Many students have returned to school, face masks in hand. Nevertheless, parents are watchful about back to school safety. Here are the measures taken by three private schools to ensure the safety and health of their students.
The Linden School – Toronto, Ontario
The Linden School has sourced expert advice as well as feedback from parents and students to prepare the school environment to welcome back students in the wake of COVID-19, explains Beth Alexander, The Linden School’s Curriculum Leader.
“We need our students and staff to be safe, but we also wanted to preserve what made our school community special: hands-on learning, collaboration, and close relationships,” she says.
This means students are socially distanced in small cohorts of 15, which allows the school to continue offering a rich program including art, physical education, and technology. Other events, like their schools’ annual STEM for a Better World Fair, will run virtually.
Alexander says the school is focused on repairing lost social connections, balancing mental health needs with the increased physical demands of learning, and working with safety protocols. She suggests parents support their kids by ensuring that their children get lots of sleep, have time for active play, and have ways to connect with the people they care about–even at a distance. Although there are fears of an academic gap growing during school closures, it’s important to remember that kids, like adults, need adequate time for rest and play.
To support students who are unable to attend classes in person, Linden students can join classes synchronously through Zoom. “Because our classes are small, we can dedicate lots of time to supporting students in class and at home,” explains Alexander. Teachers also spent time in August engaged in professional development to ensure that online learning is as rich and authentic as in-person learning. “There are a lot of positive changes we’re excited about, including new online portals and a greater emphasis on outdoor education,” says Alexander.
Rothesay Netherwood School – Rothesay, New Brunswick
Rothesay Netherwood School began working with New Brunswick Public Health and a medical officer to create a comprehensive plan back in April. “We considered questions like ‘How will a classroom operate?’ and ‘How do we clean between classes?’” explains Craig Jollymore, Assistant Head of School at RNS. As a result, there have been small changes to the school’s daily routine. “But we remain committed to the same great experience for our students,” he adds. As a result, classrooms were reorganized to meet physical distancing requirements, directional flow patterns were instituted and classrooms are sanitized between groups. RNS also added a second lunchtime seating in their dining hall to accommodate physical distancing. The school is now offering virtual tours for prospective families not within the Atlantic Canada bubble. “RNS has a rich advisor program,” says Jollymore.
“We ensure that every student feels safe and their physical, social, and mental health needs are being addressed.”
Back in the summer, RNS connected with parents through email, social media, and virtual town hall events to help students adapt and prepare for the “new normal.” “We have encouraged parents to show their children how to properly wear a face mask, to go over hand washing procedure, and to talk to them about any anxiety or concerns they might be having,” says Jollymore.
With classrooms, fitness facilities, a dining hall, and walking trails on 125-acres, Rothesay is well set up for in-class learning, where students truly benefit from connecting with peers and faculty. However, Jollymore says the school also offers learning support for students absent due to COVID-19.
“Meanwhile, RNS students can expect the same exceptional experience that comes with being a member of our close-knit, family-like community,” he adds.
Toronto Montessori School – Toronto, Ontario
The 2020-2021 Academic Year at TMS will look different from years past but we have worked hard to ensure our students at every age and stage continue to get an excellent education in both our Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs. TMS has worked hard across both their campuses to ensure the health of students and staff and that their ur campuses to ensure the health and safety of students and faculty and that their pupils continue to get an excellent education in both Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs. “We acknowledge we are very fortunate to have the support of our community,” says Dionne Malcolm, Director, Strategic Communication and Marketing. The school has investing in ventilation, including installing “air scrubbers” that remove 99.7% of viruses from the air in learning spaces. In classrooms with younger students, TMS installed plexiglass room and table dividers, purchased additional iPads, enhanced WiFi access throughout the school, and hired additional supply teachers.
As well as a daily health screening for staff and students, classes are reduced to cohorts of 15 students with one teacher, coupled with physical distancing. Malcolm says TMS is also committed to delivering education outdoors for as long as they can. For students who opt for distance learning, TMS is live-streaming classes, which allows students at home to continue to take part in lessons, discussions, and classroom activities.
In response to COVID-19, TMS is mindful of the needs of student wellness. Elementary students will participate in a daily community circle, focusing on themes of friendship, self-awareness, positivity, and gratitude, while older students are building skills in compassion, well-being, and resilience. Malcolm says family and individual counselling supports are also available at TMS.
“A nudge toward independence is also new for us since parents can’t come into our buildings,” says Malcolm.
Younger students are greeted at drop off and escorted to their class. He adds that the school also has a great home/school partnerships, which means families are in constant communication with teachers and can raise any concerns they may have.