As students ease back into a normal school routine, staff in Winnipeg’s Pembina Trails School Division have been working to identify and address the gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students in Manitoba returned to school without pandemic restrictions in September, after more than two-and-a-half years of pandemic disruptions, which have included stints of remote learning, separating classes into cohorts and cancelled activities.
“I think they really feel happy to be back,” said Sarah Allum, a support services teacher at General Byng School in the Fort Garry area.
“Many students don’t view it as, ‘Oh, I’m back at school this is so hard.’ They’re actually happy to be here and interacting with their friends and their teachers and learning, because they know it’s more effective than over a screen.”
Allum works with students up to Grade 5 at General Byng, a kindergarten to Grade 9 school.
She said with pandemic disruptions came challenges like equal access to technology at home during remote learning, and not being able to connect in-person with teachers and other students.
“We’re just relearning some of the skills of how to share, how to co-operate, how to follow a classroom routine,” she said.
‘There are some gaps’
Part of Allum’s role also includes working with students who need extra support with schoolwork.
Julie Cordova, divisional principal of curriculum with the Pembina Trails School Division, said provincial assessment data from the 2021-22 school year shows the number of students in grades 3 and 4 who met numeracy and reading expectations dropped by about 5.5 per cent, compared to 2019-20.
The Grade 7 numeracy results were similar, but Grade 8 literacy showed no real change, she said.
“We are noticing that there are some gaps, and with that we’ve been putting in a number of strategies in place to respond to the needs of students,” said Cordova.
The grades 3 and 4 provincial assessments for this school year start this month, she said.
Cordova said she can’t point to one factor that led to those gaps, but remote learning, absenteeism, and not being able to be at school and connect with peers are all potential factors.
The school division is working to help close the gaps, including focusing on mental health and well-being, investing in new math resources, and spending an additional $1 million on literacy resources last year, said Cordova.
The division has invested in the Levelled Literacy Intervention program, a system designed by two American educators to help students who find reading and writing difficult. Cordova describes it as a short-term and targeted intervention based on the needs of the student, which includes work kits for every school and staffing to help teach it.
The program was first piloted in Pembina Trails before the pandemic, she said, but was expanded through provincial COVID-19 funding.
“COVID hit and we were looking for what might be an additional resource we could use to support our students with their literacy outcomes,” she said.
Cordova said based on their own data, the program has had positive results.
“Ninety-three per cent of students that were involved in the … [literacy intervention program] improved in their reading comprehension and accuracy,” she said.
The division is always looking at ways to improve programming for students, said Cordova, but the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to uncover ways to reimagine how school is done to better meet the needs of all learners, like expanding the literacy program.
“So that really is a silver lining out of all this,” said Cordova.
“We know that there’s things that have been working [in the past] and then there’s some things that might be better if they look a little bit different to meet the needs of kids.”