School boards reflect on “unpredictable” past year; prepare for summer

·4 min read

As kids across Lambton-Kent drive by to pick up their diplomas following another virtual end to the school year, education directors offered some final thoughts on the year that was.

“It has been an unpredictable school year. But it has been a year of a lot of learning and collaboration,” says Deb Crawford from St. Clair Catholic District School Board.

Both boards say their work with public health, community partners and each other were a major aid in navigating the ever-changing pandemic guidelines.

One major area of reflection was of course technology, as students and teachers spent the majority of their day navigating a laptop, tablet, phone or other device.

“We have learned a lot about using technology… so I think we’ll be able to take away some really good lessons as we move into a face to face model, how we can leverage technology to really enhance learning,” says Crawford.

The reliance on technology brought challenges though, particularly given the chronic connectivity issues in rural Lambton and Chatham-Kent. “We had to put a lot of technology out there to address the needs in our communities and there were a lot of problems there with access to technology and reliable internet,” says Crawford. “So those pieces have come very much to the forefront in planning.”

John Howitt from the Lambton-Kent District School Board agrees. “That rural internet problem continues to be an issue. I really thank the wardens in the rural communities who have been working so hard to get internet expanded within the rural area.”

Howitt says families have really come to appreciate the role schools play in their child’s life. “I think there’s a far better understanding within households about the incredible work that school board staff do on behalf of students. I think there’s also a better understanding of what is expected of students by households and the supports necessary for students to have positive outcomes.”

“I think that’s going to be a great thing moving forward that there’s a better understanding of that home/school partnership that clearly has a positive impact on student learning,” he says.

The way families stepped up when in-person learning once again was lost was also highlighted. “There have been incredible sacrifices that have been made both by students as well as the adults. There are a lot of families that lost jobs and lost income coming into their house because of remote learning periods when the adults had to be home,” says Howitt.

“That’s caused significant stress in the community and the sacrifices that those families made really need to be recognized and we look forward to coming out of that on the other side.”

“I think our students have learned an incredible life skill that you can’t always control what’s going to happen and that life can deal you unexpected things and that we are resilient when we come out,” says Howitt.

Crawford echoed this determinacy. “I think there’s a sense of optimism that we will be back together in September, we will be face to face and for the most part we’re coming out of this pandemic with hope and certainly evidence of the resilience of the parents and the students and the staff at our school board.”

As for summer school, both directors say there’s been a strong interest given the nature of the past year. In Lambton-Kent Howitt says there’s a “strong subscription for registration for summer school and summer learning including our summer co-op programs. We also have programs for elementary students reaching ahead.”

Crawford is seeing the same with St. Clair Catholic. “We’ve seen an enthusiastic response to the offerings for summer school. As well we’ve seen a number of kids in Grade 12 who have graduated and have made it their intention to come back for the first semester and possibly the year next year.”

Despite the expectation school will return in-person next year without interruption, virtual school does remain an option. Howitt says about 350 elementary kids and 300 secondary students have signed up for the year-long option in Lambton-Kent. For the Catholic board Crawford says about 100 elementary and secondary kids each have locked in.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent

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