Mr. Gallo Keeps Prep Working to Stay Open

While our society steadily returns to normal, COVID-19 remains present in our lives. The entire world has felt the presence of the pandemic, but schools have been tasked with a heavy burden. As of January 20, 2022, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports approximately 10.6 million COVID-19 cases among children. With that number growing every day, schools face a tough decision: whether schools should stay open for in-person learning or switch to an online, remote learning environment.

There are arguments for both sides. When students are present in a remote learning situation, the risk of obtaining the virus lowers; face-to-face contact is eliminated and replaced with screen time. Through online school, students learn at their own pace, leisurely attend classes, and have more free time. Yet, many schools desire to stay open. The reasons are plentiful, but the most common is, of course, face-to-face interaction, teacher monitoring, the abundance of school resources, and clubs/sports. At Seton Hall Prep, we were able to stay in person for the majority of the pandemic. Recently, I had the chance to meet with our headmaster, Mr. Gallo ‘79, to discuss this polarizing issue.

Mr. Gallo provided much needed insight into the benefits, decision-making, process, and factors of staying open as we have at Seton Hall Prep. When I asked him about the benefits of in-person learning, he was confident in his answer. When kids are present in a school environment, he says, there is a level of social interaction that is absent at home. Students can walk around the hallways, participate in clubs, and have fun times with friends, ensuring Seton Hall Prep as a place of brotherhood. Yet, there is also an academic aspect to interaction. Mr. Gallo highlights the fact that teachers are face to face with students, which translates to higher engagement, focus, and better relationships between the two. In the case that Seton Hall Prep was online, Mr. Gallo says that the situation was OK at best.

Mr. Gallo provided some insight into mental health. He is a big believer in mental health and its effects on teens, especially at The Prep. He says that being in person is vital because students can collaborate and communicate. Many students who attend school from home may be alone. SHP has reincorporated enrichment blocks every Friday, where students can sign up for an activity, participate in a club, or study silently as a way to clear their minds after their busy week. But I also asked Mr. Gallo why he wanted his students to be in person. He believes that students feel good about themselves when they are in person. SHP is a place of brotherhood, so students must take advantage. Kairos, a four-day retreat, held multiple times throughout the year, has returned, and Mr. Gallo could not be more thrilled.

Mr. Gallo further explained the decision making involved for in-person school. The main priority is, of course, to ensure the safety of Prep students and families. Mr. Gallo detailed the process during our meeting. The Covid Task Force includes twenty-four people divided into six teams, each team with a different role. The Local Department of Health determines whether SHP is allowed to stay open. After the initial executive decision, the archdiocese tells the administration to follow suit. Mr. Gallo believes it is still crucial to enforce rudimentary rules, such as masks worn at all times, social distancing when appliable, and being safe during lunch. In addition, COVID-19 positive students must follow protocols to return to school, which many Prep students have been following. I ended our meeting by asking Mr. Gallo if the pandemic has been his biggest challenge yet in his administration? After 39 years, he says, of course, it has been one of the biggest. But to Mr. Gallo, The Prep has only helped him, and others make the best out of the current situation.

The debate of in-person or online school has torn districts and their families apart. But at The Prep, we have come together. In a place of brotherhood, faith, and compassion, we acknowledge our challenges and make the best out of them. Mr. Gallo provided an abundant amount of information that helps us understand how The Prep thrives. With the benefits and overall importance of students being in person, I believe we have made the right choice. Hazard Zet Forward, our motto that translates to “whatever the peril, ever forward,” has been something we will continue to follow through the pandemic.