A Catholic school is ready for five days a week of in-school learning

“We’re in a unique position"
Posted at 5:49 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 17:49:39-04

TOWN OF TONAWANDA, NY (WKBW) — “It’s nice to be in the building knowing that we’re going to start school again soon,” declared Sean Nemeth, student.

Cardinal O’Hara High School students in the Town of Tonawanda will return full-time to their classrooms next month.

Freshman walk the halls at Cardinal O'Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda for orientation.

The school had a chance to test out new COVID protocols as it welcomed the freshman class for orientation Wednesday.

“So you have to build that endurance — that strength,” explained one of the orientation leaders.

A classroom of freshmen sat at desks now separated by six feet for freshmen orientation. There are 45 freshmen enrolled this school year.

All 240 O’Hara students will be returning five days a week for in-school learning starting September 9th.

Inside a classroom at Cardinal O'Hara.

“We’re in a unique position. We don't have 2,000 students. We know we're going to be here to control and make sure our kids are safe,” remarked Mary Holzerland, principal.

Holzerland pointing out that a catholic school's disadvantage of lower enrollment is now an advantage.

“Six feet apart — we can do this — every place in our building is going to be set up for that purpose,” explained Holzerland. “We’re able to do that — thank goodness and the teachers will be working with them, the moderators — the class officers — we will be utilizing our student council who has stepped up in so man ways.”

Freshmen are already following social distancing guidelines while eating lunch in the school gym.

Freshmen, attending orientation, eat lunch at a social distance.

Long tables are being used so students can take off their masks to eat. There are only two at each table. And when school returns next month, a partition wall will be used to split the gym in half for lunch and physical education.

The cafeteria is also being prepared for social distancing.

“Even for lunches — the kids are going to be able to sit down and they'll have their lunches serve to them — the gym classes are all being redesigned as well as the classrooms as you can see,” explained Kimberly Nemeth, parent.

Nemeth says she's confident her son, Sean, will be safe.

“I feel like my son is well prepared and will be in a very safe environment,” said Nemeth.

Freshmen attending orientation in a classroom.

“I know that O’Hara is going to try to do everything in their power to keep us safe from any risk,” said Sean Nemeth.

Nemeth will be a junior.

"Sean, what's the best part being back in the building right now?” Buckley asked. “It's just good to see familiar faces for not seeing them for so long,” replied Nemeth.

Students will be assigned special areas of the building. Homeroom time will be extended.

Outside Cardinal O'Hara High School.

Dismissal will be one grade at a time and hallways will be one-way. Students will be assigned lockers, but they will be spaced out six feet apart.

Students, teachers and staff must wear masks throughout the day and on buses.

“Always, every day, every class — everywhere in our building. On our school buses or any metro or any school district buses,” Holzerland said.

Rooms will be cleaned in between classes. Teachers will assist. Parents are also volunteering to help at the school.

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O'Hara High School freshman wearing mask.

At the end of each day, O’Hara’s custodial staff will clean the entire building.

But not all students are returning. The principal tells 7 Eyewitness News 10 to 15 percent of families have decided to keep their children home for remote learning.

“Some parents have chosen it because right now they feel safer doing that,” remarked Holzerland. “Students will follow the schedule the same as they did when we were out in the spring and early summer.”

O’Hara parents have until this Friday to make a final decision on all remote home learning.