Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Samantha Dalcourt

Kingston, Ontario Elementary School teachers anxiously prep for their first day amidst COVID-19 pandemic: “This year is definitely different and there are many unknowns”, says *Julia*, a Kingston elementary school teacher.

*Julia* is not the name of the elementary school teacher as she wishes to remain anonymous.

As a result of Covid-19 precautions, schools shut down, enforcing at home e-learning measures from March-June, 2020. Now that the number of cases dropped in Ontario, schools are ready to allow student back into their classrooms.

Although concern regarding spreading the disease is apparent, teachers are trying their best to maintain ease and safety as Kingston schools set to open, September 3rd, 2020.

Putting an emphasis on instilling mental health practices above a perfect curriculum, Julia acknowledges how little time teachers have had to develop enough material to make up for in class lost time and teaching practices. Teachers acknowledge the discrepancy, but hope to focus on the well being of faculty, parents, and students. Primarily, they, “are being encouraged to keep an eye out and be aware of the mental well being of all of our students. For the first month or so, curriculum will definitely be taking a step back. It is more important to establish a connection and create a positive classroom community amidst all of these changes!”

Lost time will be looked at on an individual basis, Julia admits. “We are all going through a trauma together. The learning that occurred from March-June 2020 was done to the best of its ability, however, many families (teachers included!) had to deal with unexpected things that turned their lives upside down.”

Curriculum’s are set to perform as they can during such uncertain times. It is important to focus on their reintegration into a physical learning setting.

“I feel like this should be a new start. The curriculum will come (it always does!) and students will be able to be in a classroom environment again. I think this will make all the difference in their learning.” Julia said.

Parents and students should expect some more rules to help protect everyone, but the same fun and connection that schools bring with it. Schools will bring forth new innovative ways to interact with one another such as, “air high fives instead of real ones…but still awesome”, says Julia—everyone is going through this learning process together, and being open with each other is going to lead to a lot of success.”

Teachers are said to do, “Mental Health Training” to learn more about health and safety training to be prepared for student entry and to make it as seamless as possible. Students will be introduced to fun markings and stickers around the school to indicate distance, and wear to stand and walk. There is a push for more outdoor learning, as well as other learning methods will be introduced and practiced outside. Welcome, and walk-through videos of schools are being created to help students and parents understand what to expect as they return to school.

Students will sit, stand, play where they are designated, says Julia, but will be unable to interact with students from other classrooms to avoid possibly spreading the virus.

As well, wearing a mask which ensures that they are keeping others safe, but also informing the school if they are unable to wear a mask for any reason—this even exists on the playground.

Julia explains, “there will be lots of hand sanitization, rules for bathroom breaks (only 1 boy and 1 girl at a time from each class), and lots of measures in place to ensure that there isn’t a lot of foot traffic in hallways. Being respectful and kind to others will be of great importance this year.

However, schools will not facilitate extra-curricular activities due to an inability to monitor and contain possible Covid cases. Some schools are providing students with other online alternatives such as Book Clubs.

E-Learning vs In Class Learning

Schools are still providing both an online learning experience, as well as an in class one. Schools hope parents feel secure in their choice to either send them back to school, or keep them home. Here is what a Kingston based elementary school teachers has to say about the commonalities and differences between in class and E-learning:

“It can be difficult to keep engagement online because everyone’s learning style is different. Some people had issues with internet connectivity, understanding assignments, or being able to meet at the designated online live learning time. Some students expressed difficulty feeling like part of the “classroom” because they weren’t physically their with their class everyday”.

 However, e-learning also gave way to some great tools for assessment and instruction. Students were able to demonstrate their learning in interesting ways (often video, stop motion, audio, slide presentations, etc.) and it was a great way for teachers to keep organized and have their tools all in one place: Our ability to teach is definitely going to change and be different. In some ways, it feels like we will be stepping back in time. Teaching for so long has been about collaboration, flexible seating, hands-on and inquiry-based learning. I encourage my students to walk around and explore within the classroom.”

However, with the new rules in place, they will be sitting at their desks most of the day. They will be with their “co-hort” (the people in their classroom) for every activity in their day; recess, lunch, snack time and classroom work is all done with the same people.

There is going to be a lot more individual work and lack of movement within the classroom. Having a mask and visor will make it difficult to instruct my students, but teachers are hoping to make learning fun and welcoming through the use of technology, “and creative, innovative teaching techniques that help unite my students.”

Enrolment Inquiries

Parents were hesitant to send their kids to school given health risks, but parents changed their minds once masks became mandatory, and the Ministry of Education changed things (such as new secondary school semester). Exact enrollment numbers are unknown, but each classroom, as of right now, is at its full capacity: Grade 4 has 23 students, and grades 7 and 8 have much more according to a source.

Necessary in-class precautions

To take precautions, teachers are spacing out desks and chairs as much as possible to allow for appropriate distancing, and as a result, rooms have had to be emptied to allow for more floor space: “(i.e. reading tents, bean bag chairs, extra shelves of books, etc.) There has been a struggle to find out the proper way for seating because the number of students in a classroom hasn’t changed.”

Concerns Regarding Pandemic

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Teachers are also facing their own worries regarding coming back to classrooms and as much as everyone is excited to get back into a routine, and have a sense of normalcy, according to Julia. There are many things that have changed that could prevent us from feeling that way.

 “I am definitely feeling overwhelmed and apprehensive about this new school year. Personally, one of my family members I live with is highly immunocompromised. I worry about a second wave and being exposed to more people; even with all the safety precautions in place. However, I am also excited to be back in the classroom and making those connections with my students again.

“I know that if I am feeling anxious about all this, I can only imagine what someone younger than me is thinking! I want to make the school year as welcoming as possible for them, but I am still aware of how this affects me and my family as well.”

Parents have reached out to administration asking questions that no one really has answers to, asking what happens if a student is tested positive for Covid in a classroom or should a whole classroom have to be quarantined and get tested if someone is compromised.

“There are also questions about Special Education students and those with learning/behavioral needs. If their child needs body breaks, will they be able to get them? I believe that everyone’s attitude to opening up is a mixture of apprehension and excitement (for students, parents and teachers).”

It is apparent schools are trying their best to do what they can given the circumstances, and that hopefully soon, if we take these measures seriously, time at school should lift the spirits of children, staff and parents.

For more information on Ontario’s Health Guidelines, and per-cautionary measures, visit Government of Ontario’s guide here.

Samantha Dalcourt is the Features Editor for YGK News