Mr. Eric Frenette, LPC, NCC
Principal of St. Joseph School
Mr. Frenette's Bio:
- Graduate of St. Joseph School (Class of 1998)
- Bachelor's Degree in Psychology (UConn, 2006)
- Master's Degree in School Counseling (UConn, 2009)
- Master's Certificate in Catholic School Leadership (Creighton, 2017)
- Six years as a Secondary School Counselor
- Began tenure as Principal of SJS in Fall of 2015
- Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of CT
- Nationally Certified Counselor
- Long-time Bristol resident and parishioner of St. Joseph Parish
- Father of two boys (one currently enrolled at SJS)
Update from Mr. Frenette on Online Learning and Student Emotional Health
Good evening families,
I hope you are well and doing the best you can given our current situation. I am truly appreciative of all the hard work you, your students, and our teachers are doing to continue to provide the highest quality of education to our students. I am also very appreciative of all of you who have written to me with positive feedback, suggestions, and updates on your students' progress.
I attend a weekly video conference with representatives from the Archdiocese of Hartford's Office of Catholic Schools (OEEC). They continue to update us on policy and procedure changes that we should make as we continue to move into uncharted waters. As changes or updated policy or announcements come to me, I will communicate them to you. At this time, we are hoping to return to school on May 20th but, as I've mentioned before, we are planning that we will not return in order to not leave anything up to assumption. The OEEC has also asked schools to keep in mind the inherent struggles many students face on a daily basis to succeed in their academics. These will only be compounded by social distancing and online learning. SJS is doing what we can to make this as easy as possible for our families and students.
As a parent of a Kindergartener myself with a two year old in the background waiting to derail anything I try to do with Noah, I empathize with the frustrations and anxieties many of you are probably experiencing trying to assist your students with online learning The goal for our instruction at this time is to provide critical content areas that students will need (and will build off of) for next year. Many other content areas repeat in cycles throughout the elementary and middle school programs so these will be covered or made up next school year as appropriate. We will also be making modifications to our yearly planning to ensure anything not covered this year is introduced in September.
More important that curriculum content and student learning is our students' mental and emotional health. I'm sure many of you have noticed some behavioral or emotional changes/struggles/difficulties as we move further into social distancing, especially in our younger students. Children are very perceptive and are likely noticing all these changes and anxieties that we adults are dealing with, yet they do not have the appropriate mental development or inherent emotional "tools" to process and handle it. This can often present itself as mood swings, acting out, or unfocused behavior. Many students may also become despondent or apathetic at times when they think about their friends or old routines. Some very basic interventions can be regularly-scheduled, structured family time, physical activity (out of the house if possible), and games or art activities that help them express their emotions and thoughts about what is going on around them. If you need any further information or if you have concerns in this area, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.
Some of our students may not fully comprehend what is going on but are able to pick up on key phrases. Noah, for example, is constantly mentioning coronavirus but doesn't fully understand the severity of what it is. Others may be overly saturated with the reality of what is happening (friendly tip, turn off the nightly news around the little ones). Some, especially, our older students may fully understand what is going on and are angry/sad/confused/anxious about it. All of these scenarios can lead to "abnormal" behavior (simply meaning they act differently from their normal behavior or personality), apathetic responses to school work, chores, or other tasks, and overly emotional responses. These are all normal.
Activities like the one I'm sending along help them turn the anxieties and stress that result from social distancing/self-isolation into a concrete thing that can make it easier for them to process. Do you ever feel overwhelmed about work and house chores that need to get done? Maybe you make a "checklist" to organize your thoughts. When I do this, sometimes making the checklist is comforting enough. Then when you check off items, you feel even better. I always like to make my first item on a checklist as "make a checklist". Then you get to check off something right away! ;)
I'm sure we are all struggling with concern over work, finances, our family's health, big picture worries like the economy, etc. All of these can come at us at once and our brains struggle to process each one properly so it becomes a cluster of anxious feelings. When we stop and tackle each concern at a time, we may feel that we can breathe a little better. The same with our children, only they may struggle to fully understand why they are experiencing these things or may even with understanding what it is that they are anxious about.
It is important that we take time for our children to create a sense of normalcy in "not-normal times". Even better, we need to take time for ourselves as well. We can be there for our kids if we aren't there for us first!
That being said, online learning can become more difficult (for both students and us adults!) when these background issues are occurring. The Archdiocese has directed all schools to not be overly strict with deadlines or grading. The benefits of doing the work should be to prepare students for next year and to create life-long learners. It should NOT be to get an "A" on the report card. Grading, attendance, and education as a whole has been upended along with many other things in today's world. How this will all come down at the end is yet to be determined. However, we will continue to provide student work and expectations in order to create a sense of structure and to encourage our students to continue to invest in their education and to expand their minds. If this becomes another burden to our students, please reach out to the teacher.
The work our teachers provide is to give them what they need for next year and to guide their minds to think, grow, and explore. If your students are able to complete all work sent, great. But, if you are having difficulties handling this work based on unique family situations, student emotional wellness, or other issues that may be interfering with student distance learning, please do not hesitate to reach out to your teachers or myself. As always, the St. Joseph School community is a team designed to help educate our students to be the people God created them to be. This takes all of us working together. Please reach out to us.
We are continuing to evaluate our online/distance programs and making adjustments and modifications as we feel they are necessary. I am also creating a family survey for your feedback on how this whole process has been going for your family. I hope to have this out by next week. We will use this data to continue modifying our program.
As always, I welcome any feedback or questions you have.
THANK YOU for all you are doing for our students. Please send any positive feedback you have to teachers as their "normal school day" has doubled in time in order to prepare and adapt lessons to distance learning formats.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Dear St. Joseph School Family,
We are in unchartered waters. It seems likes just a few weeks ago, things were normal and now our entire world is different. Social distancing, confirmed cases, and “at risk” populations have become all we can focus on. However, the world continues to spin on. St. Joseph School is doing all we can, within this new reality, to create a sense of normalcy. Our teachers have been hard at work finding ways to educate students, create a sense of consistency, and (most importantly) take some of the stress off you by interacting with your children. We truly appreciate the new burden many of you have taken on by being the “front line” of educators of your children. We are providing as many resources and opportunities to relieve this burden as much as possible through online instruction and “distance learning”.
There’s no denying that this is not an ideal situation. As many of you have probably observed (I know I have with Noah), this “opportunity” has given us insight to the many talents our faculty and staff have in directing our children’s focus and educating them on a daily basis. While not ideal, our faculty is doing all they can (in less than two weeks’ time) to provide instruction and interaction to educate our students and, at the very least, give you some much needed time to deal with all the other many responsibilities now forced on your shoulders.
In light of these new and unique times, I have to thank our dedicated faculty and staff who continue to live out their vocation in Catholic education. I thank God each day for their ability to adapt quickly, embrace new technologies, and for their genuine desire for the well-being of their students. I also have to thank all of you who are wearing many hats in this crisis. Your understanding, cooperation, and patience is truly a gift from God. Thank you all!
While we do not yet know what the future holds, we can try our best to appreciate the little miracles happening all around us. Classes and Masses have moved online. People are starting to think beyond their own needs. Many of us are finding more “family time” than we’ve ever had before. The endless optimist in me continues to try to spin this situation for the positive. How is God speaking to us in this? Where are you, God?
Well, I think he’s in our faculty who are spending countless hours finding ways to make sure our students learn. He is in all of you who have found new levels of patience and creativity with our students. He is in those who continue to report to work for the common good or to serve others. He is in Father Ivan who is finding new ways to bring our faith to our community digitally. He is in the moments of stillness of this crazy time that allow our minds to focus on what is truly important.
This is truly a Lent for the ages. We’ve all sacrificed so much. I sit in awe of all that you and our faculty are doing each day. I worry and think about so many “potentials” and “possibilities” each day, but when I focus on what you, our teachers, and our students are accomplishing (something that has long been the “hypothetical goal” of 21st century education) in record time, I can’t help but thank God for his many blessings. This is not an easy time for any of us. But together, we ARE getting through it. Thank you and may God bless you all and keep you safe.
St. Joseph School
It seems like yesterday we were talking about Advent and the Christmas season. Now, we are in the beginning of Lent. Maybe it is the lack of snow and random spring-like days this winter, but the calendar seems to be moving much faster than normal. This may be a fact many are thankful for. Those who are the winter sport enthusiasts may not be as grateful. Regardless of which camp you fall in, this raises the interesting concept of gratitude.
As we all have our preference for what the ideal winter season should be like, we can easily define what would make us the most happy. I guess an elementary definition of gratitude could be “having that which makes you happy”. But is that true? We all know the catch phrases that say otherwise. “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” “You can’t buy happiness.” “The grass is always greener”. But when we stop to think about it, we already have a lot to be happy about. For each person it may vary but we all have something, right? Some have good health. Others may have a job they enjoy. A happy family, a dream home, etc. And those are just the big things. Think of all the little things to be happy about. I woke up this morning. I can spend time with people I love. I can take the scenic ride home through the park to take in the beautiful sunset and so on.
There’s always something to complain about, correct? In today’s culture, especially in this election season, there’s always someone to blame, something to argue over, something wrong to point out. But when we stop, sit quietly, take a deep breath and I’m sure we can find endless things to be thankful for. From healthy families to having all ten fingers (think of that next time you put on gloves!), there’s plenty to be happy about if we try. Even in the midst of tragedy, God invites us to focus on the positive, the little things. This is His way of throwing us a metaphoric life jacket. Keep our heads up, stay positive and focus on the good and we’ll find our way.
So, during Lent and beyond, let us focus on gratitude and all that is going well. There’s so much in our lives we take for granted each second of every day. God works in miracles and the mundane so pay attention to it all! Be sure to thank Him for each and every blessing.
This year the end of February will be the beginning of Lent. In many cultures, the day before Ash Wednesday is known as a day of feasting before the strict observances of Lent commence. Most notably it is known as “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. The point is to get out all of our energies so we can better observe the time of Lent. Maybe this year, we can all see February in a similar light.
Now, I’m not saying we should party all month long. Rather, that we should be spending February as a “pre-Lent”. I often find that Ash Wednesday catches me off guard. I quickly go through the mental rolodex and pull out the annual Lenten checklist. “Give up pizza, turn off the TV, spend more time in prayer, etc.” Come Friday, I’m midway through a slice of pizza when I remember it’s Lent and I’m not supposed to eat pizza. A few weeks go by and then I’m half way through an entire Netflix series when it dawns on me that I’m not supposed to be watching TV. Next thing I know, its Holy Week and I realize I haven’t really prayed any different than the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
So maybe I (or all of us) could benefit from using this month to better prepare. In the book “Praying with Ignatius of Loyola”, the authors break down Ignatian spirituality and his Spiritual Exercise into a chapter by chapter “retreat” for busy people. The first chapter asks the reader to reflect on areas of their life where there are feelings of “emptiness”. There’s a start! This kind of reflection is a great place to spend February as we prepare for Lent and Easter. The answers we find here may point us to areas of our life that our Lenten practices can focus on.
Our lives are busy and seem to keep getting busier. Schedules fill up and “To Do” lists get longer. But at the same time, God keeps talking to us. The trick with God is that He will often speak very quietly. We need to make sure we take the time to slow down, be quiet, and listen. We will hear Him speaking if we make the effort. What is He telling you today?
I love Midnight Mass on Christmas. The darkened church, the choir singing in the background as you walk in. The pews are never overly packed and many people keep to themselves, likely exhausted from the Christmas festivities earlier that evening. Outside is cold and dark, maybe even a little snow. The drive home makes you think you saw Santa flying overhead or a tired couple on a donkey looking for a place to stay with no room in the inn. The whole experience is meditative and spiritual. I had always thought that the experience just couldn’t be matched.
I think it was when my oldest son was three that I made the classical paternal error of waiting until after everyone was in bed Christmas Eve to do my wrapping. Well, after Midnight Mass and some misread Ikea instructions, I was up much later than I had anticipated. As my boys got older, I realized that the earlier Christmas Eve Masses just made more sense (they aren’t quite old enough to blow through their bedtimes for Midnight Mass yet….not if we want a peaceful Christmas morning). So, last year we got the troops together with snacks, diapers, and enough “things” to keep a two year old and five year old entertained since we had to get to the church about 40 minutes early to ensure we got a seat. The atmosphere was much different than the Midnight Mass. Loud talking, babies crying, lights on full bright, crowded like cattle in the pews. This was not the same experience, or was it?
As the Gospel was read amongst the sea of people, it dawned on me. The Christmas Story is so well known by many of us. The story doesn’t change. Jesus came into the world in the most humble, gentle, and peaceful of ways. From this He gives us the example to live our lives in the same manner. The time and place in which we find ourselves doesn’t really matter. As long as we make the effort to turn any experience into a prayerful and meditative experience, we are “on holy ground”. While I may prefer certain conditions in my life, I also have to be willing to let go and be present in reality. As this dawned on me, I realized that being in an overly crowded church in a sea of people fighting for elbow room could be just as spiritual as the quiet, reflective Midnight Mass…maybe even more so. Just like the scene at the end of A Christmas Carol, old Scrooge comes out of his dream to be a part of a crowded world, regardless of his preferences or opinions. He embraces life for what it is and makes the most of it in his time left.
Holiday obligations certainly have a way of adding challenges to the goal of resting in the peace of the season. From packed schedules to shopping anxiety, we are bombarded with distractions. This Christmas season, regardless of our surroundings and commotions, let us hold on to the one thing that never changes at Christmas time. That “Christmas star” is always there if we chose to follow it!
November is traditionally a time to remember. Many of us spend the first part of the month remembering family and friends that we’ve lost this year. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are two church celebrations that bring our hearts and minds to those who have gone before us. But November also ends with remembering. Thanksgiving is a time for us to reflect on all that we are thankful for in our lives. Even during difficult moments, like the loss of a loved one, there can be glimmers of hope and light. The challenge is to search for those brighter moments.
This month of reflection is intended to prepare us for the long winter ahead while also drawing our hearts and minds to the months that have passed. We reflect on those memories of summer vacations and family outings with nostalgia and happiness. This year, however, I challenge us to reflect on something a bit different.
To be blunt, St. Joseph Parish is in need. While our Parish’s Annual Appeal is going very well, the Parish requires more from us than just financial support. It needs our presence. Our Parish is not just Fr. Ivan, Parish staffers, or the same volunteers who come to everything. It is all of us. I get very worried when I see our national culture hint toward the full-scale retreat from community and social interaction. Social clubs and organizations across the country are either closing their doors or losing members at a record pace. Online shopping and automated check-out lines seem to be the only way to get what you need. We are apparently investing much energy into finding ways to completely remove any type of social interaction in our daily lives. But why? At what cost? Children today have record levels of social anxiety and depression. Is there a correlation?
The elephant in the room, in my opinion, is that we (myself included) have fooled ourselves into saying we are too busy for others. “We just don’t have time.” “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” “People just annoy me these days.” While these are true at times, they become an easy excuse to isolate ourselves. But our society, our local communities, our children need interaction! We need each other!
Two easy ways to start are with faith and family. So as we begin a new holiday season, I ask that you reflect on what you’re thankful in terms of community. What can we give to improve our communities, our families, our Parish? Often, it is just our time and presence. Be there for each other. Be kind to each other. And BE with each other. If not for yourself, for your children and their children.
October, for me, is always a very full month. Since childhood, I’ve always seen it as the unofficial start of the “holiday season”, kicking off the end of year Holiday trifecta of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It is also when the arrival of autumn becomes unmistakable with sweatshirt weather becoming more and more common. Hayrides, pumpkin picking, and the remaining local fairs fill up the weekend schedules.
Personally, it is also my birthday month (which, as a near-sighted kid, used to seem like the real beginning of the “holiday season”). October also brings many school events including school pictures, Octoberfest, mid-trimester progress reports, the first Home and School meeting, and our first Saturday vigil class Mass. With such a stacked calendar, no wonder it feels like Christmas sneaks up on us every year!
But one thing that may often be overlooked about October is that it is the month dedicated to the Rosary. While many of us probably have rosary beads around the house or in the car, when was the last time we really gave some time to reflect on what the Rosary is (or at the very least, can be) for us personally?
During the 2019-2020 school year, SJS will reflect on one fruit of the Holy Spirit each month. We invite families and parishioners to follow along with us throughout the year and to look for these fruits in your own lives. It is a simple thing to do each day that allows God an avenue to communicate with us. Just ask yourself two questions each morning and allow the answers to direct your thoughts and actions: How can we act out each fruit to others? Where can we find each fruit throughout our day?
The school year began with PEACE in September. October will be GOODNESS. What better way to bring both of these fruits into our lives than with the Rosary and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This simple and meditative prayer can bring God’s peace to our busy lives while also helping us stay focused on the good around us. In our busy lives, it is easy for us focus on the things that annoy us, frustrate us, and get in the way. But why should we spend our days being miserable? Let us strive to find the goodness in each and every day. And with the hectic schedules we all carry around these days, we may need a little help to do it.
Mary, Blessed Virgin, pray for us!