West Van schools gear up for virtual learning

In a normal school year, parents would likely be counting down the days to the end of spring break this weekend and kids would be getting books and backpacks ready to head back to the classroom.

But with classroom teaching suspended indefinitely in B.C. over coronavirus concerns, this year is anything but normal.

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Soon, online programs like FreshGrade or Google Classrooms could replace face-to-face instruction as school districts figure out virtual ways for students to stay engaged.

So far, however, details are sparse and the message from school officials appears to be “we’re working on it.”

As classroom teachers were on spring break for the past two weeks, next week will be the first chance principals and teachers will have to start planning remote lessons for the North Shore’s over 20,000 students.

In a letter to parents, West Vancouver superintendent of schools Chris Kennedy said parents can expect to hear from their school or teacher by the middle of this week. The district hopes teachers will be able to give a general overview of what’s happening in the short term by next Friday.

The Ministry of Education is largely leaving it up to local school districts to determine what kind of out-of-the-box learning will happen in their area.

The province has also told all school districts that they need to have some kind of plan in place by mid-April at the latest.

It’s expected that many school districts will choose to move to some form of online learning, which is already a model used by many homeschooling organizations and companies.

West Vancouver is fortunate, said Kennedy, in that the school district already has systems in place for students and teachers to communicate and submit projects and marks with the help of technology.

Step one in the process is likely to be figuring out just what technology students have access to at home.

According to the Ministry of Education, some school districts and independent schools are also considering loaning equipment to students who need it.

Renee Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers Association, said West Van teachers each have a device – usually a laptop - provided by the school district and generally students from Grade 4 up bring their own technology to school. Each school also has Chromebook laptops to lend to students.

Willock acknowledged, however, the West Vancouver schools are in privileged position compared to many in the province.

Kennedy was expected to provide parents with further details on a livestream on Friday.

North Vancouver School District said it was expecting to send out a letter to parents by the end of the week, letting them know what to expect.



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