Austin Prep: Journey of the Heart
Academic Enrichment Program Offers Remote Learning Solution for Austin Prep Employees and Their Children
By Mrs. Barbara Lichtman, Academic Enrichment Program Coordinator
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many within our society to reimagine various aspects of daily life. As we returned to school this past September and some semblance of our routine lives, one such dilemma facing parents was the challenge of balancing professional obligations with family needs, an obstacle especially prevalent with those who work in various areas in elementary and secondary education institutions.
Recognizing this, Austin Prep school leaders, including Mrs. Kelley Ferretti, Human Resources Generalist, Mr. John Weber, Chief Financial Officer, Dr. William Driscoll, Assistant Head and Head of Upper School, and Dr. James Hickey, Head of School, approached members of the Austin Prep faculty and staff just before the start of the year with the idea for a program meant to support their children on remote school days when they were not in their public school classroom. The idea was favorably received, and plans were set in place for the program, referred to on campus as the Academic Enrichment Program, or “AEP.”
Austin Prep is a school community that truly lives the Augustinian values of veritas, unitas, and caritas. The Academic Enrichment Program was created in the spirit of our mission. It assists faculty and staff as they navigate the delicate balance between professional fulfillment and family needs, and offers an inspiring environment for our employees’ school age children to engage in their individual remote learning plans, unique to their schools, while their parents fulfill their vocational life as educators at Austin Prep.
“Our goal is to provide a conducive, and supervised, environment for children of faculty and staff to allow them to independently engage in their respective remote learning plans while their parents fulfill obligations of their position with Austin Prep,” Mrs. Ferretti said. “We were thrilled to create something so innovative and new for our Austin Prep employees and their families.”
Once the decision was made to proceed with the program, infrastructure and designs of a daily schedule were quickly implemented. Two classrooms in St. Augustine Hall were identified as ideal spaces for the program. The classrooms were then outfitted with furniture, technology, and school age appropriate room décor. Students bring their own laptops and headphones to engage with their respective teachers and classmates through Zoom or Google Meet.
With my own Catholic School education background, I was eager to take the lead with the program. I taught in the Melrose and Ipswich School Districts and have K-12 certifications in Art (B.S.) and a Masters in Library Science from Simmons College. To ensure proper social distancing and to account for the number of families who expressed interest in the program, we eventually hired an additional staff member to work with the program. Chase Dargie started shortly after the start of the year and comes to us with a B.S. in Science from Endicott College with experience working with the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and autistic communities.
The students in AEP come from a variety of school districts and range in age from K-6th grade, and the program is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. Students follow the daily curriculum set forth by their schools, but we provide help with any academic issues they need during their remote day, ranging from helping to understand directions, to subject and homework help, to helping keep students on task with timing for school blocks and work completion.
Austin Prep parent employees are able to have lunch with their children on campus, which provides the special benefit of being able to connect during the day. Our parents enjoy having their children right here on campus as they do not have to stay home alone or with a caregiver. Children have the opportunity to be creative or read in their extra time, and we also have used the track and other outdoor space when weather permits for some light exercise. The children in AEP can enjoy offerings of the Austin Prep community; we particularly enjoyed watching The Nutcracker together via the livestream!
While Covid continues to provide uncertainties in regards to what happens in schools, parents can continue to breathe easy no matter what happens in their respective school districts. The children in AEP have a warm supportive classroom environment to learn in with trained staff, and the ability to make new friends. The happiness and joy we experience daily in the AEP classroom is priceless. The implementation of this program reminds us all during this time of uncertainty, when our community is faced with adversity, we can explore ways to identify a solution, especially when guided by the values we hold so dear.
At its highest levels, this program is aligned with the mission of Austin Prep and reflects the School’s timeless values of veritas, unitas, and caritas. And in making sure a program like this is mission-aligned, it is not surprising that it creates a win-win scenario for everyone. Austin Prep students experience greater consistency in the instruction they receive from teachers whose own children attend public schools that are remote or hybrid because of Covid, and Austin Prep staff have peace of mind that they can fulfill their professional responsibilities knowing their children are in safe and caring environment.