Teaching staff at a Black Diamond elementary school took a collective sigh of relief after completing a successful first week of school amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
C. Ian McLaren School principal Stacey Swanson said staff, students and parents diligently followed the new rules established by the school and Foothills School Division to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.
Staff converged during Friday’s professional development day to discuss how the week went in a debriefing session.
“The week went extremely well thanks to our parent community and all of our staff and students for coming in the way they did, for being excited about being here and for engaging in learning,” Swanson said. “The parents were very respectful in terms of our guidelines and expectations for our relaunch.”
Similar to other elementary schools throughout the division, staff established a staggered entry for students, created directional flow in the hallways, assigned specific doors to certain grades to enter and exit the school and placed handwashing stations at all entrances.
“Having this staggered entry for schools really made a huge difference in terms of helping teachers feel really great about starting up and it gave them extra time to work with families and students,” she said. “The teachers felt confident in how they launched their first day because they had some extra time to think about how to welcome the kids back after six months. The staff had a lot of questions but certainly I think we were reassured that the launch was successful and they’re ready to go.”
Swanson said students adapted exceptionally well to their new routines.
“The kids learned very quickly the new now,” she said. “It’s very important that they learn that, for now, this is what we have to do to keep everybody safe.”
The division issued a relaunch handbook for its schools with protocols surrounding classroom structure and the handling of materials touched by multiple people.
“If we’re collecting materials from students that have gone home they are put in a bin to be processed for 72 hours,” said Swanson. “Everything is handled with sanitizer and gloves.”
Among the protocols is that Grades 4 to 6 students are required to wear masks as they enter the building, in the hallways and when interacting with other students in partner activities, Swanson said. If they’re sitting in their desks and working independently, they can take their masks off, she said.
To help minimize the risk of staff and students contracting COVID-19, Swanson said teaching will occur outside as much as possible.
“It’s easy to have a number of classrooms safely outside and we’ve got the river and the forest right next door,” she said. “As long as kids come prepared to be outside there’s no reason we can’t do outdoor learning activities the whole year.”
Cleaning measures have been ramped up, said Swanson, with a full-time caretaker going in and out of classrooms to clean multiple times throughout the day. This is in addition to the traditional custodial staff deep cleaning every day after school, she said.
The risks surrounding the COVID-19 virus has resulted in some shift in enrolment.
Swanson said the first week of school saw 165 students enrolled, which includes 10 new families. She said around 20 students opted for Hub Online Learning and a couple families opted to home school.
Vice-principal Judy Leyden said while staff can’t eliminate all of the risks surrounding the virus, staff is optimistic about the many measures in place to prevent its spread.
Leyden said the school established four recesses and four lunch times, with two classes sharing them at a time.
“It’s a lot of supervision for staff but it was so worth it because it just reduces the numbers on the playground and that made us all feel safe,” she said.
As for gym, most classes will be held outdoors. When indoors, she said physical distancing will be practised.
“If there is a time they can’t physically distance in the gym they will have masks on and it won’t be a very intense activity,” she said. “Every time they come in from outside they will sanitize their hands. We also have processing bins for sporting equipment to be sanitized.”
Like Swanson, Leyden is impressed with how positive and flexible C. Ian McLaren School staff, students and parents have been throughout these unusual times.
“There were a lot of new things to learn and I can’t say enough about how supportive our whole community is,” she said. “It’s just so exciting to have the students back in the building.”
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