British Columbia

Outdoor classes, extra cleaning among restart plans at Vancouver Island schools

Outdoor school, hybrid learning models and air-exchange systems are among customized elements of back-to-school plans for Vancouver Island districts.

Mix of online and in-class studies considered in Victoria

Cowichan Valley School District's 2020 school reopening plan features two new programs, including a nature education option for five to 13-year-olds. (Cowichan Valley School District - SD 79/ Facebook)

Safe school restart plans have been approved by provincial education officials in time for the scheduled return of students on Sept. 10.  But specifics of the plans vary widely from district to district.

On the Island host Gregor Craigie checked in with several Vancouver Island school districts about key elements and challenges for their back-to-school plans. 

Clearing the air in Nanaimo-Ladysmith district schools 

A key element of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District's safe school reopening preparations was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic was even on the horizon.

SD 68 secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said, by lucky coincidence, the district has already completed most of a multi-year plan to improve air quality in the schools.

"So we have modern HVAC systems in every single school in our district except for two," Walsh said. "What that means is that we're able to increase fresh air flow throughout the schools." 

Other infection-prevention measures taken by the district include purchase of a sanitizing machine for each school so that all classrooms are sanitized every evening.

Walsh said he expects a very high number of students to return for classroom learning Sept. 10. 

Hybrid learning model 'under consideration'  

While Greater Victoria School District superintendent Shelley Green says the schools and staff are ready and eager to welcome students, one sought-after option for the Return to School Plan 2020  is still under consideration: A hybrid in-class/at-home learning model for students in Grades 1 to 8.

The original plan urged students who are unable or not ready to return to class to sign up for distributed learning programs through a public or private distance education school.

"We very quickly started to hear from our communities to our principals and vice-principals and certainly through a public consultation on our website that there was some high level of concern on particularly two areas," Green said. Families worried that distance learning spaces would not have enough spaces, and that their children would lose their seat at their local school by signing up for distance learning.

Green said the district has received many requests from families to offer additional options for remote learning without losing their child's space at their local school.

A survey by the district, which closes Aug. 31, will gauge the level of interest in online instruction in Greater Victoria-area schools for Grades 1 through 8. The hybrid option would include a mix of home study, classroom and remote instruction.

 "If the uptake is significant, we will reorganize in our building and be able to offer the two [options] from Grade 1 to Grade 8," Green said. 

Outdoor or self-directed study?  

Cowichan Valley School District is offering two new programs as part of its return to school plans for September.

SD79 board chair Candace Spilsbury said the programs were developed in response to concerns expressed by parents.

"They were saying, what what can you do to support us educationally and emotionally, socially for our young ones, that doesn't require full-time in-class instruction?"

Cowichan Valley School District 79 plans two new options for the September 2020 return to school including an outdoor education program. (Cowichan Valley School District - SD 79/Facebook)

Inquisitive Design and Technology will allow Grade 4 to 7 students the opportunity to learn through investigation supported by technology while focusing on solutions to real world problems outlined in the curriculum.

Mill Bay Nature Blended Clans will involve classes of students aged five to 13 with program content that is structured on individual learning plans.


With files from CBC Radio On the Island 

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