Each day at Bishop, students, faculty and staff face challenges. It might be a physics test, a big game, or opening night of the play. It could be a robotics tournament, a yearbook deadline, or final preparations for the annual Homecoming game. Daily classes, practices, rehearsals, and club meetings are spent preparing for these challenges so when the test is handed out, the first pitch is delivered, the curtain goes up, or the bell rings, students and faculty are ready for the moment.
In February, it became clear that a challenge unlike any other was on the horizon as COVID-19 spread across the globe. So, Bishop students, faculty, and staff did what they always do– they prepared for the moment. As the threat of a global pandemic was realized, faculty and staff mobilized and worked proactively, forming a plan for the inevitable move to online learning.
Under the leadership of Dr. Jim Garza, Bishop was ready to thrive in a time of crisis. “From the beginning of the COVID-19 threat, it was important to keep our priorities clear,” said Garza. “Protecting the health and safety of our students, staff, and families; supporting the integrity of student learning; and, protecting our school ministry from the consequences of this crisis were at the core of every decision.”
The biggest challenge students, families, faculty, and staff faced was the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. On March 13, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles mandated that all its schools transition to online learning beginning the following week. In anticipation of this mandate, Bishop’s teachers had already participated in three formal training sessions about the intricacies of Zoom meetings, Google Classroom and other online resources. Teachers also took advantage of one-on-one training provided by colleagues. When the first day of online classes arrived, Bishop’s teachers and students knew they were prepared.
A key figure in readying Bishop for online learning was Brian Adams, the school’s Technology Curriculum Integration Specialist. Adams’ primary role is to assist teachers in incorporating technology into class lessons, regardless of subject; his expertise proved invaluable. In addition to providing formal training, he worked individually with teachers, held weekly group Zoom faculty meetings with those who had questions, wanted to share virtual lesson ideas, or desired to learn more about the latest in online learning tools.
After a few weeks of distance learning, it became clear that a return to campus was not in the foreseeable future. By the end of April, news came that the remainder of the 2019-20 school year would remain online. As the weeks went by, Garza and staff continued to look for ways to improve online learning while also providing students with activities and events that are a staple of high school life. The word ‘virtual’ was quickly becoming part of the normal lexicon.
For faculty, a challenge was adjusting to the planning that went into each lesson and each day. “Obviously, most of [the teachers] are used to creating lesson plans for in-person classes,” says Spanish teacher Laura Fabbri. “Planning meaningful lessons for online classes takes hours and challenges all of us to tap into our creativity.” For students, a challenge was being in front of a computer screen all day without the opportunity for much physical activity. “Walking from class to class on campus is important for the students to be able to get their blood flowing and bodies moving,” said physical education teacher Chris Madigan. “For my virtual P.E. classes, my lessons included time each period for students to turn off their screens and do some yoga or stretching.”
Many other teachers found ways to make online learning engaging and interactive, no matter the discipline. Brian Haynes ’89 invited a professional actress to join his video production and theater arts classes one day on Zoom to give students insights into the entertainment industry. For her theater arts classes, Megan Ashby-Moreau ‘01 had her students research a painting of their choice from the Louvre website and, using clothing from home, make a costume and recreate the artwork.
Teachers in other departments also showed their creative sides. Prior to Easter break, theology teacher Gabe Hernandez ‘12 had his students create videos depicting scenes from Jesus’ passion and crucifixion using the Tik Tok app. Students in Loreen Trevino’s ‘83 geography classes used the Canva app to bring different regions of the United States to life. Using their textbook knowledge, the students created a marketing brochure to draw people to their assigned region.
In addition to providing meaningful academic instruction, teachers and students found ways to continue making prayer and service a priority. Each night, Campus Minister Amy Hendry ‘04 recorded a video for the following day’s morning prayer. The familiar sound of
Hendry’s voice provided comfort and added a sense of normalcy to each day. The pandemic also did not stop Bishop’s students and faculty from celebrating Holy Week. A Virtual Easter Concert included words of hope from Campus Minsitry students and uplifting music from students and faculty. Staying positive in a difficult time, students also found ways to give back to those in need. They led a fundraising campaign to purchase food and supplies for orphan children in Mexico and Olivia Kelleher ‘21 began sewing masks for people and organizations in need (see page 22).
Students, faculty and staff also did their best to provide virtual activities to maintain social connectedness. Bishop’s first Virtual Visual Arts Show gave visitors the opportunity to view artwork by students and faculty. A few days after the Virtual Mother’s Day Mass and Mother’s Day Concert, Bishop’s Virtual Talent Show showcased our students’ many talents. ASB students, too, got creative and held a virtual Spring Spirit Week and held online elections for the 2020-21 school year.
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s grip extended to all areas of campus life and our athletes were affected when the 2020 spring sports season was canceled in April. “It was really heartbreaking to see the season cut short, especially for all of our seniors,” said Head Baseball Coach Eric Fuller ‘94. For most teams, only a handful of games were played when stay-at-home orders were announced– swim was in the midst of preparing for its season, but never got the opportunity to compete. To help ease the disappointment, Bishop got creative. Taking to social media, Bishop recognized a different senior spring athlete each day. Coaches and players in the baseball program organized a skills challenge each day via Instagram; football held weekly Zoom meetings; and girls’ basketball held a Virtual Team Awards ceremony. Finding ways to stay in touch and connected became paramount.
Few will doubt that the group most affected by the pandemic was the Class of 2020. Each year, spring semester is a time to celebrate seniors’ accomplishments, enjoy graduation events, and create lifelong memories with classmates. Having to alter the class’ senior activities created challenges for the students, parents, faculty and staff. Nevertheless, what started as a challenge ultimately became an opportunity to shine. “A large focus during the last few months of the school year was finding ways to celebrate the seniors,” said Head Academic Counselor Doug Mitchell. “These seniors deserved to have as much of a celebration as any other class before them.”
Most inspiring was that so many members of the community pitched in to help. The athletic department held a Virtual Signing Day for the students continuing their athletic careers in college. Dean of Student Life Milana McDermott submitted the senior class for recognition by Los Angeles’ NBC Channel 4 and on May 23, they were featured on a Saluting the Class of 2020 telecast. Bishop published a College Decision Day video as students made their college choices official. Even alumni got involved. The Advancement Office received video messages to the senior class from graduates from all over the country. Alumni sent inspirational and uplifting messages and encouraged the seniors to use the challenges as an opportunity to strengthen their lives.
Some of the celebrations were not so public at their outset. In fact, a few were done, intentionally, very covertly. On the morning of Saturday, May 2, groups of Bishop parents drove to every senior’s home to deliver congratulatory lawn signs. It quickly became a sensation on Bishop’s social media platforms. Just days later, a small group of staff members met BMHS parent Truman Hedding on campus to shoot a special video surprise for the seniors. With his daughter Natalie ‘23 and video equipment in tow, Hedding, a producer and video marketer, captured footage for a special video to the Class of 2020. The video, titled Be the Light, was an emotional tribute to a special class. (You can watch the video on our YouTube channel @BishopMontgomery).
The challenges for graduation events, like everything the previous few months, required a very fluid plan. With information about health and safety recommendations changing almost daily, administrative Zoom meetings became regular occurrences as the school looked for ways to provide the seniors with the best graduation activities possible. In place of the Senior Awards Ceremony, seniors received their cords, pins and other honors in a drive-thru format. When the seniors arrived on campus, a line of masked faculty with signs, balloons, banners and noisemakers greeted their cars at the front of the school. On May 27, Baccalaureate Mass was held, as scheduled, albeit in a non-traditional format. The Mass was livestreamed from American Martyrs Church and families were able to gather in their homes to celebrate together. The Mass, with music and readings by seniors and faculty, was celebrated by Fr. Jim Clarke, the uncle of senior Joshua Clarke ‘20. “It was a beautiful way to join as a community in prayer for our resilient Class of 2020,” said Hendry.
Each year, when the school calendar is released, there is no doubt that many seniors turn to May to check the date of their graduation. For the Class of 2020, May 29 was a day that was etched in the mind of every senior. It would mark the culmination of four years of hard work, rigor, and perseverance. Despite the constant changes leading up to the day, Bishop was able to thoughtfully and successfully provide a graduation event–of sorts– for the seniors on the exact day they had been looking forward to for months. On May 29, seniors arrived with their families to walk across the stage to Pomp and Circumstance, hear their names read, and receive their diplomas. A week later, the school streamed a video of the full graduation ceremony, including pre-recorded speeches by Dr. Garza, honored guest Fr. Jim Anguiano, Valedictorian Jacqueline Raetz-Vigon ‘20 and Salutatorian Clare Houston ‘20.
Arguably, the final months of the 2019-20 school year marked an unprecedented time, filled with ranges of emotion. Sadness, frustration and disappointment were evident; but, there were also many unexpected moments of pure joy, unity and celebration. Ironically, it was during this season of extraordinary challenges and adjustments that the very best of Bishop Montgomery– its students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni – emerged in so many forms. In an email to the seniors, Janet Lucero Tedeschi ’61, an alumna from the school’s first graduating class, eloquently described the spirit of Bishop Montgomery to the seniors: “You will not be able to relate to your own grandchildren the memories of a traditional prom and graduation, but you are living in a unique time in the history of our country and will one day be able to share your memories of this experience with them… as we all come together to help each other.”