Staff across the Vancouver School District are busy preparing their classrooms and buildings – as well as familiarizing themselves with protocols and procedures, while student and families get ready for the new school year.
Admiral Seymour Elementary is one school that buzzes with activity. It is also home to the Maquinna Elementary school community until that school’s seismic upgrade project is finished. A couple of days before students are set to return to learn about health and safety protocols, bright pink tape is laid down in hallways, creating lanes to ensure foot traffic flows in only one direction. Water fountains are covered with plastic and labelled “out of order”.
There is lots of information to share with members of each school community’s health and safety committee, and with the schools’ staff. Representatives of various groups are present for the committee meetings, including the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association, CUPE Local 15 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 963. They go through a checklist of protocols, discuss specifics about their school site, and talk through questions, clarifications and suggestions. The committee discusses measures including entrances and exits to be used by students in different parts of the school, children eating snacks and lunches in their classrooms, restrictions on the number of students allowed inside washrooms at one time, and cleaning protocols for bins of supplies used by individual children. Committee members learn that one window is to be open in classrooms at all times, to maximize fresh-air flow. They also learn that the kitchen and cafeteria will not be in use, but bagged lunches will be delivered to classrooms for children who need them. Anything touched in the school’s sensory room must be cleaned after a student has left. Most classrooms have sinks, but those that do not have a bottle of sanitizer. Two dispensers were added in the school’s hallways this summer.
Bryce Recsky, principal of Seymour Elementary and Bruce Sallee, principal of Maquinna Elementary head to the school gym following the committee meetings, where chairs are placed two metres apart for staff members to hear about the protocols and procedures. There are fewer than fifty staff listening in person with more tuned in virtually on Microsoft Teams, to hear about rules of cohorts and expectations.
Recsky says the work to prepare is purposeful and heartfelt, adding everyone on staff is part of the process of making the school welcoming and safe. He acknowledges there is some uncertainty and anxiety, but also says there is an understanding that everyone is on the same team. He adds staff members are doing an excellent job of working together, and he is very confident in the plans, processes and systems.
“How we plan our days and our activities is going to look different, and so just trying to go slow to go fast, take our time with this, and show students that we really care about them and that’s why these changes are in place.”
Nicole Seah, Grade 4/5 teacher at Seymour says there are uncertainties that will play themselves out over the next few days, and also feels lots of questions are answered.
“One example is protocol. I think the protocol is quite clear on what we’re expected to do,” she explains. She says planning for the Learn from Home Transition option, which allows students to learn remotely for part of the year while maintaining a spot in their local school, will be a major focus before students return.
Staff are in schools for health and safety orientations September 8 and 9. Orientations are held for students September 10 and 11. The first day of in-class instruction is September 14.