The Diocese of Orange Catholic School system is blessed to have some of the most committed, dedicated and innovative educators in the county. Not only do their students excel in academics, they are faith-filled children with their eyes set on servant leadership. That, thanks to their teachers, their role models. In the midst of the pandemic sweeping the globe, these instructors have introduced innovative teaching methods to further students’ academic growth, while creating an atmosphere so that children feel safe and connected. Here are just some of the ways the teachers in the Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools are delivering on the promise of education and forming the whole child.
MEET SOME OF OUR FEATURED TEACHERS
VANESSA WENNINGER, 2ND-GRADE TEACHER
ST. ANNE PARISH SCHOOL, SANTA ANA
The 2nd-grade class at St. Anne Parish School enjoys Friday fun, thanks to their teacher Vanessa Wenninger. She implemented an hour and a half of “art therapy” at the end of each week. Art lessons center around academic themes and seasonal celebrations. They make for a great end to the week and a wonderful stress reliever for all.
AMY BELELLO, KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
ST. ANNE PARISH SCHOOL, SANTA ANA
Ms. Belello’s kindergarten class starts the day with stretching. It does not matter if students are in class or on Zoom, everyone always starts the day with daily stretching. This allows students to move first thing in the morning (which they need to do as five and six year olds). It helps set the tone of the day. Ms. Belello says students stay calm for the rest of the day. They know the stretch routine, because they use the same order everyday. This helps build their confidence as they know what is going to happen next. This has really helped students remain focused when they have class on Zoom.
VIRTUAL GREEK WEEK
MEGAN RUNNELLS, 6TH-GRADE TEACHER
HOLY FAMILY CATHEDRAL SCHOOL, ORANGE
Studying ancient civilizations is one of the highlights of the 6th-grade curriculum. So, when our Ancient Greece Day was canceled last spring, we had to think creatively how to engage our students with this highly anticipated unit. What we came up with was the 1st ever Virtual Greek Week, which included a variety of virtual Greek activities/classes for students to attend, including a Drive-thru Olympics where they participated in javelin toss and discus throw. These “Greek Masterclasses” were presented to the students by their teachers and some other guest presenters. And the almost bummer unit became a highlight of our quarantine distance learning! Opa!
MEGAN ROBY, 4TH-GRADE TEACHER
OUR LADY OF FATIMA ACADEMY, SAN CLEMENTE
Our Lady of Fatima Academy 4th-grade teacher Megan Roby offered students a Life lab during distance learning. This is Ms. Roby’s first year at the Academy. When the students left in March 2020, Ms. Roby stayed connected to her students through her private YouTube channel. She created short video segments of herself in the school garden. She planted zucchini and other vegetables seeds and then shared videos of herself documenting plant growth over the many weeks of distance learning. Ms. Roby actually delivered a plant to each student’s residence so they could grow their own plant at home. Ms. Roby effectively used her private YouTube channel to connect with students and foster Earth Science during distance learning.
LEARNING BUDDIES WELCOME
ANNA WARDWELL, KINDERGARTEN / 1ST-GRADE TEACHER
OUR LADY QUEEN OF ANGELS, NEWPORT BEACH
Miss Wardwell invites her students to bring a learning buddy to study hall when they log on to get help with independent work, ask questions, practice reading, and socialize with each other for a bit. Learning buddies sit with the students and help them do their best work.
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
KELLI MCCARTY, LMFT, COUNSELOR
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI SCHOOL, YORBA LINDA
As schools have adapted to the new and unfamiliar guidelines for operations and instruction brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, educators and parents have been tasked with not only supporting children academically, but also emotionally. At St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Yorba Linda, counselor Kelli McCarty, LMFT, has met this new imperative head on through the creation of the SEEDs program and a special partnership with CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) that focuses on mental health and wellness. Through SEEDs, which stands for Social Emotional Education and Development, McCarty conducts appropriately scaffolded in-person and virtual lessons to each grade level on subjects such as expressing feelings, digital citizenship, and dealing with changes during the holidays. She also offers twice-monthly tips for parents in the school’s newsletter. Most recently she has collaborated with CHOC to offer Zoom parent workshops focused on “Building Resiliency in Youth.” Integrated with these larger scale efforts are smaller, more personalized supports. McCarty initiated and supervised a “lunch bunch” zoom for virtual students to have unstructured social time with their peers learning on campus. This builds relationships and fosters a sense of community in a time when physical distancing is a priority.
SAMANTHA BURTON, 5TH-GRADE TEACHER
ST. PIUS V SCHOOL, BUENA PARK
In Ms. Samantha Burton’s 5th-grade class, students learn about real life. Now, during the pandemic, she has had to change the lesson to make it applicable to the students present in class and those learning virtually, using tools like Google slides and Flipgrid. In her class, students earn “Burton Bucks” by completing classroom jobs. These jobs include social distancing officers (who can issue small fines), bankers (who approve large purchases), and librarians (who organize monthly book spotlight events). There is also an entire newspaper staff comprised of an editor-in-chief, writers, and graphic designers. They create a new issue of the newspaper every week and it is distributed virtually.
SOCIAL DISTANCING WITH HULA HOOPS
COACH MORENO, P.E. TEACHER
ST. ANGELA MERICI, BREA
Coach Moreno is an amazing PE teacher. This year, he has been so creative with his use of hula hoops to help with social distancing. He uses the hula hoops during PE to have the kids play Connect-4, Tic-tac-toe, Stretch, Bingo, kickball, relay races…and more. The hula hoops are especially helpful when lining up for activities and keeping students six feet apart. The students always have such a great time while doing these fun activities they don’t even realize they are exercising!
SANDI HILL, KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
ST. HEDWIG CATHOLIC SCHOOL, LOS ALAMITOS
She specializes in the building of social and emotional relationships with her students. Ms. Sandi dove into her teacher bag of tricks and implemented the Responsive Classroom program in our kindergarten classrooms. Every morning Sandi guides her students through a morning meeting consisting of a greeting, group activity, sharing time, and a morning message. This serves to build a sense of community, so that students feel safe, and learn how to respect each other and communicate in a group setting. The routine also provides much needed stability and comfort for the school’s youngest Celtics, who may be dealing with uncertainty, worry and rising pandemic fears.
TRUC FERRER, K1 TEACHER
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST SCHOOL, COSTA MESA
This past fall, students at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa learned about and practiced the virtue of stewardship. Mrs. Truc Ferrer and her K1 class planned an event right at the parish. To teach her students about being good stewards the kindergarteners collected snacks, water bottles and personal necessities. They bagged the items and included special Thanksgiving cards that they had made. The bags will be used by the St. Vincent de Paul Society to pass out to people in need. The K1 stewards delivered the bags to the rectory where pastor Fr. Augustine blessed them.
CAPTAIN ANGEL RAMOS AND STAFF SERGEANT TYR MAY
ST. CATHERINE’S ACADEMY, ANAHEIM
The military tradition of St. Catherine’s Academy is an integral component in aiding the cadets to grow in discipline, honor, and respect. Captain Angel Ramos (pictured left) and Staff Sergeant Tyr May have worked tirelessly to ensure that a robust program enfleshed in the charism of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose is present to both cadets on campus and those virtually learning. Each morning, the military, faculty, and staff welcome our virtual learners for Morning Colors, prayer, and school announcements via Google Meet. Both make sure that cadets are meeting the standards of the battalion.
ANNIE CORCORAN, FINE ARTS AND MUSIC TEACHER
SAINT JEANNE DE LESTONNAC SCHOOL, TUSTIN
Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac teacher Annie Corcoran has been lifting the spirits of her students and providing a bit of normalcy around campus this year. As the Fine Arts and Music teacher, spreading joy and sparking creativity are part of Mrs. Corcoran’s daily agenda. However, during this pandemic she has detected a bit less joy in the hearts of her students. In place of a regular school assembly, Mrs. Corcoran recruited her student council representatives to help her create virtual morning “wake-up” assemblies. The student council members record videos with different subject matter or information on upcoming events. The commissioner of religious affairs begins with a prayer, the foundation of the community. Various commissioners record announcements about fundraisers, food drives, and the most recent Christmas Adopt-A-Family Program with Catholic Charities. Although Mrs. Corcoran cannot see the smiles of her students through their masks, she can see the sparkle in their eyes as they start the day off with a little morning “wake-up.”
MIDDLE SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH COACH
ANDREINA RODRIGUEZ-FRISCH, LEARNING SUPPORT TEACHER
ST. JOSEPH SCHOOL, PLACENTIA
Teaching social emotional learning is critical for middle schoolers. The 6th-8th graders at St. Joseph School participate in this course two times a week with Learning Support teacher Andreina Rodriguez-Frisch. The class opens with verbal check-ins, recognizing students’ stress levels, and then they engage in an open-ended discussion from prompts that focus on collaboration, insight, compassion, and kindness. After that, the class meditates and reflects as their instructor reads scripts for them to promote relaxation, focus, self-awareness, and self-regulation. Ms. Andreina also visits classrooms to teach about the Zones of Regulation and provides resources for teachers, as well as visuals to bring a level of comfort for students about expressing their emotions and having the conversation.