St. Mary's School

Vera Gibson, a seventh-grade math teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen, talks to her students on the first day of school on Monday. The private school has taken steps to protect students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is at 25 percent capacity. The school is allowing for half days of in-person instruction for students.

BELEN—Students and staff had a “reunion” of sorts as the first day of school at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen occurred on Monday. 

“We had such an exciting day greeting all our kids this morning and this afternoon as they return to school for half-day sessions,” said Interim Principal Melodie Good.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions placed by the governor’s health order, school at St. Mary’s is different than in the past.

The schools has two sessions — one that begins at 8:15 a.m., and the second session at 12:15 p.m. Each class has between four and seven students.

“We are asking all parents to drop off in our west drive through area, having students remain in the car until we complete temperature checks,” Good said. “We may not continue to do this in a couple of weeks but we are starting out that way.”

Once their temperatures are taken, students go directly to class with their teachers. In the classrooms, the school has equipped all rooms with acrylic sneeze guards or table dividers.

They have also installed new vanities in the hallways with hot and cold running water for hand-washing. St. Mary’s also has hand-sanitizing stations, some of which have been designed and built by their technology teacher.

“The ‘feet’ that are attached to some of the acrylic sneeze guards were designed and made on our 3-D printer,” Good said. “It has almost paid for itself after making around 100 ‘feet’ for our shields.”

The school’s face-to-face elementary students will not be doing any distance learning. Middle school students must log on from home in the morning or afternoon to Google classroom to get the full curriculum. However, the school has rotated the classes so students get each class live two to three times a week.

“We have approximately 25 students who did not want to come back to school yet,” Good said. “They are watching via live stream from home. All teachers are equipped with cameras and bluetooth microphones to live stream their classes.”

St. Marys has added a virtual Makerspace class to students of all ages, just for the fun of learning with no grade attached.

“We do not know how long we will be at a 25 percent capacity and half days,” Good said. “We hope to get into a comfortable routine so we can do this for a while.”

Since St. Mary’s total enrollment is less than 50 percent of its total facility capacity, they could go back full time once the governor moves back to 50 percent capacity.


Clara Garcia is a native of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. She is the president of the New Mexico Newspaper Association, and is a member of the Pilot Club of Belen.

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