February 1st marked the beginning of the second semester and the halfway point in the school year for all students in Pembina Hills. High school teachers will be welcoming new groups of students into their courses and therefore will be establishing new cohort groups. This is a great opportunity to refresh the various habits intended to limit the spread of illness.
This year has obviously been a very different experience for everyone. Halfway through the year is a significant milestone.
In September, everyone had to learn new protocols and habits. Parents had to navigate a somewhat vague “Daily Health Checklist” until the province responded with clearer guidelines for deciding whether to send their children to school or keep them at home. With the symptom list clarified, most schools fell into a regular rhythm, and student learning progressed.
Summary of Impact
We are genuinely grateful that we had relatively few cases in the first semester. Even though about 10% of PHSD students had to isolate due to a few cases in some of our schools, the majority of Pembina Hills students were able to continue learning. Here are Pembina Hills statistics from the first half of the school year:
- Number of students and staff who tested positive for COVID 19 (that we know of): 14
(PHSD has 3317 students)
- Number of schools who experienced a positive case: 5 of 14
- Number of students and staff who needed to isolate as ‘close contacts’ to a positive case: 314
- Number of Learning from Home days in the first semester due to province wide restrictions (of 92 total days):
- Grades 7 – 12: 20 days
- Kindergarten – Grade 6: 5 days
Educators are very aware of the disruption absenteeism causes to the continuity of learning. Each of the protocols have been designed to limit the loss of learning time but given the high rate of contagiousness of COVID-19, we expect to see some continued absences. Compared to schools in other parts of the province, and especially those in urban settings, PHSD schools and students have been relatively fortunate so far.
Maintaining Wellbeing Takes Effort
At the start of this school year, PHSD staff heard Canadian Olympic athlete Georgette Reed speak of maintaining balance and flow as a strategy to deal with things that are outside of our ability to control. People often talk about their plates being full. The plate represents the things in life that we balance; work, family, recreation etc. When something is added, removed or changed on the plate, the rest of the plate is impacted. Then, it can either tip over, or be corrected. Correcting it is the trick.
COVID-19 manages to find many ways to threaten the balance of our plates. Students, teachers, program assistants, and parents have all had to regain balance. This takes effort and it can be exhausting.
Mental health professionals advice includes finding time for physical activity, getting outside, and talking about the positive things in life with others. Expressing thankfulness to others or offering a compliment is very gratifying and has a powerful effect on bringing a return to balance.
Student and Staff Persistence is the Key
Like so many other character traits, students learn perseverance by addressing challenges head-on, through cooperation with others, and with the modelling, support and guidance of teachers. Pembina Hills School Division has an outstanding staff whose perseverance in the face of adversity has been nothing short of amazing.
Our school staff have altered their teaching methods considerably and have shown that they can efficiently move from teaching students face to face, to teaching students at home. Through consistent expectations and perseverance, our school staff have been crucial to keeping our students safe, healthy and learning. We all need to continue with the habits, practices and protocols that keep this virus at bay. With persistent, consistent effort we can have a productive second half of the school year.
Addressing School Division Priorities
The division’s 2020-2021 Education Plan identified 3 key priorities for this school year:
- Student-Teacher Relationships – Positive relationships between students and teachers are the foundation upon which we build students’ resilience, confidence and mental well-being.
- Literacy and Numeracy – Literacy and Numeracy are critical for Student Achievement in all areas of the curriculum.
- Support for Staff – A collaborative environment enables staff to teach a diverse student population through purposeful inclusion and supports the implementation of effective practices.
Despite COVID-19, our schools continue to address these priorities with specific actions. Principals continue to monitor the application of division wide standards for classroom literacy instruction. Teachers from several schools will be piloting various resources in our quest for tools to support Numeracy. Each school has assigned a teacher to the role of Inclusive Education Lead Teacher. This group is being trained by division staff to support teachers in their own schools to meet the needs of all the students in their classes.
Our March professional development day will provide all staff with strategies to support ongoing development of students’ resilience, confidence and mental well-being. While there are several Ed Plan strategies in play, each strategy complements the other and together we will sustain growth and learning for all students.
COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, but we have adapted. We have regained some balance and we continue to learn together. In the weeks to come, we will continue to adapt and adjust as the province releases restrictions based on their path forward. Thank you all for your continued understanding, cooperation and perseverance.