Learning during COVID-19: St. Anthony School

City’s largest Catholic school sees 96% of high school seniors accepted to college despite continued upheaval

By: Isral DeBruin

As schools shift to serve students remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, some are emerging as standouts. These schools aren’t stopping at basic worksheet packets and instead are offering students coordinated, school-wide, comprehensive distance learning. to spread best practices and encourage others to keep students moving forward.

Despite the disruption of COVID-19, every single member of the St. Anthony School Class of 2020 has applied for postsecondary education and 96% have been accepted to at least one college or university.

Staff from St. Anthony School use videos to maintain school culture and brighten the days of students while school buildings remain closed against COVID-19.

St. Anthony School was quick to get distance learning in place for its 1,700 students, but the K-12 Catholic school didn’t stop there with its COVID-19 response.

Remote instruction began March 17, the same day Wisconsin closed school buildings statewide. But as St. Anthony educators and school leaders connected with students and parents, it became apparent more was needed to support families struggling financially due to COVID-19.

Relief fund meets practical needs of school families

The school launched the April Angels Family Relief Fund, which has already raised more than $15,000 for St. Anthony School families in need. So far, 27 households have received support from the fund, identified through surveys and outreach from the school’s staff.

A new partnership with the Milwaukee Center for Independence has further helped meet basic needs of St. Anthony families. Starting this month, MCFI will provide 14 meals per student each week at no cost.

Other partners have also supported St. Anthony’s COVID-19 response. In total, $95,000 in philanthropic contributions have come from community partners including the Lakeview Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s MKE Responds Fund.

Online learning keeps students moving forward

Teachers from St. Anthony School use bilingual messaging to encourage students and maintain strong school culture.

Distance learning at St. Anthony is provided through a combination of paper materials and virtual instruction. Teachers and administrators are supporting students through frequent phone and video check-ins with students and families, as well as continued guidance services and wellness checks.

At the elementary level, educators began teaching students with paper packets of instructional materials while they worked to modify the school’s usual curricular materials for virtual instruction. Now students are getting high-quality distance learning aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators and administrators regularly connect with students through video chat and Class Dojo, a school-based social media platform. In a typical week, St. Anthony’s Upper Elementary School Campus reports more than 1,000 successful connections with families through online messaging and phone calls that promote engagement and content mastery.

To keep older students on track for graduation and Advanced Placement (AP) coursework, St. Anthony loaned Chromebooks with internet access to all middle and high schoolers who needed one. They use the devices to engage in virtual instruction. Beyond regular school work, high school students are also completing virtual AP testing to earn college credits.

St. Anthony’s strong response to COVID-19 matches the dual focus of the school’s mission, emphasizing both academic success and lifelong faith formation.

FACTS & FIGURES

St. Anthony School is a private Catholic school accepting tuition vouchers through the Milwaukee Parental Choice, Wisconsin Parental Choice, and Special Needs Scholarship programs.

  • Grades: K4–12
  • Enrollment: 1,747 students
  • Student demographics: 97.7% Latin@; 1.5% White; 0.4% Black; 0.2% Asian; 0.1% American Indian; 0.1% Two or More Races
  • Students from economically disadvantaged households: 99%
  • Students with special needs: 1.5%
  • Students with limited English proficiency: 27.5%
  • State rating:

2018–19 data from

Isral DeBruin is director of strategy and communication at City Forward Collective. He is a former elementary school teacher and award-winning education reporter.

A St. Anthony School teacher sings to her students to let them know she misses them.

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