COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–Thousands of students returned to the classroom on Tuesday, with the Catholic Diocese of Columbus welcoming kids back for the start of the new school year.
Many school districts face questions about mask mandates and COVID-19 protocols. While the Diocese is dealing with all those same uncertainties, school and church leaders don’t want the cloud of COVID-19 hanging over the start of school.
“It’s so nice to have everybody and be able to be close to one another,” said Bishop Robert Brennan. “We prayed together outside, and you sense that excitement, you know?”
The start of the school year is music to the ears of Bishop Brennan, who greeted families and their children at Trinity Elementary for the first day of school.
After months away, the students are thrilled to finally re-join their classmates.
“They were coming in, and like a couple of parents said, they said, ‘I lost my kid, they ran right off!” As soon as they saw somebody, they knew they ran,” Bishop Brennan said laughingly.
For these teachers and their students, this is the next step forward after many of their schools maintained in-person instruction last year during the pandemic.
“We’re able to resume some of the activities. The major difference this year, is we’re asking people indoors to wear the mask for this temporary time, while we’re experiencing this spike,” Bishop Brennan said as he holds up his own mask.
Parents and school leaders across the region have been divided by school mask mandates and COVID-19 protocols. The diocese’s decisions regarding student health and safety have unified the members of their faith-based mission.
“When it comes to everything we teach so, in the way we look out for one another, in having to make sacrifices sometimes for the good of one another. That’s part of who we are, we have to do that all the time,” Bishop Brennan said with encouragement. “When we make decisions about health and about how we’re going to practice, it’s with that good of the other person in mind.”
Just under 17,000 students, in 52 schools across 15 counties will be returning to the classroom.
“I remember as a kid, and even now I’m close to 60, I still have the same feeling,” admits Bishop Brennan. “There’s something about the end of summer that I mourn, and yet as soon as you start, there’s an excitement. There’s something new, and I felt it today. I think the kids all feel it.”
And for the Diocese, that number of kids is only growing.
“In our first-day enrollment, we’re up about four percent, which is great. Over the last three years, we’ve seen enrollment increases as well, so we’re very happy to welcome more people into Catholic education,” said Superintendent Adam Dufault.
After a year unlike any other, the rising numbers may be, in part, because what the diocese said is more people rediscovering their faith.
“Catholic education is different. I think we had a good chance last year to show our differences. And you know there’s many great educational options, but when parents find us, they tend to see that difference,” Dufault reaffirms.
While the start of school marks a big week, on Sunday at St. Charles, the Diocese wrapped up a big weekend for a program called “Real Presence, Real Future.”
The program is designed to find out how the church can meet the needs of the 21st century, and how they can unite in one effort to focus on the principles they carry into the future.
For now, the reunion of students and staff represents another year of endless possibilities.
“We’re just so excited to be welcoming them back. And we’re excited to work with their families, and with our great teachers, and principals, and school staff,” adds Bishop Brennan.