By Conor Burns ‘22
Last year was anything but a normal year at Chaminade High School. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, sports seasons were altered or postponed, the senior trip to Disney World was canceled, and a number of annual school traditions were either held virtually or canceled altogether. Open houses for prospective students did not take place, and trimester exams were administered virtually during the first and second trimesters. Despite the 2020-2021 school year’s unprecedented nature, the Flyer family was able to weather the storm through the sheer dedication and resilience displayed by the administration, faculty, and student body.
Over the summer, Chaminade’s Office of the Principal sent an email to parents and students relaying the protocols set in place for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. In this email, it was communicated that Chaminade would continue the full in-person learning experience that had begun in the third trimester last year, not offering a remote instruction option and requiring that students report to school in full uniform. Masks, it was announced, would be worn by all, regardless of vaccination status. Thermal checks, which were instituted last year, would continue to occur as students entered the building, ensuring students and faculty did not come to school with fevers.
According to Mr. Nicholas Perrotta ‘15, Chaminade’s resident compliance officer and COVID-19 consultant, “Chaminade’s faculty, staff, and administrators’ first and foremost focus was the safety of everyone in the Chaminade family. Once we were certain we could return everyone safely, the focus returned to providing the faith-filled and academically rigorous environment everyone is familiar with at Chaminade. So far the return to full in-person learning for all divisions has been incredibly successful and we hope to continue our return to normalcy while continuing to ensure that Chaminade remains a spiritually and physically safe haven even amidst an ongoing pandemic.”
Despite the seemingly smooth transition, concerns emanated about the Delta variant prior to the beginning of the school year. However, these concerns were assuaged through the administration’s cautious planning.
As Perrotta explained, “From a safety standpoint, at the conclusion of last school year I was confident that we could return all students to the main building safely. The Delta variant cast some uncertainty on the reopening plan towards the end of the summer, but the pandemic mitigation plan and protocols designed by Chaminade’s administrators and myself were intended to mitigate any future threats as well. After studying new transmission information, we determined that even with the new Delta variant we could safely return the entire school to the main building without jeopardizing faculty or student safety and with minimal modifications to our existing protocols.”
By Principal Brother Joseph Bellizzi’s, S.M. ‘78 estimation, the beginning of the year has gone to plan. As he puts it: “The start of the year with full in-person instruction has gone very well. We have safe protocols in place that have limited the number of positive cases to a mere handful and no person-to-person transmissions.”
So far, athletic seasons and clubs have gone on this year much as they have in school years prior to the pandemic. Normal practice, game, and meeting schedules have been reinstated, contributing to Chaminade’s renewed sense of normalcy.
There are additional markers that Chaminade is returning to “normal.” For seventy years, the Chaminade family has been brought together for the celebration of Gold Star Mass, and thankfully, the tradition was brought back in person this year. The Mass, Chaminade’s annual service honoring the fifty-six school alumni who gave their lives in service to their country, was held virtually last year, but was joyfully observed in the Activity-Athletic Center (AAC) by the entire school this September.
Auxiliary Bishop Richard G. Henning ‘82, Fr. Garrett Long, S.M. ‘62, and school chaplain Fr. Peter Heiskell, S.M. ‘86, accompanied by a color guard provided by the United States Marine Corps, celebrated the Mass on September 30th. The Mass was indicative of Chaminade’s triumphant return from the pandemic.
As Chaminade President Bro. Thomas Cleary, S.M. ‘81 put it, “It was tough to lose the Gold Star Mass during COVID. Although [the Marianists] celebrated it in the chapel as a small community, it was not the same. To have the Gold Star families back on campus, as we’ve done for seventy-seven years, was just really special. The Gold Star Mass is at the heart of everything we do at this school.”
The rebound from COVID has also allowed parents and alumni to return to the building. This September saw the resumption of Chaminade’s usual parent orientation nights, in which parents are able to meet their sons’ teachers and gain a better understanding of courses and expectations for the year. Hundreds of parents visited Chaminade’s campus on three nights in September, a sight that would have been simply unimaginable last year. Chaminade was also able to hold “FlyerFest,” its first-ever combined reunion, providing an opportunity for nearly 400 alumni from twenty-eight celebrating classes to reconnect following the pandemic.
As the COVID situation evolves, Chaminade continues to return to its pre-pandemic ways. A recent development in this return has been the consolidation of lunch periods to the cafeteria and gym and how, as of October 18th, students are now allowed to sit three to a table at lunch. They had been seated alone at lunch since the beginning of the pandemic.
The prospects for the future are also looking quite hopeful. This year, the senior trip to Disney World has been put back on the calendar for the first time since COVID began, and Chaminade’s current seniors are ecstatic to reclaim the class tradition.
Bro. Tom shared hopeful sentiments regarding the future in regards to COVID and expressed his gratitude for how well things have been going: “This year, I don’t think we could have asked more from our students and our faculty to make the school year go really, really well. It’s as close to normal as we can get right now, excluding the fact that we have to wear masks. I think what we’re experiencing now, with activities and athletics up and running, and everyone back in the classroom, is a testament to the work of the teachers and the resilience of the students.”
In spite of this school year’s return to normalcy here at Chaminade, we should keep in mind just how well the Chaminade community embodied the motto “Fortes in Unitate” during the pandemic, demonstrating its strength in unity throughout the trials and tribulations that the pandemic imposed.
As Bro. Tom explained, “The word I use to describe our students both this year and last year is ‘resilient.’ Nothing we asked our kids to do became a problem. Whether it was having to wear masks all day, eating lunch six feet apart, or going through new protocols for sports and activities, students did everything we asked them to do. That’s the main reason why we were able to successfully operate school last year and this year with very little impact on our program. My heartfelt thanks goes out to the students.”