January 20th, 2021

Preparing for re-entry amid COVID-19

By Submitted Article on May 27, 2020.

As students continue to learn at home, teachers are busier than ever. They are continuing to provide instruction, and are actively engaged in ongoing professional development as they redesign their entire instructional practice.

As one can imagine, much of the learning is how COVID is shaping education, and how they can maximize learning while students are at home. As system leaders are planning for a 2020-21 school re-entry, we, too, are learning about the impact of COVID. This article highlights some of my reflections based on an OECD article I read this week entitled, “Trends Shaping Education 2020 Spotlight.”

The article starts out with a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of over 90 per cent of the world’s children. That’s more than 1.5 billion students. One only needs to look at your children’s schooling to realize that this virus changed the world we live in some nine weeks ago. Since that time, the Alberta government has been responding dynamically as information becomes available. Dr. Deena Hinshaw has been holding daily press briefings to share measures to contain the virus. We have all taken steps and made sacrifices to flatten the curve.

These measures appear to be working, as such, Alberta is beginning to reopen the economy. School divisions in collaboration with Alberta Education are now preparing for school re-entry. One of the challenges to effective planning is the uncertainty of information as scientific knowledge about COVID and what subsequent waves may look like is constantly changing. What we do know at this point is that Alberta’s reopening strategy has three potential school scenarios for this fall. (1) Normal operations; (2) Schools are open for classes with some health restrictions that affect operations; and (3) Schools remain closed for classes – at-home learning continues. We are awaiting health guidelines, as these will no doubt have a significant impact on what school will look like. Schools will be planning for all three scenarios given that we face a future of uncertainty É all indications are that there will most likely be a second wave this fall.

As we reopen schools, ensuring student and staff safety and well-being remains a top priority. With routines and habit disruption, and increased isolation, some students’ anxiety and depression levels have increased. We know there are students and parents who are concerned about the impact of learning losses.

How to provide supports and how to meet the learning needs of all our learners is a key question we are considering as we prepare for our students’ return. We are social beings and need to ensure schools not only meets children’s academic needs, but their physical and psychological needs as well. Schools are part of children’s social fabric, are a key support system, and play a key role in fostering student belonging.

Children will be going back to school in the coming months, but things are not going back to normal. There will no doubt be changes in practice. Students’ and teachers’ roles and responsibilities may look different when we reopen. As we explore new ways of operating schools, we will be developing and revising standards that reinforce student and staff safety. Changes in physical distancing may have significant impacts on operations.

When the government releases its re-entry and expected health guidelines, schools will use these guidelines to develop re-entry plans. We will be communicating and collaborating with parents and the broader community.

Parents will play a vital role in keeping kids safe. Your help will have a long-term effect on the education and overall success of all our children and society at large. We look forward to seeing our students return and know your children are looking forward to resuming school as it means reuniting with their friends, and accessing shared learning activities.

Wilco Tymensen is the Superintendent, Horizon School Division

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But are children at risk from this virus crisis? Last I read, there are zero fatalities under age 20 in Canada. All deaths credibly assigned to covid19 are to immunity – compromised individuals, almost entirely seniors. Why are our schools closed? Why are school systems challenged? This must be for other reasons than the safety of our young.