“Coming to you live from Downtown Newark, Welcome to Convo for Monday, March 16, 2020!”
These were the first words uttered in an exciting new chapter in the history of St. Benedict’s Prep by St. Benedict’s Preparatory School Headmaster Fr.r Edwin Leahy, O.S.B., this morning in the first virtual Convocation to ever take place.
Fr. Ed stood in Shanley Gym, accompanied by several monks and faculty members, as the morning sun streamed in. They were filmed by Director of Technology Dexter Lopina ‘98 and Joshua West-Williams of the Technology Department. The virtual gathering, which was open to all students and alumni, took place on YouTube, where 1,670 viewers (as of 7 p.m. Mon., March 16) came to join in on Convo.
“Over 1,000 people were either present or watched Convo from around the world; and many of them texted me to say ‘Thank You’ to all of you for lifting their spirits in a most difficult time,” Fr. Ed said.
Students, faculty, and staff alike joined the live stream to participate in the event. “ I feel like it was a new experience, and for what we’re working with right now, I think it was pretty good,” said UD1 Jermaine Price.
Convo began with an introductory stanza of, “In the Midst of it All,” with the piano being played by chemistry teacher Dr. Dennis Lansang and the singing led by Dr. Glenn Cassidy. Dr. Cassidy also sang classic Convo songs “I Must Praise” and “Stay Up.” Fr. Augustine Curley, O.S.B., and Br. Mark Dilone, O.S.B., read scripture while other monks from Newark Abbey looked on.
This special version of the school’s daily morning gathering took place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted the everyday functions of just about everything in society. The plan is that for the next two weeks, classes at St. Benedict’s will switch to the virtual. Most teachers are using Google Meet, which allows students to click on a link so all can join in on a class videoconference. Some teachers distributed paper study packets last week, while many are distributing learning material via digital means.
Monday’s Convo was the first time that the community reassembled since the order for students to leave the monastery property and return home for their own health and safety was passed down.
It may not have been regular Convo, but members of the community thought it was close enough..
“Even though it was odd to see Shanley without everyone in it, I still enjoyed the reading and the singing,” said history teacher Ms. Susanne Mueller. “There’s an energy when you’re all together. You miss things like someone smiling at you and eye contact, but there is something reassuring about the fact that, even though we were all apart, we were still able to come together.”
After Convo, classes continued in a modified schedule that ran from 9 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. The Google Meet application allows up to 100 participants in one call, well over the amount of students in any one class.
Some students struggled with the transition. Justin Correa SY had mixed feelings about the new form of class. “ I liked being at home but I had a hard time focusing and getting done what I had to get done,” he said.
Others enjoyed it. “ I thought it was pretty fun,” Rafael Rios SY said. “ It was something different, but I felt more engaged.”
Teachers were also anxious about the transition. “This morning, I was as nervous as if it were my first day of school as a young teacher,” said Assistant Headmaster Ms. Michelle Tuorto. “But, once we got into our daily routine, I knew we were going to be just fine. And I shouldn’t be surprised because that’s what we do.”
Fr. Ed considered the first virtual Convo and school day a success. “Even though Shanley was empty, I got phone calls from everywhere: from alumni, and even a guy from ‘60 Minutes’” he said. The TV news magazine profiled the school on its show in March 2016.
Looking back at today’s hectic schedule, Fr.. Ed said he enjoyed the experience, and is looking forward to continuing to keeping the community going without missing a beat.
“From Convo at 8:30 until the end of the academic day today, it was an extraordinary experience; at least for me, and I hope for all of you as well,” he said. “This present crisis is not going away quickly. We need to be prepared for the long haul.”