As schools across the country have been challenged to navigate the rapid implementation of remote learning due to the global pandemic, Kellenberg Memorial High School has found itself uniquely positioned to transfer the education of the heart and the mind to a virtual atmosphere almost seamlessly.
Kellenberg’s unparalleled faith-centered education has always relied on a holistic approach that prides itself not only on instilling intellectual excellence, but also fostering character development through participation in apostolic activities, clubs, and athletic teams, along with faith-filled service to the local community at large.
As COVID-19 cases began being reported in the tri-state area, Kellenberg immediately ensured the safety of the Firebird Family by closing campus and implementing a remote learning plan that would not sacrifice any of the core tenets upon which the education of the heart and mind is built.
With all students and faculty members already equipped with iPads (a strategic initiative undertaken by the school beginning in 2015), the school quickly transitioned to virtual classrooms by utilizing the Schoology learning management system. The comfortable rhythm of a typical day on campus was maintained by providing students with the continuity of following their regular nine-period academic schedule, albeit remotely. As always, each class begins with a prayer, students pray the Angelus at noon, and all ninth period classes are concluded with the traditional Marianist Three O’Clock Prayer.
Parents and students alike have expressed appreciation for the stability that Kellenberg’s remote learning plan has offered during this stressful time in history. Tara Fitzgerald-Fuentes ’89, a current parent of three Firebirds, Michael ’22, Catherine ’24, and Mario ’26, says, “Never before has the value of maintaining a daily routine been as valued as during this unprecedented time. Thankfully, our students have been able to sign on remotely from home and resume their lessons without missing a day.” Kellenberg students have proved to be remarkably adaptable to learning in unique new ways. Gabriel Blanco ’24, shares, “It’s very different and very new. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re in such an advanced lifestyle now that we can still connect through our screens and communicate.” Sarah Góez ’20 echoes the success of Kellenberg’s transition to web-based instruction, saying, “Even though we don’t see each other at Kellenberg, we still, as a community, join every day to check in on each other and see how things are going.” Sarah also appreciates how members of Firebird Swing, Kellenberg Memorial’s performance choir, connect every Wednesday to sing a song together over Facetime and have a chance to connect over their love of music.
Faulty members have fully embraced the implementation of remote learning and report resounding successes in their “classrooms.” Mrs. Alice Accardi, a veteran member of the Math Department, says, “I’m thrilled, but not surprised, by the response of the Kellenberg student body to this unexpected turn of events. My students have been incredibly patient with me, with their classmates, with themselves, and with technology as we adjust to the new class setups. Real learning is taking place. They’re asking after my family and those of their classmates. They’re keeping up with their assignments. In short, they’re doing as Kellenberg kids always do – going above and beyond with a smile. I’m humbled by the kids that I teach.”
Apostolic activities have also found success in congregating virtually. Faculty member Mr. John Ruhl remarks, “My sodality, as well as many others, have continued to meet virtually. We’ve also been hosting successful Aquinas League meetings online. But most impressive, I think, was a recent CROSS meeting myself and the other moderators hosted. We weren’t sure how many students we would attend, but we decided that it would be worth it even if only a few people showed up. The students blew us away with their participation – 80 students logged in to our virtual CROSS meeting to pray the Stations of the Cross and the rosary with the Pope! It was a real testament to the spiritual life at Kellenberg and the commitment these students have to their faith, their school, and each other.”
Ever-dedicated to the growth of the faith-lives of Firebirds, the school paused classes on March 25th so that the entire Kellenberg family was able to participate in a Day of Prayer, which was organized by the A.R.K. (Apostolic Response at Kellenberg). The day began with online streaming of the celebration of the Mass for Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, followed by special prayers being offered online throughout the day by several alumni priests, including Fr. Jeff Yildirmaz ’04, Fr. Matthew McDonald ’02, Fr. Matthew Browne ’11, and Fr. Michael Plona ’07. Fr. Thomas Cardone, S.M. offered an online Eucharistic Adoration, and Mr. Alex Basile and Mr. Bryan Finn ’96 led an online reflection and Stations of the Cross. Additionally, every day a Kellenberg faculty or staff member leads the school in a recitation of the rosary.
The Guidance Department at Kellenberg Memorial continues to play a critical role in the development of the students. Individual counseling sessions are taking place remotely, and all students have direct access to a wealth of mental health and wellness resources via the school’s social worker and website. In keeping with its commitment to fully prepare its students for higher education, college counselors are busy digitally conferencing with seniors as they decide upon their colleges of choice. Kellenberg’s college counselors are also busy arranging their individual appointments with members of the junior class to ensure coherent and seamless college research and application process.
Knowing that a Marianist education of the heart and mind would not be complete without extracurricular activities, Kellenberg has made a prudent decision to eliminate class meetings each Wednesday so that activities can be built into students’ virtual schedules for the remainder of the school year. Each Wednesday, students will virtually meet with the various clubs and activities that over 80% of students participate in regularly at Kellenberg Memorial. The school has also hosted a Day of Athletics, featuring workout challenges and a virtual pass challenge, and a Blue & Gold Spirit Day, featuring dance and dramatic performances, all to shine a well-deserved spotlight on the efforts of the school’s athletic and creative endeavors this spring.
At a time when the country’s schools are asked to educate “together, but apart,” the resiliency, dedication, and love that permeates the Kellenberg Memorial family has transcended the physical aspects of “school” as we know it. The classrooms, fields, hallways, and chapel may be temporarily shrouded in silence, but the deeply infused Marianist education of the heart and mind is louder (and stronger) than ever.