What to expect as Calgary students start a 'typical school year' Thursday

·5 min read
From left to right, Grade 1 students Jax, Edith and Bryn practise their reading skills last June. Their teacher was using elements of Alberta's new English Language Arts curriculum, which becomes mandatory in all elementary schools in September. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)
From left to right, Grade 1 students Jax, Edith and Bryn practise their reading skills last June. Their teacher was using elements of Alberta's new English Language Arts curriculum, which becomes mandatory in all elementary schools in September. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)

Thousands of Calgary students from kindergarten to Grade 12 head back to class Thursday.

Modified calendar schools with the Calgary Board of Education returned on Aug. 15, but traditional calendar schools hold their first day of classes Sept. 1.

Calgary Catholic schools are staggering the start of classes over Thursday and Friday.

"We're looking very much at an exciting school year and what we hope will be a typical school year compared to the last two years," said Christopher Usih, superintendent of the CBE, in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

For the first time in two years, there won't be any pandemic restrictions in classrooms. Both school boards say they're following the lead of the province, which lifted the remaining health restrictions in June.

If students have the sniffles, they will still be welcome in class, school officials say, but parents are being asked to use common sense.

"You should still be checking your children at home, and I think we did this prior to the pandemic," said Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School District.

"If the child is visibly sick at school and is having trouble breathing and is coughing excessively, and this can't be explained through allergies or other things, then obviously we're going to be phoning the families."

Monty Kruger/CBC
Monty Kruger/CBC

Students won't need to take a COVID-19 test if they're feeling sick — or be required to present a negative test to return to school after an illness. But if a positive result is recorded, the province continues to recommend Albertans stay home and isolate for five days and then mask for five days afterward.

Vaccinations are also not required for students or for staff.

There are learnings from the pandemic that both school boards say will continue, though, like regular handwashing.

With flu season around the corner, Usih says they've also increased their list of available substitute teachers.

"We're reasonably confident that we will have enough coverage should we experience staff absences," he said.

David Bajer/CBC
David Bajer/CBC

Teachers also recognize some students may have fallen behind in their learning over the past two years, as online instruction and frequent disruptions impacted classrooms.

Students will be assessed by their teachers as the school year begins to ensure they're at the appropriate level.

"We've received some funding from Alberta Education to allow us to provide some targeted supports for students in our early years," Usih said.

"If we don't address those gaps, we know that it just manifests as the students move on to higher grades."

Curriculum update

Teachers will be working with updated curricula in many of the younger grades.

The new math and English language curricula are now mandatory for students from kindergarten to Grade 3, and a revamped physical education and wellness curriculum will be used for students from kindergarten through Grade 6.

"Let's face it, the other curriculum, it was old … there was lots of goodness in our old curriculum, and we'll see the good parts of the old curriculum will follow over into the new curriculum," Szumlas said.

"Teachers are professionals.… That's their job, to interpret the curriculum. We have resources in our schools and they're going to do a great job."

Oseremen Irete/CBC
Oseremen Irete/CBC

The rewrite of the K-12 curricula in Alberta has been a controversial journey that's lasted more than a decade.

The government planned to mandate a new curriculum in all elementary subjects and grades this fall but scaled back plans after fierce opposition from critics.

The final versions of the math, English and wellness curricula were released in April after revisions from the government, although some concerns persist.

Usih says CBE teachers have spent the last few weeks taking part in professional learning to help them implement the new materials.

"We're quite pleased with the level of participation of our teachers and administrators … to ensure the successful implementation of the new curriculum."

New science, social studies and fine arts curricula are slated for 2023 and 2024.

There is no timeline yet for the curricular changes reaching junior high or high school grades.

Handling anxiety

All of the changes this year may have some parents feeling stressed, and that's OK, says Dr. Jody Carrington, a psychologist and author in Olds, Alta.

It's hard to get back into routine, especially after the past two years.

"This was a global experience … there still is a price for so many of us. And so just giving some grace, I think, in that regard, especially to these kids of ours, is going to be really important," she said in an interview on The Homestretch.

If your child is anxious, some planning and structure can help, she says.

Let them know what's going to happen during their day, where they'll be picked up and when they'll be able to go home.

David Bajer/CBC
David Bajer/CBC

She also recommends trying this phrase to dig deeper into any worries kids may have instead of jumping to a fix.

"Tell me more," she said.

"You can come up the other side with solutions and strategies, but it's really about giving that opportunity for them to name the emotion and identify what might be going on."

After all, she says, we're wired for connection, and it's been missing from our lives for quite some time.

"Never underestimate your power to wave at the neighbour or buy the coffee or really take those extra two minutes with your kids," she said.

"It doesn't need to be a lot."