Virtual Learning to Continue, Unique Options Considered for Graduations


By Tony DeGol

Pomp and circumstance could look very different this year.

“We’re going to be thinking outside of the box,” admitted diocesan Director of Education Jo-Ann Semko, as she and others look ahead to the upcoming graduation season amid very unusual times. “We’re considering everything at this point because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that students will not return to school this academic year, it prompted a flurry of discussions among the Education Office and Catholic schools in Altoona-Johnstown.

Among the considerations is how graduations will be celebrated. It is a daunting endeavor since no one knows what conditions will be like a month or two from now.

Bishop McCort Catholic High School is considering a unique venue – a drive-in movie theatre in Johnstown. Bishop Carroll Catholic High School hopes for a public celebration sometime during the summer and hopes to avoid an online ceremony.

As Semko and others look at options, the virtual learning that began immediately after the governor closed schools in mid-March will continue through the end of academic year.

“It is a blessing,” Semko said of the daily online teaching and learning happening throughout the diocese. “We didn’t miss a beat. Our kids have not stopped growing, which is fantastic.”

Bishop Carroll students were among those already familiar with the technology currently being used, which has eased the transition to online learning.

“Our teachers, students, families, everyone has been really working hard to make sure we’re all on the same page to continue their education,” explained Lorie Ratchford, principal. “We are continuing as we would if we were in our brick and mortar school.”

Bishop McCort and Divine Mercy Catholic Academy have also embraced the change. 

“It has made our entire school system better,” remarked Tom Smith, principal. “It has made our teachers better and it has gotten our parents more involved, and it has held the kids more responsible for their own education. We’re looking at all the positives we’re pulling from this. When our kids graduate and they go to a university, they’re going to have to take online classes, so what a great experience to have in high school now going into their freshman year of college.”

Editor’s Note: Jo-Ann Semko discusses the current situation facing Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown on the April 19 edition of Proclaim! at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.