Distance learning day 2: teachers and parents get up to speed in a “very difficult situation”

“We continue to see our staff engage students in creative ways,” the public council spokesperson said; Catholic schools launch virtual learning on Friday

Instead of the usual ringing of a school bell, students and teachers in Simcoe County heard the sound of their computers turning on to start their school days.

Classes with the Simcoe County District School Board have only resumed two days so far.

Jen Hare, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSEF) bargaining unit chair for Simcoe County, said Barrie today that as a parent of a school-aged child, she is in awe of the level of engagement she has witnessed from her son’s teachers.

“I am not an elementary school teacher and I bow to their patience,” she said. “I think it’s really important that they can connect, but it’s so heartbreaking. … This is one of those situations where we know education workers are doing their best, but it’s just not ideal for kids. This is why it is so important that the government take action and make sure that our schools are safe so that our children can return to them.

Simcoe County District School Board spokesperson Sarah Kekewich said that since students have experienced distance learning in the past, there is some familiarity with the platforms of digital learning used, making the transition easier.

“We continue to see our staff creatively engage students and are encouraged by their efforts to connect with students and their families during these difficult times,” said Kekewich. Barrie today.

Meanwhile, students at the Simcoe Muskoka District Catholic School Board shouldn’t start their virtual learning until Friday, board spokesperson Pauline Stevenson said because they felt it was important to spend a few days in focus on making technology available. who needs it.

“We’re just making it easier for ourselves and giving educators time to connect with students one-on-one to make sure all the technology is set up and they have access to it,” she said. “If they see that the class is ready to start, then they jump right in, but we expect tomorrow to be the first day of a fully synchronized virtual classroom. “

In the spring of 2021, Stevenson said the board had distributed more than 3,000 devices and around 400 wifi hotspots. The initial response this time around appears to be slightly higher, she noted, but they have yet to get a final tally.

“The technological distribution is going quite well. It’s a short enough time to get it all sorted out, but we’re getting there now, ”she said. “That’s a lot of technology that needs to be released in a fairly short period of time.”

Kent MacDonald, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said that while virtual learning may not be “new” to many educators anymore, many are still outside their comfort zone. but who make it work.

“For people who attend a normal school, this is not the interaction for which they are trained. It’s not like flipping a switch and everything I had in front of me, I can just flip it online. It’s not the same, “he said Barrie today. “The ability to have discussions and conduct things while hopefully you have eyes watching you on the screen is tricky.”

It’s also difficult to gauge when kids need help, MacDonald said.

With virtual learning, “you expect kids to ask for help, but not a lot. In person, you can walk with them and check in with them.… Online, that’s not it at all.” , did he declare.

With so little time to prepare to teach online, many public board teachers found themselves struggling, Hare said.

“I would say there are two groups at the moment. We have the only group that are our teachers online, who are really struggling. It was such a quick turnaround from Monday noon to today to start meaningful lessons on Wednesday morning, ”she said. “We’re nearing the end of the first semester… and the teachers don’t know if we’re leaving on the 17th. It could mean very different final weeks for the students.

“If we see what we’ve seen historically and the Ford government extends this shutdown, they have to move on to all types of final assignments,” Hare added. “It’s a very difficult situation that they have all been put into and everything is so uncertain.”

The other group of educators, Hare said, are already back in schools teaching students with special needs, where she said they had found little or no additional support put in place for them. help stay and their students safe.

“I would say the majority of communication comes from these teachers because they are back in school like nothing has happened. Their students cannot wear masks in many cases and are unable to physically distance themselves, ”she said.

If teachers resume in-person learning from January 17, Hare said there would be plenty to do by then, adding that teachers wanted to be back in their classrooms.

“They know that face-to-face learning is the most effective way to make sure kids get what they need. The problem is, a lot of things the government has to put in place in the next 10 days – not just HEPA filters and N95 masks, ”she said.

With the province and local health units no longer tracking school cases and limited access to rapid tests and PCR tests, Hare believes it would be difficult to maintain appropriate staffing levels if schools reopen. January 17th.

“If we still see the same numbers in our communities, it would be very difficult for our schools to maintain the staff levels they need to make sure children are safe and getting what they need,” a- she declared. “The whole system needs to be supported in a way that in my opinion is almost impossible to achieve over the next six days of school. I find it hard to believe that we will be ready to go by the 17th if the government chooses to fire the schools. “

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