SD 51 aims to reach students online, working with families to get access to tech

Teachers have been contacting families directly to talk over students’ needs, outlook for e-education

The focus for the final few months of the school year in the Boundary won’t so much be on A’s, B’s and C’s as it will be on maintaining connections over virtual links.

“We’re recognizing one of the key components of the school system is to maintain social contact with our students,” said School District 51 superintendent Ken Minette in an interview. At the end of staff’s first week back in empty classrooms after the scheduled two-week spring break, Minette said that teachers, education assistants and principals were reaching out to students to find out how best to reach them moving forward.

Educators have been looking at how to connect with their students, “specifically around the fact that for the next three months, this won’t look anything like in school learning, and that we have to kind of grapple with that as a group of educators,” Minette said.

The province, which announced a B.C.-wide school closure in mid-March as a means of stemming the spread of COVID-19, has articulated four priorities for districts to aim for. Topping the list were efforts to maintain health and support of students and staff, before finally providing continuity in educational opportunities for students.

“This is a very challenging time for teenagers, […] to not have those social interactions with your friends at school, and the uncertainty about what’s going to happen in the next few months.” B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday in a press conference. “This is a transitional period in your life and what is happening now is extraordinary and you need to be comfortable in reaching out and find those trusted adults in your life – don’t be afraid to talk to them about what’s going on, about your anxiety, about your concerns.”

In the Boundary, the district is looking to re-tool breakfast programs to still reach students in need of healthy meals, and child and youth workers will make themselves available to students in need of supports as well.

Teachers, meanwhile, have been introduced to some technology tools that will help them maintain connections with students, such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and have also been busy polling students to see what technology is available to them at home, and whether they have good enough internet to support real-time conversations and lessons.

Minette said that the district’s plan was to resume more formal instruction this week, as all participants come to grips with their new virtual classrooms.

Aim is to keep staff employed

Beyond teachers, custodians have been working diligently to ensure district buildings are sterilized and Minette said that education assistants will be kept on as well to support their students.

“They’re the ones that often do the one-on-one or small groups, but they’ll have to do it remotely,” Minette said, “so that’s going to be a learning curve for us because it’s far easier when you’re within the vicinity of the student to manage that learning.”

One group that does not currently have an employment plan are the district’s casual workers, which includes on-call teachers. The superintendent said that those people have been given record-of-employment forms to support EI claims, “but lots of those employees have said ‘We’re still really interested in working,’” he explained.

French exchange extended

Before COVID-19 erupted in Canada and Europe, Minette confirmed last week that one Boundary student was already in France on exchange and their partner already in the Boundary. The superintendent said that parents at both ends agreed that it was safer for their children to stay in-place.

“They felt that was a safer protocol than sending their children in the opposite direction and through all that air travel,” he said. Other students who had exchanges planned for the spring have seen their trips postponed indefinitely.


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