The New Normal: A Reflection From the Head of School

By Dr. Peter Folan
CM President Dr. Peter Folan reflects on a semester that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing classes online, looked very different at Catholic Memorial.
I see fewer cars driving down Baker Street. There are no runners lapping the Walsh track or lacrosse players practicing on Br. McKenna Field. Missing is the crack of the wooden bats, the cast of the musical rehearsing in the Perry Gym, and our Speech and Debate Team’s voices echoing down the halls. The lingering smell of chicken nuggets, stale pencil shavings, or extinguished Bunsen burners have all been replaced by the distinctive smell of Clorox.
This has been a radically different spring.
On March 17, our Catholic Memorial community transitioned to online learning. Since then, we have quickly established ourselves as a leader in online secondary education throughout Greater Boston.
From an outward appearance, our school looked closed this spring. But, in reality, classes paused for a day of technology testing before teaching began online. The CM mission echoed through computer screens across 90 zip codes. Across the Commonwealth, CM students recited Latin, performed Algebraic functions, prayed the Hail Mary, laughed together, and supported each other.
This crisis has been a catalyst enabling the creativity of our students and faculty to flourish. We have intentionally granted them the freedom to think divergent and non-traditional thoughts in approaching this challenge which has led to some great, transformational lessons.
New ways of thinking fostered a student-led research project on the Vietnam war. It has encouraged students to video conference across oceans with National Geographic explorers. Creative expression has enabled science lessons to be conducted in kitchens. It has inspired CM students to recreate iconic artwork, including Dogs Playing Poker. Theology students practiced the Jesuit Examen, imagined, and drew God.
This brave, new world has also included webinars, virtual college rep visits, distanced parent meetings, scavenger hunts, virtual athletic practices, and a virtual 5K.
While physically far apart, we have remained together.
CM has continued to pray together and celebrate Mass through remote connections. While apart, we remain a community.
This crisis will have long-lasting impacts on how we educate and how we function as a world. Many of the lessons that we discovered in a virtual setting have equal value for in-person instruction.
This spring, we were reminded to be clear with our learning goals, to limit the time spent talking at our students, and the value that differentiated evaluations have in assessing higher order thinking.
As we look to the post-COVID-19 world, it is imperative that we continue to create systems, programs, and educational pedagogy that produce adaptive and creative thinkers. Reshaping our economy, social, cultural, and human environments will require strategic thinking and disruption that will test any traditional and linear thinking.
CM is ready for this new world. We remain confident that CM’s educational approach will achieve these ends. We have long embraced project-based learning and interdisciplinary thinking. We have created courses on Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Applied Engineering, and Design Thinking without looking away from Theology and English. When the Center for Integrated and Applied Learning opens this fall, it will be a physical hub that fosters creative collisions among faculty, students, and ideas. Creativity and empathy will be cultivated in these new studio classrooms.
While solutions to this crisis require new ways of thinking and educational models, we will continue to hold firm to a core tenet: we need to put people first. CM will always maintain its close community and family-like feel. Catholic social teaching and advocating for the voiceless remain at the core of our mission as an Edmund Rice School.
In our community, we have witnessed the power of prayer and faith, as alumni and CM parents have successfully battled the virus. It proves again that, with God, all things are possible. This crisis has reshaped our country and a generation. Here at CM, we will accompany this generation on this new path as trusted companions and guides.
The future is bright for Catholic Memorial. However, we continue to need the support of our entire community, now more than ever.
I ask this community to rally together over these next 12 months to support our mission and our students. Since we opened in 1957, CM has had to deal with a range of challenges including the Vietnam war, the attacks of September 11, and the Great Recession of 2008-09. We will continue to respond with grace, generosity, and steeled commitment to our Edmund Rice mission. Your continued support is critical to the work that we do each day.
It can be easy to forget in this virtual, remote world that our hearts and souls are still critical to who we are as people.
We will never forget that fact here.
Dr. Peter Folan