By Stan Ashbee
It’s difficult to admit, but it looks as though we aren’t in Kansas anymore Dorothy! The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked havoc on our way of life including the way students go to school and how teachers teach. But, despite all the recent setbacks, Maple Creek and area students and teachers truck along, while adjusting to a new learning curve.
Chinook School Division has evolved, adapted, and adopted protocols to help keep students and staff safer, it is hoped — smack-dab in the middle of a global pandemic. Parents struggled throughout the summer, with how their child’s learning should move ahead this school year. Some parents chose to send their kids to school for in-class learning, while others kept their children at home to learn through Chinook’s Cyber School.
And some students remain home-schooled.
Chinook Cyber School’s Principal Shelby Budd said the high school side of the Cyber School fired up about 11 years ago and the purpose of it was to supplement programming in small town schools. “As enrolment was declining and less staffing, it was difficult to get all of the programming out to schools. That is why the Cyber School was created — to cover off that Grade 10-12 programming.”
Budd noted the idea was to make sure to keep kids in their hometown schools and still have the students graduate. “But give them a bunch of options and access to people who had specialty knowledge in some of those areas like Math and Science.”
“To have the experts in those areas be the ones doing the teaching on those subjects,” added Budd.
Budd said Chinook Cyber School has evolved a bit this year again, to help with learning, “as we make our way through this pandemic.”
“This fall, we added on the Kindergarten to Grade 9 learning and the at-home learning for the high school students who are not able to attend in a physical building,” Budd pointed out.
Enrolment this fall for Kindergarten to Grade 5 is 76 at-home learners. For Grades 6-9 there are 72. And at the high school end there are 47. “We would also have all of the students who are attending school and taking our classes as a supplemental learning,” said Budd.
Most of the teachers hired for the Kindergarten to Grade 9 positions are brand new to at-home learning, Budd continued. “What we did was, we actually held a three-day training session right when school started.”
“Depending on where they were coming from, some of them had a little bit of experience with online learning, and others had none,” added Budd. So far things are going pretty good, said Budd. “Our main goal, of course, was bringing kids back to school across all grades and to get back into a bit of a routine. As teachers, we were needing to get to know our kids and know where they were at with their own learning. That has really been our focus over the last couple of weeks.”
And getting some of those tech issues out of the way, which included students getting to know their user names and passwords for online learning. “So the technology can kind of move into the background and then the learning can come to the front,” said Budd.
Now, teachers are getting to know their learners better and they can now make sure programming is meeting their students’ needs, Budd said.
In terms of the actual learning part, Budd would like to send a shout-out to parents who have been patient, as staff put things into place and the support, as staff worked through tech issues. “And just that parental support is so important to the school.”
“I think we’re seeing good things because of that,” Budd said.
Jody Wittig is a Grade 3 teacher at Chinook Cyber School for at-home learning. This is Wittig’s very first year with the Cyber School. But, Wittig has been with Chinook School Division and other divisions for over 35 years, as a classroom teacher and through other various roles.
“It’s a big learning curve getting familiar with all of the technology. It’s definitely a different way of planning. One thing that is the same is the connection with the kids. It’s been just as easy to connect with them online than if I was to see them in a classroom. It’s equally as good,” Wittig pointed out.
Wittig believes for many of the students it has been a positive experience. “I know we’re starting to build a little community with our class.”
Online learning is a really good opportunity to give students an alternative way of going to school in these COVID-19 times, w said. “And who knows, maybe in other times, because parents have their reasons as to why they would want to home-school. Our Chinook home learning is another choice or option. I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues beyond COVID-19.”