Grades 7 to 12 students back to remote learning this week, elementary to follow in January

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Junior and senior high school students switched back to online learning after new provincial COVID restrictions kicked in Monday.

The restrictions announced last Tuesday and in place until Jan. 11 have local school divisions scrambling to prepare for transitions.

Elementary school students were to remain on site until the Christmas break starts Dec. 18.

In-person learning is not set to return until Jan. 11.

“We certainly had a bit of experience with online learning in the spring, but we want to do a better job this time around,” said Karl Germann, Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools (GPCSD) superintendent.

“We’ve got a little more time to prepare and will ensure all our subjects are covered.”

Peace Wapiti School Division (PWSD) said at-home learning will resume for all grades Jan. 4 to 8.

“Given the information we have at this time conveyed to us by the Ministry of Education, the expectation is that all students who are enrolled in in-person classes will return to schools on Monday, Jan. 11,” said PWSD superintendent Bob Stewart.

PWSD will use the website Google Classrooms as a learning platform, with paperwork packages also available to students who can’t access the Internet, according to the guidance to parents.

For kindergarten to Grade 3, teachers are preparing work packages in advance of Christmas break, according to the guidance. The guidance states it’s expected students can complete their work in an average of one and a half to two hours per school day.

For grades 4 to 6 in early January, it’s expected students will be able to complete their work in an average of two and a half to three hours per school day, according to PWSD.

Teachers are expected to communicate with students using email and Google Meet, as well as to keep up regular contact with parents and guardians.

PWSD is providing Chromebooks and other devices to students to facilitate at-home learning, said Angela Sears, communications officer.

At Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools, Germann said schools will continue to use Google Classroom but now also has software called Hapara.

Hapara can keep students’ assignments organized and streamlines students’ workflow, he said.

“If assignments are emailed, it’s easy to lose track of them, so we’re trying to use software … to make sure the lessons are as interesting as being in school,” Germann said.

GPCSD is aiming to keep learning interactive, with not only webcast lessons but also videos, virtual activities and even having physical activities like exercises, he said.

“An email is just text, but we know people learn more when they have a chance to break into groups, to chat, to problem solve,” he said.

GPCSD has “re-deployed” its Chromebooks to grades 7 to 12 students who don’t have the necessary technology at home, Germann said.

He also called on parents to drive home the message to their children that the at-home learning is “not a holiday.”

School break in GPCSD begins after Dec. 18 and ends Jan. 4, when at-home learning begins again.

At Valhalla Community School, kindergarten to Grade 6 students will continue with in-person learning until winter break begins Dec. 17, according to a letter sent to parents.

Grades 7 to 9 students will be using Google Classroom in the meantime, according to Valhalla Community School’s letter.

Diploma exams will be optional, including August 2021 diplomas, according to the Alberta government.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News