Logan Orgill lasted four days at his new school.
The Grade 10 student started classes at Bowness High School in Calgary on Sept. 1, the first Tuesday of the month. Crowded hallways and other violations of coronavirus protocol stressed him out. By Saturday, his mom got the call: Logan may have been exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while at school and the entire family must self-isolate for 14 days. That means Logan’s brother and sister are missing school, too.
“I’m here, at my house, bored out of my mind, doing nothing,” Logan said last week. The school did not assign homework or schedule classes online, he said. “They’re just going on teaching people. But what about the kids at home, not learning anything? Like, how are we supposed to catch up on that stuff?”
Most schools in Alberta have been open about two weeks and Logan’s turbulent start provides a glimpse of what pupils, parents and educators across the country will grapple with this year. Students and teachers who opted to spend the year in physical schools will be expected to toggle between learning in classrooms and studying at home for extended stretches. Institutions will have to manage teacher shortages caused by potential exposure to COVID-19. Parents will have to figure out how to educate their children at home with little warning.
Logan’s mom, a single parent worried about her family’s health and future disruptions in her children’s schools, yanked him from Bowness and enrolled him in the Calgary Board of Education’s Outreach program, where students study independently, and occasionally pop into bricks-and-mortar facilities for help. But first, Logan said he has to finish self-isolating.
“It is definitely messing up my education because we need to learn and missing high school is kind of different,” Logan, 15, said.
Alberta Health Services had identified 32 people who attended schools while infectious with COVID-19 in 29 schools as of Friday, according to Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer. Students and staff members who may have been exposed to positive cases were ordered to self-isolate for two weeks, even if they received a negative test for COVID-19. Alberta would not reveal how many students were ordered to isolate.
Jennifer Fane, a professor in the school of education and childhood studies at B.C.'s Capilano University, said students and parents should not get overly anxious about how pupils are progressing as they switch between studying at school and home. Teachers, she said, will retrace their lessons when they detect educational gaps.
“Prepare for back and forth and remember every child in Canada, really, is in the same place. All schools, all school districts, all grades, are dealing with this,” Prof. Fane said.
“And teachers aren’t going to forget that next year when they get a group of children” who are behind in some areas. “They’ll go back and cover those essentials before they move on to the next.”
Alberta expects every school division to have remote learning plans ready for when children have to miss school. Generally, students enrolled in traditional schools should have access to tools that serve as online bulletin boards, where teachers post lessons and assignments and students submit homework and receive feedback.
The result, however, is a patchwork system, depending on the district, school and teacher. Some divisions are more experienced with remote learning; some students and areas of the province are short on access to technology and the internet. Some school authorities are still working out the details and were not ready for hundreds of students to be ordered home within days of resuming classes.
This type of remote learning is different than online schooling. Remote learning is meant to fill in the gaps when children miss class; online instruction is a separate program that replaces in-person teaching entirely.
About 536,600 students signed up for in-class learning in Alberta’s public, separate, francophone and charter schools this year, according to Colin Aitchison, a spokesman for the Minister of Education. About 136,100 students in those same systems enrolled in distance learning programs, he said. (The province does not have comparable enrolment numbers for in-class and distance learning programs from previous years because, until COVID-19 hit, it only tracked the number of students registered with each school authority, he said.)
Schools, like students and parents, are making decisions on the fly. Roughly 100 students in Edmonton’s Ross Sheppard School were ordered to isolate early last week. Megan Normandeau, a spokeswoman for Edmonton Public Schools, said the pupils are “being supported online through asynchronous learning," where teachers assign activities that are completed by students throughout the day. It may include watching videos, posting information on message boards or exchanging e-mails, she explained.
Ross Sheppard temporarily hired five teachers who are working online, in collaboration with school staff, to help isolating students, Ms. Normandeau said in a statement.
Public-health guidelines, coupled with parental nerves, have increased the number students staying away from schools well beyond those who may have shared a classroom with someone who was infectious.
Stacey Ferguson has three daughters – one in preschool, one in Grade 1 and another in Grade 3. Last Monday, the oldest woke up with a barking cough and raspy voice. That meant she needed a COVID-19 test and could not attend school. And because that daughter was under investigation for the disease, her other children had to stay home, according to the school’s daily screening protocol. Their dad, a heavy-duty mechanic, also had to stay home, although his employer has a sick-leave program.
“It feels like we’re back to lockdown,” Ms. Ferguson said. Her children attend Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School, which is part of the Calgary Catholic School District. She was not given any homework instructions when she called last week to notify the school her children would be absent.
Ms. Ferguson does not blame the school for being ill-prepared so early in the year. She is, however, contemplating homeschooling her children so she can establish a predictable routine, which would allow her to resume her insurance business while still teaching her children.
Tara Orgill, Logan Orgill’s mother, is not considering this option. She concedes she does not have the skills necessary to educate her children.
“I’m not a teacher,” Ms. Orgill said. “I don’t know how teachers do it, but they do it.”
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