The maintenance staff sanitizes the surfaces around the clock, while the students remain in one classroom all day long, only taking off their masks to eat lunch.By Meghan Schiller

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – More than 10,000 students attend Catholic schools in the Pittsburgh area and a large amount of those schools managed to remain open since the fall.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller stopped by St. Gabriel School in Whitehall to ask the principal: “what’s the secret?”

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“As you can see from the hallways and the classrooms here, we have kids in school, and we’ve had them here since September,” said Principal Donnie Militzer at St. Gabriel School.

Principal Militzer gave KDKA’s cameras a tour of the floor’s safety markings, the new touchless water fountains and the 340 masked students. Inside this Catholic school, learning is happening face to face.

“The kids stay in their classrooms throughout the day and the teachers travel,” said Militzer.

The student cubbies in the hallways used to be a gathering spot between classes. Now they’re gone.

“We get rid of the cubbies. All of the students have crates [at their desks] where they can keep their supplies of the day,” said Militzer.

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The maintenance staff sanitizes the surfaces around the clock, while the students remain in one classroom all day long, only taking off their masks to each lunch while remaining socially distanced. The students no longer gather in the cafeteria underneath the church.

“They bring the lunches over and they’re pre-packaged; they’re wrapped.”

St. Gabriel is one of nine schools in the Pittsburgh Diocese’s south region led by regional administrator Sharon Loughran Brown.

“Eighty percent of our families when we surveyed before school started wanted in-person instructions,” said Loughran Brown.

That’s 2,600 students across all nine schools. Loughran Brown credits the success to cooperation between students, parents and teachers. She said if cases pop up, the school will quarantine any impacted teacher or student.

She points to these main reasons for why she believes in-person learning is ideal.

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“We know that they get to go to mass, even if it’s live-streamed. Community itself, social. And as much as we’ve done well with our virtual learning and we do have families that have chosen that as well, there is nothing that beats live instruction with a teacher and a student.”

Meghan Schiller