As the beginning of the 2020/2021 school year fast approaches, many parents are feeling nervous about sending their children back, as COVID-19 still remains a threat.
On August 24th, Prairie Spirit School Division (PSSD) sent out a letter to parents notifying them of the “soft start” that will begin on September 8th. Students will be divided into two cohorts or groups, with the first attending school on Tuesday, September 8th and Thursday September 10th and the other attending Wednesday, September 9th and Friday, September 11th. All students will begin attending school starting September 14th.
PSSD noted that having the smaller groups of students will provide both students and staff the opportunity to; practice new routines in classrooms, hallways, playgrounds and buses; establish patterns of movement within the school and provide opportunities to acknowledge; and support a variety of emotions.
While this provides a template of how the school year will start, each school determines what their own “soft start” will look like. I had a firsthand opportunity to see one of the Martensville schools in action as they prepare measures to ensure that all children are safe while at school.
Extra precautions are already in place, as upon entering Venture Heights Elementary School (VHS), I was required to sanitize my hands, sign in, and fill out a COVID form. Staff could be seen wearing masks and the main office had a protective barrier installed.
The teachers and administration at VHS took advantage of the week before the first day of classes to run through their new system of students entering/exiting the school and came together for a collaboration where they went through numerous scenarios such as recess, snack time, if a child is feeling sick, and more.
The walkthrough that VHS did was for Grade 5 teacher Garett Soparlo’s class, where Soparlo demonstrated how his class will meet in their own designated area of the school yard and stay two metres apart from one another while donning their masks. Students will enter the building in a line, with one student being in charge of holding open the door to limit how many people are touching surfaces. As students enter the classroom, they will each be required to sanitize their hands.
Different grades will be utilizing their own doors to get into and out of the school, limiting contact between students.
Students are each given a number, which aligns to a numbered desk, locker and whiteboard. When in the school, students will be required to wear masks, unless they are within a designated safe area where they are able to take a break from wearing their mask.
Although class sizes will be remaining the same size, classrooms have been rearranged to provide as much space between desks as possible and limit exposure to shared surfaces. Extra measures will be taken with hand sanitization and cleaning measures. This particular walkthrough showed an example of what the grade 5 classroom will look like; however, each grade will be dealt with differently, as masks are required for Grades 4-12 within the Prairie Spirit School Division (PSSD), whereas Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 students are encouraged to wear masks. PSSD staff members will be expected to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
As the staff at VHS met, everyone had a chance to ask questions and discuss a solution as a team. Following the meeting, topics that were still being looked into included the handling of paper, procedures for taking attendance and looking into the option of including hand washing stations within the halls.
VHS Principal Ron Biberdorf explained that he has had teachers coming to him with their own questions; however, opportunities like this one, allow them to come together and discuss their concerns. “We come out of these things with more stuff to figure out because not everyone has heard all of the questions, so it is a good opportunity for them to talk amongst themselves and brainstorm.”
“Things are going to look a little different, but it is a challenge that we know we have to do and I am so thankful that we have an awesome team coming together for this. There is no point fretting, it is something that we have to do, so let’s get it done,” Biberdorf said.