By Lethbridge Herald on September 1, 2020.
Schools across Lethbridge opened their doors to students on Tuesday for the first time since March, with most families eager to return to school to bring some greater sense of normalcy to their lives after months of dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while going back to school was an exciting day for many, it certainly won’t be class as usual this year with complex re-entry plans in place, and masking required for all students Grades 4-12.
On Tuesday most schools also staggered entry times for different grade levels and limited contact between students outside of their own classroom cohorts. This was expected to continue throughout the week as teachers, staff and students continued to adjust to new public health procedures related to COVID-19.
For crowded westside elementary schools, in particular, the re-entry plans were even more complex.
Coalbanks Elementary School is one of the most heavily populated schools in Lethbridge. According to principal Joey Gentile, a staggered re-entry for his students meant different classes coming in on different days, Tuesday and Wednesday, before being brought together as a full student body again on Thursday.
“We spent a lot of time in the month of August getting ready for the students to come back,” he explained. “It’s the new norm. Students weren’t just able to walk through the halls on their own. We had a process outside where the students met their teachers out there, and it went very well actually. It went quite smooth for a day one.
“Kudos to the Education Centre and our admin staff for making a decision about staggered entries, It was busy today, but that was only half of our student population. Tomorrow the other half will come, but Thursday will be the true test when all 650 students are going to be arriving.”
Gentile said getting prepared for a successful re-entry into school came down to good communication between division staff, school staff and parents.
“We do feel confident the plan we have put in place is one which makes sure all of our students and staff are going to be kept safe day in and day out the best we can,” he said. “And just really making sure our parents are caught up to speed, and explaining why certain decisions are being made as well.”
Gentile said the parents he has talked to are keen to have their kids back in school, but are naturally somewhat uncertain about things with COVID-19 still hanging overhead.
“It’s a mixture of emotions, for sure, but I think everyone is excited to get back to as normal as it is going to be this year,” he stated. “At least we have students in our classrooms again.
“Our class size is still too large in our classrooms to be able to ensure the proper social distancing,” he added, “so we are encouraging and recommending families to have students to wear masks (for all ages) when they are in close proximity to classmates and staff.”
Coalbanks Elementary School Grade 4 student, Owen Bosnak, admitted it was a lot to take in on his first day back in class.
“The strangest thing about it is having to hand sanitize, and wearing a mask all day,” he said.
But Bosnak was happy to be back in school anyway after so many months away.
“The best thing is seeing friends and learning again,” he explained.
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