All across Southeast of Saskatchewan and Southwest Manitoba, kids are in their third month back at school, and while a handful of students have chosen to study from home, the vast majority of students are in class.
There does seem to be a negligible drop in overall student numbers in local schools, but that has more to do with last year’s large graduating classes rather than the pandemic.
MacLeod Elementary, Moosomin
September saw 281 students start the academic year at MacLeod Elementary School in Moosomin as opposed to the 300 students that walked through the doors last year.
“Last year we had two very large Grade 5 classes with 27 students each. They went over to the high school, so that was a very big decrease,” said School Principal Tammy Cole.
Aside from a handful of students that chose the online learning system, Cyber Stone, or home schooling, most kids are back in class.
“There are only five home school students and then we have three in Cyber Stone,” said Cole.
Cyber Stone is a virtual school the South East Cornerstone School Division is using to make sure that all children in the area are getting the education they deserve.
“Cyber Stone learning is where an teacher from the South East Cornerstone School Division teaches students from home, online. Home schooling is when the parents have to create their own learning plan for their children and send it to the South East Cornerstone School Division and that is all contact that they would have,” said Cole.
McNaughton High School, Moosomin
McNaughton High School Principal Jeff St. Onge and his teaching staff welcomed over 360 students to school this year. This is an increase over last year’s 342 students.
“The number moves around, we probably have a little more than that right now,” said St. Onge.
Just like the MacLeod Elementary, some children are taking advantage of the Cyber Stone online system this fall, but not many.
“We had 10 kids the last time I checked,” said St. Onge.
Principal Nancy Fraser in Redvers had a rollcall of 295 students this September as opposed to the 300 students last year.
“We have had three people elect to use Cyber Stone and we have no home school students at this time. It is a really good start, everyone is really excited to be back. Everyone is complying with the rules. I think people are glad to see people. It is a new reality, but everyone is working really hard and doing the best that they can do. We are looking forward to having a great year,” said Fraser.
Principal Dylan Richards is taking care of 51 students in Wapella this fall compared to the 57 of last year.
“We are just pleased to have the students back in our classrooms. Safety and mental health are our top priorities and the kids seem happy to be here and we are thrilled to have them. We are looking forward to filling the learning gap that was created by COVID-19 and addressing it and moving forward with kids and their families,” said Richards.
Dave Bircher, who is the principal in Kipling is not concerned about the slight dip in the number of students that came to class this year. The school welcomed 369 students this September compared to the 388 students last year.
“We are slightly down from last year, but there are a lot of factors that go into that. Just about all the kids came back. We had a big graduating class go out and fewer kindergarten kids coming in. That automatically takes you down. We have very few that are doing remote learning. We hope we can just continue to do school like we did, but wearing a mask and hopefully keep students in school,” said Bircher.
Principal Brenda Doud in Whitewood has a student body of 264 as opposed to the 256 of last year.
“We still have a number of students doing online learning too. We have around 15 doing online or home schooling,” said Doud.
Everyone is embracing the new protocols and Doud could not be more pleased.
“The kids are doing really awesome. We are finding that all of them are being really respectful and working hard at following the protocols like the masks, the sanitizing and the social distancing. They all understand it, they get it. They are adaptable. We have them wear their masks at recess when they can’t social distance. They all wear their masks when they are crowded together,” said Doud.
PJ Gillen School, Esterhazy
Principal Wanita Lippai is educating 227 students this year at PJ Gillen School in Esterhazy. The number is down slightly from last year’s 232.
“I am cautious, yet optimistic that things are going well, but we are mindful that this could change, so we need to keep that in the back of our heads, but safety is an absolute priority. We are doing everything in our power to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Kids adapt so well. They wear masks in grade 4 and 5, they don’t have to wear masks in kindergarten to grade 3 but some still do. We hear them say things like ‘gee, that is a nice mask, look at my new mask,’ it has become a bit of a fashion trend of who has the splashiest mask,” said Lippai.
Esterhazy High School
Principal Gord Erhardt welcomed just over 310 students to classes this year.
“We have about 15 kids doing remote learning right now,” said Erhardt.
The school is also seeing students leave the remote learning system and returning to class.
“Come second semester we are going to get a lot of the kids back,” said Erhardt.
Last year the school had around 325 students in class.
Principal Pamela Stephen in Maryfield is happy with the 97 students she is in charge of this year.
“We had two families move to Cyber Stone, so our number will be 103 if and when they return, but yes 97 is very typical for us”
Last year the school had 102 students in attendance.
COVID-19 has forced schools to come up with creative solutions to problems.
“It forces you to get more creative about planning and delivery and daily routines and how to build in body breaks during the day and other things we did not typically have to think about before,” said Stephen.
Principal Denise Singleton welcomed 51 students this year. That is an increase of one student from last year’s 50 students.
Parkland School K-12
Principal Jos Risling has 206 students currently at his school this year. This number is up from last year’s 204 students.
242 students join Principal Nathan Bromm in Rocanville this year and that number is down from last year’s 260 students.
Ecole St. Lazare Pre-K-12
East of the border in Manitoba, Richard Fiola at Ecole St. Lazare is teaching 74 students as of this September, as opposed to the 83 of last year.
“There is a family that chose to do home schooling in Saskatchewan. Some (students) might be back once this COVID-19 thing is behind us,” said Fiola.
The school has prepared to go to remote learning if it is recommended by the province.
“High school students already have some online classes for math and science mostly. If ever we go on red zone in the pandemic, each child will be equipped with an iPad or a computer and they will be online with their teachers on a regular basis. We have tested everything since March till June, so we know every student has access to the internet so they can talk to the teachers and talk to one another and they can touch base on a regular basis.”
Elkhorn’s Principal Lance Barrate is ready to take his 145 students who came to school this fall online if needed.
“We have been advised to be prepared for if the school division or school is transferred to remote learning. We got our kids set up in Google Classroom and we will be ready to make that transition if we need to, hopefully we don’t need to, but if we do, we will have to adjust. It has been good to have to students back it was strange without them here,” said Barrate.
Last year the school had 151 students enrolled.
Victor van der Merwe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator