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New school year – new normal: Sylvan Lake students preparing to back to school

This school year will look different, and the differences will begin at home, school boards say

Back to school season looks a little different this year. With students returning to class for the first time in five months, rather than two, anxieties are running high.

Parents are unsure how their children will be safe returning to class for the new school year and students are worried about what class will look like.

Responding to the ongoing pandemic, the school boards in Sylvan Lake, Red Deer Catholic Regional School and Chinook’s Edge School Division, are working hard to ensure the safety of staff and students returning to in person learning.

While working to ensure everyones safety some changes are being made to how the school day will look for both students and staff.

Changes to the will actually begin at home, says both school districts.

At Home

Kathleen Finnigan, acting superintendent of schools for RDCRS, says parents are a part of the team, and she is relying on them to have the students ready to go back to school.

She says in the days leading up to the first day of school, she encourages parents to talk to the students about what the school day will be like.

“I think it is so important that parents talk to the students about what school is going to be like. Keep them calm and explain what is happening,” she said.

“We know parents are the first educators, so this is so important.”

Both RDCRS and Chinook’s Edge are looking to the parents to do health wellness checks before going to school each morning.

Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge superintendent, says parents should be asking students a questionnaire each morning.

Slow Return To Normal

Both school districts are implementing a slow return to regular classes. Students with the first initial of their last name at the beginning of the alphabet will return to class first, and alternate with the rest of the students for the first week or two.

RDCRS students begin classes on Aug. 31, while Chinook’s Edge begin on Sept. 1.

Sacher says the slowed and staggered start will help ease students into the new normal they will be experiencing this year.

“This will also reduce the student population by 50 per cent, so it will also be easier for our staff to figure out what is and isn’t working,” said Sacher.

In Chinook’s Edge all students will return to class together on Sept. 10, and in RDCRS full regular class will begin on Sept. 9.

In the Classroom

Students will not be using their lockers this year. Instead they will keep their supplies in their backpack and take that to class.

Finnigan says this will help to reduce the time students gather in hallways.

“At this time we are asking parents to go easy on the school supplies, knowing their students will be carrying them around in their backpacks all the time,” Finnigan said.

Students in Grades 4-12 will be asked to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.

Masks will be worn in common areas. In the classroom, students may not have to wear their mask, if sitting in front facing desks, Finnigan says.

However, wearing a mask is not the only safety measure in place for staff and students.

Students will be placed into cohort groups, to keep students as safe as possible during the school day.

“In the younger years, they are already naturally designed that way, but middle [and] high school will be more difficult,” said Sacher. “We are looking at options for upper year cohort groups.”

Extracurriculars

The school boards are still looking into options and working with the Province and other governing bodies for extracurriculars.

It is unclear at the time of publishing how classes such as music and phys ed will be run. Sacher says P.E. classes will be run outside wherever possible.

When it comes to music, much is still up in the air.

“What we know is that singing and wind instrument are a no go, but we are looking into ways we can still provide music classes,” said Finnigan.

“We know singing is good for the soul, and music is good for mental health, so we aren’t sure what it will look like right now, but we aren’t saying no all together,” Sacher said.

Direction on sports teams is still being decided. The school boards are working with the Province and Alberta Schools Athletic Association on how to safely bring after school sports back for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We are asking parents and students to be patient,” said Sacher.

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