High schools to move to blended learning

·4 min read

About 90 minutes before an afternoon protest at the Confederation Building in St. John’s was to get underway, the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education issued notice Wednesday that a blended back-to-school program will be implemented next week.

“Following consultation between the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD), the Department of Education, the chief medical officer of health and Public Health officials, NLESD is moving forward with plans that maximize in-class instruction for high school students while adhering to updated public health guidance,” a statement read.

High school students who are currently attending online classes will move into a blended learning model similar to the Scenario 2 proposal proposed in the schools plan released last summer.

High school classes will be split into two groups and students will alternate between in-class instruction and online attendance, with access five days each week. On days when students are not physically in class, they will be able to access the classroom remotely with their peers via Google Classroom.

Marcia Porter says she is glad she and a handful of others showed up to the demonstration anyway. Porter has been particularly vocal in the past month about getting high school students back in the classroom.

“I think some people were happy to have that just as a start, but we had just decided we’ll go anyway, so we did,” said Porter, who has a son in high school. “He’s happy that things at least are starting to move.”

Porter said she still wants to see a full return to school before the year is out, adding that there will still be a problem for households with poor connectivity.

“I know some parents of kids, they’re having a real hard time getting their kids out the door right now,” she said. “Their kids have been so isolated they hardly go outside, or they stay in their pajamas all day long. That’s not normal. That’s not healthy.”

The switch will take effect throughout the province starting on Wednesday, April 14. Educators will be provided two days for transition time and professional learning on Monday, April 12, and Tuesday, April 13, during which time the Easter Break will be extended for high school students currently learning online.

There are currently 70 NLESD schools with high school students that are already learning in the classroom under Scenario 1, which is total in-school instruction. Another 54 are moving from virtual to blended learning next week. The vast majority of high school students in the province are in those 54 schools.

“There is no intent to try and replicate exactly what the current online learning environment looks like or the classroom,” Tony Stack, NLESD CEO and director of education, told reporters Wednesday. “It has to be a blended approach, and there’s no expectation that the teacher has to now suddenly (be) teaching two different topics or issues all in the same classroom. … We’re going to take some professional resources, post them, have teachers go through it.”

Education Minister Tom Osborne said that while online learning has served the province well, the experts clearly cite a need for children to be at school.

“We have heard from a number of medical professionals that the amount of time students are spending in their bedrooms or in their basements isolated is having an impact on emotional health, on mental health,” he said. “We’ve heard some reference to vision issues as a result of being in front of a computer screen for numbers of hours each day.”

Osborne said concerns about COVID-19 variants combined with the promise of continued vaccination will guide any decision on heading back to schools full-time.

“We’ll take that guidance from the chief medical officer of health," he said.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters earlier Wednesday she will revisit her advice, but confirmed the risk to the community from variants is still top of mind.

“We saw the effect that that can have on a high school population, so we’re trying to reduce that risk as much as possible,” she said.

The NLESD scenario does not apply to the Francophone School District, which is already operating at full capacity in the classroom.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram