June 5, 2020 --
Happy staff, happy students.
All the health and safety measures put into place for the optional return to in-class learning functioned just as they were supposed to at Duchess Park Secondary School this week. Many students were back in the building for the first time since the middle of March, and their teachers were ready for them. The precautions taken to guard against COVID-19 were visible from the front entrance, all the way through the school, and that allowed everyone to go about their business with peace of mind and smiles on their faces.
"It's been very positive," said Duchess Park principal Sid Jawanda. "I think everybody was a little bit tentative coming into Monday, not knowing what it was going to be like, not knowing how many students were going to arrive. We'd written out a pretty good plan but it was all on paper and we hadn't seen it in action.
"But Monday morning we all got here early, and the plan worked," Jawanda added. "I even had staff who said they were a little uneasy but watching the front-entry folks assess every student as they came in, and getting everyone prepped for what they were walking into, it was reassuring to the teachers. It just made everybody in the building feel at ease. And for the students, it is a different process. We're obviously in an area where safety's first so we have to do things a little differently but we've made it as friendly and unimposing as we can for the students."
The students who returned were clearly glad to be back on familiar ground. One of them was Cameron Moore, whose first day was Thursday.
"It's good but it's kind of lonely," said the Grade 10 Moore, who made his own decision to return but was the only student in teacher Patrice LaPointe's classroom.
"It's not the same (learning) online," Moore said of his reason for wanting to come back to class. "It's not the same as being here."
Before Moore and any of his schoolmates could even walk through the front doors on Thursday morning, they had to wait in a line, physically distanced from each other, and then answer questions about how they were feeling. Once cleared to enter, they went directly to a washing station. Only then could they head to their classrooms. In hallways, common areas and rooms that were busier, physical distancing was in full effect.
Handwashing was a constant from the beginning of the day to the end.
Close to 70 students were in Duchess Park's classrooms on Thursday.
Under the SD 57 Restart Plan, all schools are adhering to the standards, guidelines and direction established by the Ministry of Education, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and WorkSafeBC. For students in Grades 6-12, the maximum permitted capacity is 20 per cent of regular enrolment. These students are divided in such a way that they are attending one day per week – either a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. Wednesdays have been set aside for children of emergency services workers, students requiring extra support and students engaging in remote or online learning.
Jawanda said staff members at Duchess Park are continuing to provide students with good-quality remote and online learning experiences. In the classrooms, things may look a little different but effective teaching and learning is still happening.
"The student arrives, we assess what the student needs at that particular time for that course, and really, because of the low numbers, we're able to offer a lot of personalized assistance and instruction," Jawanda said. "We have some classes that have gotten a little creative, where they've combined and they're using their time to do two- and three-hour labs.
"Our shop teachers are inviting students in who are midway through projects and are finishing up, and we've prepared for that. We've purchased lots of nitrile gloves so in those instances where students are doing hands-on activities and touching things, we're making sure that they're gloved. We've got lots of opportunities for students within our bookends of making sure that safety is number one."