As B.C. heads to the one-year mark for the first case of coronavirus in the province, North Shore schools are hoping for the best but planning for distinctly less than that as they look ahead to the next school year.
“I would suggest that everything’s on the table” for the school year beginning in September 2021, North Vancouver schools superintendent Mark Pearmain told trustees this week.
So far, the most likely option is high schools will plan to continue on some version of a quarter system, like the one adopted this year.
The system has allowed students to be grouped together in “cohorts,” limiting their interactions with the rest of the school population, but means students take fewer courses over a concentrated time frame before switching to new subjects. Students also do some of their schooling online as part of a “hybrid” model, in order to limit the number of students in the buildings.
Quarter system most likely
Pearmain said while no final decisions have been made, it’s much easier to plan the next school year based on a quarter system, then change that to resemble a more regular timetable later, rather than plan for a regular linear schedule and have to go back to the quarter system, especially if schools must be ready to switch between different “stages” of opening.
“We’re going to need to have that flexibility where we move very quickly and easily,” he said. “So I would suggest that it's more likely that we will be in some sort of a system that is similar to what we're seeing this year for the 2021-'22 school year.”
Regardless of what the timetables look like, Pearmain said he hopes to see students physically back in the schools for 100 per cent of the time – rather than learning online part-time – by September.
“That will be the goal that we’ll work towards, assuming we get that clearance from the [public health office],” he said.
Pearmain said schools have already done an internal survey among administrators about what worked and didn’t work with the quarter system. Parents, staff and students will also be surveyed later this spring.
West Vancouver School District has already done a survey of some secondary students and parents to collect their thoughts about the quarter system.
Students reported online learning more difficult
Students liked having an improved focus on their subject areas and getting less homework, directors of instruction Ian Kennedy and Liz Hill told West Vancouver trustees this week. Dislikes included having to compress the course material into a short time frame and lengthy classes.
Students also reported that learning online was more challenging than learning through regular face-to-face class interaction.
West Vancouver will also start planning for the next school year based on a quarter system, said Kennedy.
Trustee Sheelah Donahue asked how the quarter system is affecting students in heavily academic subjects and how it is impacting students’ transition to university.
Kennedy said most universities throughout North America are accommodating the unique challenges that the pandemic has brought to high school students’ learning.
“I think one thing we can say is this is not a localized issue. This is a global issue and I think people are all doing the best they can,” he said.
Grad could be virtual or in-person
Looking ahead to the end of this school year, Pearmain said the North Vancouver School District is planning for the possibilities of both virtual and in-person graduation ceremonies this year.
The school district is continuing to work with the company that provided the virtual grad format last year, said Pearmain, towards planning a similar event for June. At the same time, the school district has also booked civic theatres in case an in-person event is allowed.
No vaccines approved for children so far
Currently, there are no plans to vaccinate children or teens under 18 years old for COVID-19, because none of the coronavirus vaccines have so far been approved for use in kids and no clinical trials have been completed on children, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s medical health officer, on Friday.
“It is very likely that once we have more traditional vaccines, they will be available for younger people. And we'll be looking at that and watching that carefully,” said Henry on.
She added there are currently clinical trails being done with the Moderna vaccine on children as young as 12.