Public school teachers and staffers with School District 82 are redoubling efforts this week to reach families and students with whom they have yet to make contact. (File photo)

Schools ramp up contact efforts with students

Efforts of school district employees called “extraordinary”

Public school teachers and staffers are redoubling efforts this week to reach families and students they have yet to make contact with now that schools remain off-limits owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district had attempted to make contact online by having parents and guardians fill out a survey as to the number of and type of devices at home and the level of internet access available and just 20 per cent or 869 responses came back, said School District 82 acting school superintendent Janet Meyer.

That works out to 20 per cent of the school district’s student population of 4,100 although, added Meyer, some of those responses would have been from households containing one or more students.

Determining the ability of students to be in online contact with both teachers and fellow students is at the core of the district’s efforts to

While some families who do have internet access and who do have sufficient devices simply may not have known of the survey or filled it out, Meyer acknowledged that there is a gap that has been occupying much of the time of the school district teachers and staffers.

“The equity piece is the biggest challenge we have right now,” said Meyer of connecting all students with their teachers.

To that end, the district has repurposed some of the devices it has and has purchased others for delivery to households.

It has also been speaking with Telus and CityWest about the possibilities of internet connectivity to households to ensure online access.

And for some households, the district is working on a system to deliver written learning material.

That’s being done by placing specific vehicles within the communities the district serves.

They’ll be driven by CUPE workers versed in a strict protocol of safe physical distancing behaviour, said Meyer.

She repeated earlier assurances that Grade 12 students who were on track to graduate prior to the cancellation of in-person instruction will do so.

Grade 12 students do have to write a numeracy assessment in order to graduate and for “those who have yet to write the numeracy assessment, they will be given the opportunity to do so,” Meyer added.

She said particular attention will be given to Grade 12 students who are on the graduation bubble as to work needed to get them to the completion point.

“We know everyone of our learners in these situations and know where they are at risk and we will offer to engage them,” Meyer added.

Above all, however, the district has set a goal of connecting with students to support their emotional and social well-being.

“At a time like this, there are more challenges than normal,” she said.

Meyer had words of praise for district’s complement of staffers, support workers, maintenance workers, teachers, its IT technicians and others.

“What we have accomplished is in no small part due to the people of this district,” she said, adding that while much has been done there is still a lot to do.

Custodians and maintenance workers, for example, spent long hours getting the schools cleaned so they could be safe for teachers to enter after spring break while IT workers did in two weeks what would ordinarily take months, Meyer said by way of example.

She described the work of teachers as “nothing short of extraordinary” in learning and adapting to online technologies.

Playgrounds still in use

Local governments throughout the area may have blocked off access to playground equipment but that’s not the case with equipment located at schools.

There’s been no requirement to block access coming from either the education minister or the provincial health officer, said Meyer.

“And we take our direction from the minister of education and the provincial health officer,” she said.

No layoffs

First Nations education assistants and other education who work closely with vulnerable children remain on the district’s payroll even though there are no classes. The same goes for school-based clerical staff.

Some are phoning each student to check in on their well-being, said Meyer.

“There’s a guarantee of employment until the end of the month,” she said in affirming the direction given by the education ministry.

Buses are still a cost

With classroom instruction suspended, there’s no need for buses or for drivers but that doesn’t mean the district doesn’t have obligations under its bussing contract with Diversified Transportation.

But just how much won’t be know until later in the year, said Meyer.

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