Wendy Alexander/Madera Tribune file photo
Since becoming the principal at St. Joachim school, former Chowchilla resident Heather Forcey had to figure out a way to keep her students involved with online learning while also trying to find a way to get students into the classroom.
Finally, when Madera County COVID-19 numbers fell far enough, the Madera County Public Health Department signed off on St. Joachim’s waiver to open the schools last week and students began on-campus learning on Tuesday.
“Everybody in the school has been praying and hoping that the numbers would come down enough to have students on campus,” Forcey said. “We are very blessed that 100 percent of my staff is willing and ready to teach with students on campus. I know that it’s not a reality for other schools. I’m very blessed that the teachers and staff in my school are ready to be at school. I have overwhelming support from my parents and families with over 90 percent indicating they want their children on campus. For those who aren’t ready, for any reason, we are also continuing with an on-line option that will work in tandem with the students in class.”
Forcey got the okay to apply for a waiver to allow students in the classroom by the bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, the governing body over St. Joachim.
“We were allowed to proceed to fill out the waiver that was sent out by the State of California,” she said. “I submitted it at the end of August. As of last week, the numbers in Madera County were too high for the public health officer to send to the state level. Last Friday, the numbers have come down enough that he was able to entertain the waiver and he approved it. He sent it to the state and the state signed off. As of Tuesday, I am fully able to open the school kindergarten-sixth.”
Although students started on-campus learning, St. Joachim is still strictly adhering to CDC guidelines.
“We are adhering to six-foot distancing at all times, both in and out of the classroom,” Forcey said. “Everybody on campus will be wearing masks. They won’t co-mingle, so each student will remain with their classes at all times. They are never going to mix. We will have staggered recesses and lunches. We have protocols in the morning where every student will have their temperature taken and proceed straight to their classroom and go through hand washing procedures. Our guidelines are at the CDC level or higher. Our teachers will be COVID tested often. We want the adults to stay healthy. We are so excited to open and to have kids on campus. My preschool has been operating successful in person since Aug. 6.
“We’re being very careful to keep the students separated by grade. We are very cognizant and aware who the kids are exposed to. The tracing is there and we know who our kids have been in contact with. We have every safety measure covered.”
St Joachim School has the ability to control the amount of students on campus.
“We are a private school that is run under the diocese of Fresno,” she said. “I am not under the MUSD and Madera county schools’ umbrella. I can control how many kids are in the classroom and control my enrollment. I have space in all of my classrooms if anyone is interested in a Catholic education.”
Forcey is excited to be able to have kids on campus and she is grateful that the students are ready to come to learn. However, she does understand that some children or parents are worried about getting their kids exposed to COVID-19. Parents can choose the online learning and students will continue to receive a quality education.
“While St. Joachim put out a tremendous on-line product and will continue to do so for those that choose to stay on-line, it is my firm belief that many children also would benefit by being in school,” Forcey said. “That is what we want to provide families — a choice. Overwhelmingly, that choice is that our families want to be here and want their children in classrooms with teachers. We are so excited to make that happen.”