Since students at schools in the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division returned to in class learning on Jan. 18 both divisions believe the process has been relatively smooth.
Saskatchewan Rivers director of education Robert Bratvold explained that it has been going well for the first two weeks but the transition back can be difficult.
“The staff have been ready and staff have welcomed kids back into the school, students have really picked up where they left off in terms of ensuring COVID safety protocols are followed and getting back into the learning process,” he said.
He explained that the remote learning from Dec. 14 to Jan. 18, which included the Christmas break, saw students engaged and able to continue learning.
Prince Albert Catholic director of education Lorel Trumier said that the teachers in the division were happy to have students back, according to comments she has heard.
“ They are just so pleased to have our students back and to connect. I think our teachers find it very difficult not to have the students in front of them and supporting them. They know that they are able to do their job much better when that is happening, so it is exciting to have our students back and they are going to only take advantage of every minute of the day to ensure that our students remain learning,” Trumier said.
“We are pretty happy to have our kids back and our goal is to keep them in school as much as possible and as long as possible and we are going to continue to do that as much as we can,” she added.
According to Trumier, division staff were able to treat this next re-entry like the one when in class learning began in September 2020, and were able to refresh strategies around COVID-19 protocols. This included lessons around hand washing and other ways to ensure that students are remembering best practices.
“We have put a theme of teaching taking care of themselves and others so that they know that they are not just doing it for themselves but their families and their teachers and their friends,” she said.
Before re-entry staff, as well as the board, participated in learning sessions with Kevin Cameron, the director of the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response to support understanding what impacts periods of not being in school has. This included both parents and students.
“It’s actually helping us shape what we’re looking at as a plan for next year to support all of those. We are starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic hopefully. We need to be hopeful and we are starting to look at strategies for next year as well,” Trumier said.
“The more informed we are about that then the better skilled we are to support students and their learning and the return and the re-entry back to school. He was exceptional, he actually advises diplomats and the RCMP and that kind of thing with some work,” she said.
School divisions ready to go back to remote learning if necessary.
According to Bratvold, the division is always ready to return to Level 4 (remote learning only) if that possibility arises again in the future.
“I suppose that is always a potential but it’s not anticipated,” he said.
There have been cases of COVID-19 connected to Carlton Comprehensive High School and Riverside Public School since classes returned.
“The few cases that we have had have been consistent with previous ones where they were acquired in the community, not transmitted or acquired in the school and so we have been able to manage those,” he said.
Bratvold explained that these cases are always a challenge for all involved but it has also become part of life in some ways.
“It’s also become something that families and staff are prepared for and even expecting,”
He added that it something the division is prepared for, as it is a reality.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s not disruptive but we are prepared for it,” Bratvold said.
According to Bratvold, staff in the division are doing amazing work both in remote learning and classroom learning situations in spite of COVID-19 safety restrictions.
“ They do the same kinds of things differently to support in their remote learning, whether that is a learning package, whether that’s a drop off of materials or phone calls or emails or lots of online activities for those who have that connection. So staff are doing amazing things,” Bratvold said.
He added that he is consistently impressed with what the staff and the complimentary work of students and families.
They continue to be guided by local health authorities in their decision-making.
“We meet regularly with health, regular phone calls around where things are at and how it is going and getting advice and guidance on things and they have been very supportive and clear that schools and families with students in school are doing great things to make sure that the learning can still happen. The health team has been really good too so I do want to acknowledge the work that they have done around that,” Bratvold said.
Though he did not have the exact numbers, Bratvold explained that enrolment at the Saskatchewan Rivers Distance Learning Centre fluctuate through the year as students return and other students enroll. The division is dedicated to the model in the foreseeable future.
“We have committed to the Distance Learning Centre obviously for the rest of this year, the Grade 1 to 12 Distance Learning Centre for the following year and then we will evaluate and see whether the level of need remains there for all grades or just some grades,” Bratvold said.
In the Catholic Division, cases have been linked to Ecole St. Mary High School, St. John Community School and Ecole St. Anne since students returned to class.
“There has been some cases that have been identified in our schools, none of them have been through school transmission. For example, two cases on the same day at St. Mary, as an example, that are not linked,” Trumier said.
She explained that the time away helped to mitigate case numbers after two incubation periods over the Level 4 time helped shed cases by design.
“ I think we can’t always measure what we avoided in terms of the number of cases that would have come into our schools and we did have to have our students at Level 4. It’s not optimal but it was what it was and we are certainly going to be proactive here to continue to keep our students in school as much as possible and do everything we can to do that. We need the communities support to continue following protocols as much as possible and hope that we can move forward,” Trumier said.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald