KPDSB, TNCDSB adjusting to school closures across province
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Students across the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB), The Northwest Catholic District School Board (TNCDSB), and the rest of the province are continuing to learn from home for the remainder of the school year after the Government of Ontario announced they’re keeping schools closed as of May 19.
The KPDSB and TNCDSB said the transition to online learning has been successful so far, with more and more students receiving equal access.
“I think it has gone very well. One of the good things we’ve been able to do is collect data on all of our families in regards to who had access to technology... We’ve given over one-third of our families devices to support that learning,” said Brendan Hyatt, TNCDSB Director of Education.
“We’re going to continue with the model we have in place right now where online learning for kindergarten to grade two students happens through a Seesaw App that we have our schools using, and then for grades three to eight we’re going to continue using Google Classroom as the mode of learning with regards to virtual learning for our students.
“I did ask our principals the other day how it was going, and I did get an email back from them indicating they felt it was continuing to go well. Of course there’s always some bumps in the road, but you deal with those as they come along. As far as the actual learning, we’re going to be continuing with what the ministry expectation is… I think it’s going well and we’re going to continue to support the students’ learning the best we can so we can ensure they have the skills they need to move on to progress to the next grade,” he explained.
“There was a learning curve for everybody as we transitioned schools from the traditional classroom to the online environment, but I really have to give our staff a lot of credit. They were willing to jump in with both feet, they had a can-do attitude, and took on synchronous learning right from the beginning of the virtual environment,” said Sherri-Lynne Pharand, KPDSB Director of Education.
“I think that virtual learning has gone as well as it can. We did survey our staff and families as well, and we received a lot of positive feedback from the community… We’ve also provided the Chromebooks students have so they can access online learning. Equity was a big concern for us as well so, for students that didn’t have access to internet, not only did we make the signals outside of our schools available for anybody but also, through a partnership with Tbaytel, we purchased hotspots with unlimited data so that students that didn’t have online learning would be able to access that,” she said.
“We embraced the synchronous learning model that the government has now mandated for the rest of the province very early in this process, so for us we’re lucky and fortunate that we started it quickly… There is a synchronous component in every class from kindergarten to grade eight, whether it be Google or Zoom meetings where class takes place,” said Darryl Tinney, Sioux Mountain Public School Principal.
“I applaud the staff for everything they’ve done to provide learning for students, and also students and families for doing their best as well during these times knowing that there’s lots of variables they’re dealing with as well,” he said.
The Government of Ontario confirmed, when announcing school closures, that all students will receive report cards. Students scheduled to graduate high school prior to initial closures in March will be able to graduate.
“Final report cards, and all the subject areas that have been taught throughout the school year, will be reported on. That is a ministry expectation that Minister (Stephen) Lecce put out on Tuesday (May 19) that all students will receive report cards, they will be assessed, and they’ll be moving on to the next grade,” said Hyatt.
“In terms of report cards, the ministry has provided guidance to the whole province that indicates that a student’s mark cannot go down from what it was at on March 13 when schools were closed due to the pandemic. Students marks can go up based on the work they are completing in the virtual environment but, because there’s not 100 per cent of equity of access for everyone, student’s marks can’t go down,” said Pharand.
Along with taking their learning to digital platforms, students will likely be celebrating graduations virtually. The KPDSB said they’re aiming to provide high school graduates with an opportunity to physically cross the stage when restrictions on large groups are lifted.
“We are discussing graduations. The principals in our schools are looking at ways to celebrate the graduations for our students, and there will be plans in place. When we have them finalized we will certainly be letting parents know what that will look like. I know that graduations, especially at the milestones of grade eight, et cetera, are very important, and we want to make sure we celebrate our students’ achievements,” said Hyatt.
“For grade eights, the majority of schools will be having a virtual celebration. It may differ a little bit from community to community depending on each school’s situation, population, et cetera. At the grade 12 level all schools are holding a virtual graduation this June. They have recognition not only of each graduate but the regular scholarships, bursaries, and awards that would be part of our graduation ceremony. At the grade 12 level we know it’s an important milestone for students to graduate high school. When the Medical Officer of Health guidelines allow large groups again then we will be offering an opportunity for this year’s graduates to cross the stage,” Pharand explained.
Both schoolboards said they’re in the midst of developing plans to allow parents, families, and students to enter schools and gather belongings. They said parents could be notified as early as this week.
“As a schoolboard safety is our first priority, so we’re working on a plan with the Northwestern Health Unit to make sure we allow for a safe access to the schools so folks can get what they need prior to the summer. We should have that in place within the next week or so,” said Hyatt.
“We recognize that parents and families want to have access to the school in order to collect their children’s belongings. We’re developing a process right now that needs to be approved by the Medical Officer of Health, and we anticipate early next week that we will start a process that will allow students into schools. It will take some time because we’ll have to follow all of the maximum group size, physical distancing, and all of the other Medical Officer of Health guidelines, so not everybody can go at once. We will be communicating directly with students and families,” said Pharand.
“Now that we know schools are going to be closed for the rest of the year we’re mobilizing a plan to get students’ belongings back to kids and parents. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like yet, but I imagine within the next week we should have a plan and we’ll communicate it with parents,” said Tinney.
In the May 19 news release, the Government of Ontario confirmed plans to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year.
“At the same time, the government is planning for the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 school year, the gradual reopening of child care, and the opening of summer day camps subject to the continuing progress in trends of key public health indicators,” the news release informed.
“Later this summer, the government will announce a plan to strengthen learning and safety protocols to enable students and staff to return to in-class instruction for the 2020-21 school year. That plan will be bolstered by an enhanced province-wide virtual learning program that will allow all students to learn, regardless of the challenges that may transpire in the coming months.”