June 11, 2020 --
Sanitized and energized. It's the new buzz phrase at Pinewood Elementary School.
Pinewood students are nearing the end of the second week of an optional return to in-class learning and everything is proceeding smoothly. Hands have never been cleaner, and enthusiasm is off the charts.
"It's just been a natural progression of new," said principal Lisa Norman. "The smiling faces of the kids coming back, wanting to share and being together, we're OK. And the staff, they're just as delighted to see the kids as the kids are to see them and each other."
Pinewood is tucked away on Campbell Avenue, off Ospika Boulevard in Prince George. The school's normal student population is 174, and more than 30 are back in the building – half on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Children of emergency services workers and students who need additional support have the option of being in class five days per week. Wednesdays have been set aside specifically for them and for students who are engaging in online or remote learning.
Regardless of the day of the week, health and safety measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have changed normal operations at Pinewood. Before students enter the building in the morning, a staff member checks with them to see how they are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Once inside, students proceed in a safe manner through a handwashing station. They continue to scrub their hands throughout the day, in the transition times between one activity and the next.
"We're reminding them but for the most part they're OK," said Grade 5 teacher Tom Smith. "It's easier with the intermediates, obviously.
"Transitions and things take a fair bit longer because every time we go somewhere we've got to wash hands. We wash hands and do it one at a time, keeping everybody distanced."
The routines are an adjustment for students but Pinewood staff members are working to ensure the kids aren't intimidated by them.
"Even in this new reality, as much as it's serious, it's a light-hearted new norm for all of us," Norman said.
Fourteen of Smith's students have come back to school for in-class learning. They are divided into groups of seven (a Tuesday-Wednesday group and a Thursday-Friday group). In the mornings, Smith guides students through their academic subjects, including giving them assistance with homework packages. Mornings also involve some computer time for a research project and afternoons are normally spent outside doing various activities.
As well, members of Smith's class have had the opportunity to do some hands-on work. During the first week, they constructed marble runs as a woodworking project – the marble path made from strategically-placed nails. The idea was to run the marble from top to bottom in the slowest time possible.
During the return, Pinewood students have also been doing coding, textiles and drafting.
Smith himself is happy to have students back in his classroom and happy to be part of what the school is offering in these challenging times.
"Everybody's been great about adapting and pitching in and just going with the flow," he said. "We're lucky – we've got a great group and we're like, 'OK, let's make it work and do what we have to do.'"