How a Virginia Beach Catholic school is doing in-person learning

Student at St. Matthew's Catholic School.jpg
Posted at 2:01 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 16:58:04-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Thinking caps are on and masks are up at St. Matthew's Catholic School in Virginia Beach.

Just four days into the new school year, Therese Tiongco sits in her classroom ready to take on the fourth grade. "I feel happy and safe, because I know that my teachers are going to keep us all safe and we're gonna have a good school year," she said.

When you walk through the doors of the K-12 Catholic school, you'll realize it's almost like a typical day except for the temperature screenings, sanitizing stations and socially distant classrooms.

Principal Louis Goldberg said they have been preparing all summer to get kids back into the classroom safely.

"Right now we have a policy that the desks are all 3 to 6 feet apart," he said. "We ordered all kinds of wipes and sprays and hand sanitizers. Every classroom is fully stocked. We also have ordered some of the Plexiglas for the desk cubicles for the K-3 students. They are not in yet, but we hope to get those in soon."

You'll also notice students and teachers wearing masks. They are now a requirement for anyone inside the building; however, students are able to take breaks in designated areas.

Fourth-grader Grady Steil said there are markers on the ground in his classroom and "everyone stands on an owl and you get to take your mask off for a couple of minutes and then you have to sit back down with a mask on."

It's an adjustment even for teachers like Ali Thomas. News 3 first introduced you to the first-grade teacher back in March when the school went fully virtual.

Now, five months later, her classroom and heart are full.

"I have been waiting for this day," she said with a large smile on her face. "After five months of just not being in the classroom, like, knowing that my little babies were going to be actually in the room, that was just what was exciting. It's of course scary at first but once you're in it - it's like, this is where we are supposed to be."

Plans are in place, though, if someone were to get sick. Principal Goldberg said it would start with letting the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health know.

"Then we take direction from the health department as to what protocols that we have to have in place, whether the class has to be quarantined or whether it’s the [hall] or whether the entire school has to be quarantined," he said.

Given St. Matthew's is a Catholic school, they also need to report anything that happens to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

To prevent a shutdown in any capacity, Goldberg said there will be less changing of classrooms, especially for middle school students. He said usually they change rooms every 45 minutes, but now, in some cases like art and music, the teachers will travel to the students.

At the moment, lunch is also not taking place in the cafeteria. Students will eat at their desks until it is safe enough for large groups of students to convene. Currently, Governor Ralph Northam restricted indoor gatherings to 50 people or less.

Teachers are even encouraged to spend more time teaching outside and taking longer breaks.

"This is new for all of us. This is school like it's never been school before," said Goldberg.

Those interviewed for this story said the growing pains are worth it in the name of education and safety.