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Teachers work to keep students learning

A variety of remote means will be used to ensure students grasp concepts outlined by provincial government

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ST. PAUL - Teachers and students across the province have been faced with a massive challenge to finish the school year outside the traditional classroom, as measures are being taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

For staff members with the two local school divisions, it was a week of learning, organizing, communicating, and collaborating, as they work toward getting students learning in the comfort of their own homes. 

On Friday, the provincial government released details ensuring student learning continues, but also allowing school authorities flexibility to decide what is best for the community. Grade 12 diploma exams were also cancelled. 

When teachers arrived to the school Monday morning at St. Paul Elementary, administration carried out some mental health activities "knowing it was going to be hard on our hearts," said Principal Karol Cabaj-Martin. She noted that teachers at the Catholic school started by praying, and throughout the week came together in a variety of positive ways. 

Then, "everybody started by doing," she said. Staff worked to wipe things down and clean, held meetings in the gym, and worked toward finding ways to deliver the best education as students now work from home. 

For the youngest students, a focus will be put on literacy and numeracy, with teachers delivering about five hours of school work per student, per week. Schools will be offering a variety of online resources for students to access and communicate with their teachers. The school's printer was also working constantly as teachers printed off materials to deliver to students with the rest of their belongings.  

As the situation evolved, new ideas came out, said Cabaj-Martin. Teachers will work toward providing some structure and routine for students and parents, while recognizing that some families have multiple children in school. 

"The staff really miss the kids,” said the principal. 

When asked how parents have reacted to the situation, Cabaj-Martin said there have been varying levels of stress. Some parents have come to the door with a smile, while others appear worried. 

"Every day is an evolving situation for every family . . . We are feeling for everybody. . .  We are so grateful to the people in the community," said Cabaj-Martin, adding, she is proud to be an administrator within St. Paul Education Regional Division. 

For junior high students, education content will focus on math, literacy, science and social studies. Teachers will assign about 10 hours of work per student per week. For high school students, the focus will be on specified and core courses required for high school graduation requirements. Teachers will assign about three hours of work per course per student each week. 

"At F.G. Miller we are living by the 'keep calm and carry-on' motto," said Principal Colin Bjorkman. "Our focus is continuing to provide an education to all of our students and to help maintain a sense of normality for them and their families during these very unusual circumstances." 

Bjorkman added that teachers take a great deal of pride in how they deliver classes, and they will continue to do so as they move to online learning. 

"There are drawbacks, and it’s certainly not ideal, but we are committed to doing our best,” he said. 

A variety of resources are being used to deliver courses, such as Google Meet, with classes taking place at their regular scheduled time even, says Bjorkman. "During these sessions, our teachers are able to share their SmartBoard screen with their students. They are also able to live stream video and audio." 

"There is no doubt some of us have had to step out of our comfort zone concerning technology, but it has been a real pleasure to watch everyone supporting and helping each other to quickly navigate this transition," said Bjorkman. 

Some teachers are using Google Classroom and others using ScreenCastify. Some are also recording themselves teaching lessons and uploading those videos to Google Classroom. 

"Our students have been very quick to get signed up for their online classes. . . Today it was a pleasure to see that our core high school classes have full attendance," said Bjorkman on Friday. Parents have also been very supportive, and Bjorkman said the school division should be commended for helping get classes up and running as quickly as possible. 

The SPERD Board of Trustees is “truly grateful to all of St. Paul Education staff for coming together to ensure our students are receiving the best possible learning during this very challenging and difficult time,” said board chair Heather Starosielski. “The way ahead still has many unknowns, but we are confident that we will find solutions and adapt as necessary. With patience and understanding, our community will succeed through this unprecedented chapter in our world's history.” 

Francophone School Division 

The situation is similar in school divisions across the province. The Conseil scolaire Centre Est oversees a number of Francophone schools in the area, including École du Sommet in St. Paul. Superintendent Dolorese Nolette says she's been working closely with principals since the provincial announcement was made that classes would be cancelled. 

The school division is taking part in a collaborative initiative with Northern Lights Public Schools and Lakeland Catholic School District, as a way to "harmonize" its approach. She also notes the division is monitoring the health of its staff very closely. 

Teachers have been working to identify key concepts, while also working to minimize the slide back that is sometimes experienced when students are away from school for an extended period of time. 

"Parents are being very cooperative. And we're very appreciative of that," said Nolette. She noted that joint communications have been sent out to parents by the three school divisions, adding, the situation is an opportunity to "express solidarity." 

The province has not given a timeline on when students could expect to return to school as the situation around the COVID-19 virus changes daily.