by ASHLEY CULLINANE, NBC 10 NEWS Tuesday, March 2nd 2021

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WJAR) — As Rhode Island and Massachusetts push to get more students in the classroom, some Catholic schools have been boasting success since September.

“We’ve been in school all year long. Thank God,” Fr. Gregory Stowe of St. Joseph Catholic School in West Warwick said. “If you told me in August we’d be in school in March, I would have said it would take a God-given miracle.”

The NBC 10 I-Team found roughly two-thirds of Rhode Island Catholic schools reported 14 or fewer in-person student cases since September. 28 of the 36 schools, or 78%, reported five or fewer in-person staff cases.

“We’re very fortunate,” principal Erin Clark said. “Our size and our community are two things that have really helped us.”

The school has reported fewer than 12 student and staff cases.

“Pretty much all of our cases were coming from home. A parent would test positive. They’d notify us. The kids would test positive,” Stowe said. “Once we heard of a positive case, we’d shut it down, but we didn’t see spread within classrooms.”

Eighth grader Danielle Aigbodion said she is used to pandemic learning.

“It was a whole new middle school experience for me, and the masks obviously were kind of a challenge at first, but we’re getting used to them,” Aigbodion said.

Linda LaPlume, a 25-year kindergarten teacher at the school, said she anticipated more problems early on.

“Children are very comfortable with masks and don’t require that reminder that we had anticipated would happen with them,” LaPlume said.

The school limited class sizes, improved ventilation and kept student desks three feet apart, among other CDC-recommended mitigation methods.

As Rhode Island awaits $437 million for schools in federal funding, Lifespan Emergency Physician Dr. Megan said there are ways to safely reopen schools.

“Universal masking, a little extra ventilation, stable pods and especially for those middle and high schoolers, having smaller class sizes where kids are a little more spread out,” she said.

Ranney believes the 2021-2022 school year could be somewhat “normal.”

“I’m looking forward to teachers and staff getting vaccinated over the next few months, which is going to allow us to get back to normal and hopefully see the next school year be a lot closer to what we remember and are used to than what this school year has been,” Ranney said.

Back to Media