Schools prepare for Monday’s limited return of students

WINNIPEG — Starting June 1, students will be able to attend school for small group and one-on-one sessions.

While it is a step towards normalcy, students will have to be invited by teachers and will only be allowed to attend at certain times of the day.

Krysta Pooley, a science teacher at West Kildonan Collegiate, is welcoming the limited reopening.

She said making the switch to a virtual classroom has been a struggle.

“I feel like a first-year teacher again. I’m reinventing everything even though I have a really good grasp on my material, turning it digital has been a huge challenge,” said Pooley.

She will continue teaching primarily digitally for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not going to be a normal class. It’s just going to be small pockets of kids,” she said. “It’s primarily just the kids who are struggling who might not have access to all of the technology.”

West Kildonan Collegiate’s principal says preparing the school for the arrival of students has been a large undertaking.

“We are spending large amounts of the day planning for this, meeting with custodial teams in our school, across the division, communicating with parents, teachers, really trying to keep people up with communication,” said Howard Kowalkchuk, the school’s principal.

Before entering, students have to complete an online screening tool. Then, once inside the facility, they must wash their hands. Students will also have to use hand sanitizer before entering classrooms and sit at spaced out desks.

The school is also keeping a live document of who is in the school, where they are and at what times.

Although a lot of work, the West Kildonan Collegiate staff stress the importance of meeting students face-to-face.

“School is really meant to be a conversation between students and teachers, and I think there’s so much nuance in education that it’s really hard to communicate ideas and have some back and forth and feedback remotely,” said Kowalchuk.

To Pooley, the extra precautions are well worth it if it means helping a struggling student.

“This disconnect for someone who is an extrovert has been a huge challenge for me,” she said. “I crave the attention with the children and the interactions, that’s why I am a teacher.”

Pooley said that while most students are happy to come back, many still aren’t comfortable with returning.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said on Friday that careful reopening is essential.

“Physical distancing is still critical,” he said. “This virus is still in our province, and we need to continue to find ways to reopen successfully, but being aware of this virus.”

The province has said regular schooling wouldn’t happen during the current school year, and nothing is set in stone yet for the next school year.