, above all, the health and safety of the community. We will reopen the campus when the time is right and we will overcome any challenge that comes our way. Together we are stronger, we are united in Christ and we are hopeful.