Manitoba

Air hugs, butterfly wings and health screening: Inside a Winnipeg school prepping to reopen amid COVID-19

Monday will mark the first day back at school for a limited number of students in Manitoba, but it won't be back to normal.

Schools can have students back Monday for 1-on-1 or small group instruction, assessments, limited programming

Manon Kent, a kindergarten teacher in Winnipeg, is marking where students can sit in her classroom on Monday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

When some Manitoba students return to school on Monday, it will be anything but familiar. 

Teachers are scrubbing down classrooms, spacing out desks and going over new protocols as they prepare to welcome small groups of students back to a new normal.

"There's a little bit of nerves," said Karen Hiscott, principal at Constable Edward Finney School in northwest Winnipeg.

"We've put a lot of protocols into place. We think we've thought of all the details, but I'm sure there's something that will come up that we need to work through."

At the Maples-area school, hand-sanitizing dispensers have been installed in hallways, desks are configured two meters apart and stickers line the floors to remind students to keep their distance.

WATCH | Teachers prep classrooms, welcome students back to new normal:

Teachers are scrubbing down classrooms, spacing out desks and going over new protocols as they prepare to welcome small groups of students back to a new normal. 2:30

Under the Manitoba's Phase 2 reopening guidelines, schools are able to welcome students back for one-on-one or small group instruction, assessments and other limited programming beginning June 1.

Schools must ensure physical distancing and host no more than 25 people per room. The use of outdoor spaces is also encouraged.

Day starts outside

At Hiscott's school, students will start the school day outside.

Colourful markers will be attached at various points along the school's chain link fence. When students arrive, they will find their assigned group via the coloured marker. After that, teachers will begin health screening. 

"I'll be asking questions to make sure that the child is healthy and is able to come to school that day," said Manon Kent, a kindergarten teacher at Constable Edward Finney. "If there is even so much as, 'oh, there was a slight fever last night,' it's an immediate no."

Once students are screened, they will be given a squirt of hand sanitizer before entering the school building at designated entrances.

Classrooms are being configured to ensure physical distancing at Manitoba schools prior to partially reopening June 1. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

In Kent's kindergarten class, tape marks the spots where students will sit. She has already planned her first lesson to help her students with physical distancing.

"Our very first activity is going to be making some butterfly wings," she said.

"Students will be wearing these kinds of butterfly wings, and I'll also be putting some little balloons at the end."

That's intended to give students a visual and physical cue they may be too close.

"If my balloon is touching someone else's, then we're just too close to each other."

Kent said she was inspired by schools in China that have implemented similar methods to help children grasp how far to stay apart.

Roughly half of her students will be returning to school. She will teach nine students in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, with a break in between to sanitize the classroom.

The school will accommodate up to 150 students and staff a day, Hiscott said, adding the building's multiple wings and entrances allow for them to set up multiple contained sites. 

Classrooms will be cleaned before and after every group session and bathrooms will be cleaned hourly, she said. 

Physically distanced seating at Constable Edward Finney School in Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Hiscott estimates 70 per cent of students have accepted the invitation to return in June and teachers will continue with remote courses for students at home.

Kent says she is excited to see her students on Monday but knows they might need reminders not to hug the friends they have missed.

"We're just going to be doing air versions of those instead, so an air high-five or air hug," she said. "We can squeeze ourselves and send it to the other person across from us."

She hopes returning to school will provide her students some structure and normalcy during an otherwise unusual time.

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. She previously worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and as an associate producer for the CBC documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.

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