Due to COVID-19, what it means to be a school teacher has changed overnight – yet in some ways, it has remained the same.
Despite not being able to meet in person, most schools across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are maintaining ‘contact’ with their students in the virtual world.
From online classes, to weekly activity challenges, and even a series of parades at schools across the district to let students know they’re missed, teachers are finding innovative ways keep in touch.
The delivery model for the curriculum may have changed, but what seems to have remained for schools in the region is a “culture of care.”
Understanding that families across the province are under more stress than before, Laity View Elementary (21023 123 Ave.) principal Kristi Blakeway says the focus for teachers and support staff is the health and safety of their students.
Laity staff meet online once a week to discuss how students and families are doing, and if there’s a concern that should be addressed.
“We try to wraparound services by having our counsellors check in, we have childcare workers who will connect with the family and make sure their needs are being met,” Blakeway said. “So each week, that’s our priority, even above learning right now – the health and safety of our kids and their families.”
Ironically, provincial measures to prohibit people from physically interacting has actually – in the case of Laity View students and parents – brought people together.
“People have been really positive and people have really come together and focused on that sense of community. We’ve had parents who have reached out to help other families that might be in need. It seems that even though we’re in a different time, it’s really brought people together,” Blakeway said.
Laity View’s message to parents is that as much as teachers want to provide learning opportunities to the students, their objective is to not provide additional stress in an already difficult time.
“The emotional well-being of our students is our first priority. Our brains aren’t actually able to learn new material when we’re in a stressed-out-state. So our focus is to maintain that sense of calm and that sense of family, and to do the school work that’s provided as you can. But we very much understand that if there’s a family under stress or hardship or someone’s sick in their family… learning is not as high a priority as their health and well-being.”
Teachers have found creative ways to stay in touch with their students during the shutdown period, Blakeway added. Teachers are making phone calls, conducting Zoom video-conference classes, and even writing hand-written letters, which allows students to write back and advance their writing skills.
The Zoom classes are frequently scheduled throughout the week, but the number of calls has been reduced for the younger students.
“Because, as you can imagine, it’s probably hard to have 20 five-year-olds on Zoom at the same time.”
An unforeseen positive of regular video conference calls has been students reaction to being able to see their classmates, even if it’s only virtually.
“I think it’s an emotional time for kids as they’re not able to see their friends. Some teachers have shared that the kids have been excited, even in tears, seeing their friends on Zoom and missing that connection,” Blakeway said.
Laity View Elementary put together a video highlighting what teachers and students have been doing from their home.
The video features more than a dozen different students, including a clip of students banging pots and pans to celebrate health-care staff at 7 p.m., and students decorating their homes to thank frontline workers.
Planning for the future can be a difficult task when it’s hard to predict what, exactly, the future will look like. However, Blakeway said, they do have a starting point.
“Right now we’re trying to lower the anxiety by having people understand that we’re truly in this together, so students are not going to be in a place where they’re left behind,” Blakeway said. “When school goes back to normal, we will start where the kids are (at) instead of looking at it through a lens of what they missed.
“We want to focus on their strengths and what they can do.”
Tuesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said the province has lent out 23,000 computers and has 20,000 teachers set up with Zoom video conferencing software to assist with teaching.
Virtual dance and band practice are part of the efforts school districts are making to support students.
Flemming said there is no date set for B.C. schools to reopen, and the plan is to “dial up” attendance at schools, starting with offering classroom instruction to essential and other workers with young children.