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Educators are making sure to address student gaps in learning brought about by the pandemic through regular assessments and extra supports.St. MILDRED’S-LIGHTBOURN SCHOOL

Private schools are addressing the learning losses that might have come about because of COVID-19

Months of continuous change from in-class learning to online learning, fear of COVID-19 and its impact on close family and friends, and the absence of in-person connections with teachers and fellow students have created a perfect storm that is causing angst among Canadian parents and educators. It’s called pandemic learning loss and it has policy-makers and educators examining strategies to address the gaps and prepare and support students for a better tomorrow.

Some of Canada’s private schools are ahead of the curve. Tara Silver, principal of The Linden School, an independent girls’ school in Toronto, is keenly aware of the pandemic’s impact on students.

“The younger students are not as aware. They’re still able to be with their friends and learn with them,” Silver says. “The older students are worried about keeping up or feeling unmotivated. We try to bring stress levels down for them and reinforce that everyone understands we’re all going through this. It’s about resetting and reframing the overall anxiety level for students and parents.”

Strong teacher/student communication is a mainstay at The Linden School. Silver says: “Our teachers take time to review, notice gaps and reinforce some of the material. We can do that because our classes are quite small.” Silver works closely with universities and uses those networks to help the school’s older students overcome fears or concerns about making the transition to post-secondary. “Professors know this is happening. They are spending time in their first-year courses reviewing material from Grades 11 and 12. They’re treating it as a clean slate – making accommodations for students and offering them extra mental health and other supports.”

ROTHESAY NETHERWOOD SCHOOL

With 100 students in junior kindergarten to Grade 12, The Linden School is unique in that is was created to incorporate cutting-edge research on girls’ educational needs, from primary to secondary school. Of the school’s 25 teachers, some have master’s degrees and are engaged in doctoral-level research on early child education and other important issues. Three teachers have earned the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Research is fundamental to the school’s philosophy and direction and the school is studying the research around pandemic learning loss very closely. Silver says: “In 2022, the school plans to introduce remediation programs after school and in the summer based on research that is emerging.”

In 2020, the president of the Royal Society of Canada mobilized a task force to provide evidence-informed perspectives on major societal challenges in response to and recovery from COVID-19. A series of working groups focused on key issues, one of them education. According to the Society, more than 90 per cent of the world’s 1.6 billion students have been impacted by school closures. In Canada, all provincial and territorial schools were closed for extended periods at some point during the pandemic, the longest being in Ontario where children and youth were out for more than half of the 2020-2021 academic year.

In August 2021, the Royal Society of Canada published its policy briefing, Children and Schools During COVID-19 and Beyond: Engagement and Connection. It calls for swift action and offers ten recommendations for a ‘pandemic recovery in education’ including intervention programs such as small group offerings during the school day, individual virtual supports provided after school, summer camps with a combination of play, high quality recreation, and academics.

"Our teachers take time to review, notice gaps and reinforce some of the material. We can do that because our classes are quite small.

Tara Silver
Principal, The Linden School

For Havergal College, one of Canada’s pre-eminent independent schools for girls from junior kindergarten to Grade 12, the idea of individual and personal support for its students is not new. Homeroom teachers in the junior school and advisors in the upper school meet with students every day whether in-person or remotely. In the junior school, a learning support team that includes a child and youth worker, supports students with academic, social, and emotional needs. For older students, there are six guidance counsellors, three learning support specialists and a full-time social worker offering their support and expertise.

“We also have a director of wellbeing at the school to provide programming and support to help students build the skills they need to navigate ups and downs, be resilient and thrive,” says Lindsay Norberg, associate head of school.

Leaders at Havergal College are mindful of the impact of the pandemic on their students and the greater impact of closures. “The closures have had the most significant impacts in terms of social skills and self-regulation skills, especially for our youngest learners. Students are less able to manage frustrations and navigate social conflict. This is a bigger concern outside of the classroom, beyond academics,” says Seonaid Davis, vice-principal, teaching and learning.

Bayview Glen

During a time when upheaval and change has become the new normal, Havergal has worked to preserve and protect routine. Classroom teachers meet with students every day in a schedule that is consistent and predictable. The school made the decision early on to keep a similar schedule for both in-person and remote. Teachers monitor students and check in when students seem to require extra support.

“The pandemic has been challenging for many students. They are navigating their third disrupted academic year. Our programs have been able to shift to allow for decreased student contacts when school is in-person and to provide remote learning in times when schools have been closed,” Norberg says. “Teachers at Havergal always keep their focus on what is most important for students to learn, allowing them to change the pace of lessons appropriate to the situation. We use diagnostic assessments on a regular basis to know where our students are and what they need to be successful.”

As Canadian decision-makers and educators work to implement strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on young learners, private schools like The Linden School and Havergal College are leading the way, continuing to offer students and families quality education in a supportive environment.


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