Nfld. & Labrador·Q&A

High schools in N.L. are opening again. Here's what you need to know

Classroom learning is back in session for high school students across Newfoundland and Labrador. CBC asked officials what that entails.

Education minister, school district CEO answer pressing questions as blended learning begins Wednesday

It's not clear yet what going back to school entails for high school students across Newfoundland and Labrador, who enter a blended learning model Wednesday. The school board says teachers are responsible for structuring their own lessons. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

High school students across Newfoundland and Labrador are returning to in-person learning Wednesday after two months of distance education.

Despite officials lifting public health restrictions last month, high schools remained largely closed, with students directed to log in to virtual classrooms each morning. The lengthy break from school grounds left both kids and parents calling for a return to in-person teaching, citing lowered attendance and engagement and concerns over social isolation.

Education Minister Tom Osborne and Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack said last week they heard those pleas, and after consultation with public health officials decided on a "blended" learning model that would see students return to class at 50 per cent capacity, on an alternating schedule that would send them to school on some days and have them in virtual sessions on others.

It's not yet clear how that model will look in practice. Stack has said teachers might split their attention between online and in-class groups during a single period, assigning different tasks. Or students working online might interact with those at school in one large group lesson.

The board said in a media release Tuesday, however, that virtual sessions will include "a direct daily connection between students and teachers, even if the student is not physically present."

While in class, students and staff must wear masks at all times. They'll be spread out in half-empty classrooms. And when they're at home, they're still expected to learn.

CBC News spoke with Osborne and Stack on Tuesday to get a sense of what the model entails. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Masked students roam the halls of a high school in Yellowknife. Students are expected to wear masks at all time in Newfoundland and Labrador starting Wednesday. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Q: What will class look like from home?

Stack: You really can't tease apart what's happening. It's one blended learning model. There'll be students that are listed to attend, and those students who are listed to attend should attend on that day that they're supposed to. And then there's the other half of the class that would be learning from home. It's blended.

It's continuity learning.… A teacher might start a lesson, introduce a topic, and then there's activity within the room that occurs on that same topic simultaneously at home. There could be students interacting in groups or individually within a Google Suite setting — you know, Google Meet amongst themselves, or even interacting with their peers in the classroom.

It depends on how the teacher sets it up. We're not going to prescribe exactly what the learning model looks like. Teachers are very competent and capable of doing that within their own structure. 

Q: How were teachers prepared for the new model?

Stack: There's been challenges since we began here. Scenario 3 evolved and things improved as we went. And I have every confidence that that will happen again. Teachers are remarkably ingenious at this, and they're well led at the school administrator level.

If you adhere to the model … students will get maximum benefit if they are in attendance when they're supposed to and online when they're supposed to. 

Q: Some teachers have reached out over concerns the model will double their workload. What do you say to them?

Stack: We're going to rely on teachers and their discretion about how much time they will spend online interfacing, and how much time there will be asynchronous activity at home. But there's no intent to double the workload at all. And that's not part of the learning design.

On Wednesday we will gingerly start. There's no expectation that everybody know exactly how this is going to work in every situation.

High school students in Montreal sit in a physically distanced classroom. High schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will open at 50 per cent capacity. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Q: How have you balanced competing interests between those who think schools are too risky, and those who want kids back in class?

Osborne: While some students excelled and some held their own with online learning, some struggled. Some struggled academically, some struggled with emotional or mental health issues. There was a feeling of isolation. We saw absenteeism numbers start to creep up.

[Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Janice] Fitzgerald herself had indicated that it's important, and the risk to students of being out of class is higher than the risk of students being in class with this new enhanced scenario, where we have 50 per cent of the school population in.

There are a number of competing interests. But I think this strikes a very good balance between those different interests. 

Stack: I've heard from parents and students who are frustrated with being up in their basement, concealed from all other students that they interact with. Not healthy. They're struggling. We're afraid of losing them and we need them back. 

Having them in face to face for at least 50 per cent of the time gives us an opportunity to restore that connection. And because the learning is flowing in a continuous manner, then they will be, we believe, much more apt to join in … from an online environment.

Q: How will you address learning interruptions over the last year?

Stack: There's been a lot of commentary worldwide about learning loss. Newfoundland and Labrador, I think, is in an enviable position of having had full-time instruction right up until February.

But that said, yes, there is some instances where we have to be concerned about the child. Academically, our focus is on meeting them where they are and having that student voice involved in their learning going forward.

Students may engage with their online peers in some situations, board CEO Tony Stack says, but how the model looks in practice will depend on the teacher's preference. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

List of schools employing blended model

More than 65 schools that include secondary grades across the province are back to Scenario 1, with classrooms at full capacity, five days a week. The district says that's primarily smaller schools, many of them K-12, in rural areas.

The rest begin the blended model on Wednesday.

Here are the schools entering Scenario 2:

Avalon region

  • Ascension Collegiate.
  • Baccalieu Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Baltimore School (grades 10-12 only).
  • Carbonear Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Crescent Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Gonzaga Regional High.
  • Holy Heart Regional High.
  • Holy Spirit High (grades 9-12).
  • Holy Trinity High (grades 10-12 only).
  • Laval High School (grades 10-12 only).
  • Mobile Central High (grades 10-12 only).
  • Mount Pearl Senior High (grades 10-12 only).
  • O'Donel High School.
  • Prince of Wales Collegiate.
  • Queen Elizabeth Regional High.
  • Roncalli Central High (grades 10-12 only).
  • St. Kevin's High (grades 10-12 only).
  • St. Michael's Regional High (grades 10-12 only).
  • Waterford Valley High.

Labrador region

  • Mealy Mountain Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Menihek High School (grades 10-12 only).

Western region

  • Bayview Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Belanger Memorial (grades 10-12 only).
  • Copper Ridge Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Corner Brook Regional High.
  • Dorset Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Elwood Regional High.
  • Indian River High (grades 10-12 only).
  • Pasadena Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Piccadilly Central High (grades 10-12 only).
  • St. James Regional High (grades 10-12 only).
  • Stephenville High.
  • Templeton Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • White Hills Academy (grades 10-12 only).

Central region

  • Bay d'Espoir Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Botwood Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Clarenville High.
  • Discovery Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Exploits Valley High.
  • Fogo Island Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Gander Collegiate.
  • Glovertown Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Heritage Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • J.M. Olds Collegiate (grades 10-12 only).
  • Jane Collins Academy.
  • John Burke High School (grades 10-12 only).
  • Lakewood Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Leo Burke Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Lewisporte Collegiate.
  • Marystown Central High.
  • New World Island Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Pearson Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Phoenix Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Riverwood Academy (grades 10-12 only).
  • Smallwood Academy (grades 10-12 only).

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