It’s hard to know what to expect on the first day back to school during a global pandemic. As B.C. schools adjust to the resumption of in-classroom instruction today, staff at the Vancouver School District took the new protocols and procedures very seriously to protect their students and give them a resounding and warm “welcome back!”
At General Brock Elementary, it was not the same hustle and bustle of a busy school yard like before the COVID-19 pandemic changed how everyone goes about daily activities. But, there were a few laughs and bits of chatter coming from the play areas outside the first day back to in-class learning for many students. At Brock, class zones were set up outside where children assembled and waited to enter the school. And, there were lots of friendly reminders about keeping a safe distance from each other for students, their families and staff.
It was similar inside: quiet hallways – now featuring taped, yellow arrows on the ground indicating direction to travel -- and only small groups of children being taught in some of the classrooms.
Nancy Paget, principal at Brock, says there were 52 students at the school for the day and it went very smoothly. “The transitions, the entry/exit points, went very well,” she says. “We had lots of staff out there at different points,” she explains, adding welcoming students back is exciting and provides a bit of normalcy for everyone.
Paget has nothing but praise for staff, and all the work they did to prepare, saying it was truly a team effort at the school. “They’ve been amazing,” she says. “In one classroom you saw the stars on the floor to help the kids line up, and there were learning packages made for individual students.” Paget adds some teachers labelled the desks for their students, whereas in one class the teacher placed desks in a large circle so students can face each other, while remaining physically distant.
With health and safety as the top priority, engineering staff at Brock were also extremely busy, explains Paget. “They did a lot of work and helped with signage and making sure classrooms were all ready and prepared.”
She notes the Brock community is close-knit and very supportive as everyone adapts to circumstances that are very different compared to a few months ago.
Meanwhile at Prince of Wales Secondary, there were about 60 teachers and support staff in the building as classes resumed. The first block of morning classes saw about 15 students in attendance. School principal Angela Haveman expects similar numbers in classrooms throughout the day.
At the secondary level, students who choose to attend will typically be in classes for one or two hours a day throughout the week. When they are not scheduled for a class, students leave the school, unless otherwise arranged with teachers. This allows school staff to manage the number of students in a secondary school at any one given time as required by guidelines from the Ministry of Education and the Provincial Health Officer.
On a normal day pre-COVID-19, there would be more than 900 students in the hallways at PW. Although far less than that at any given point throughout the day now, Haveman is nonetheless excited to welcome back students to classrooms today. “It is so great to see them at school again and to be able to do it safely.”
In preparation for the reopening of schools, teachers, support staff and engineers did extensive work to ensure the safety of staff and students as well as a smooth transition for all. In many schools, arrows are placed on the floors of hallways to manage the flow of people. As soon as staff and students enter the building, everyone washes or sanitizes their hands. There’s signage posted with informative health and safety tips. At some schools, such as PW, all the classroom doors are open to avoid contact with door handles. Designated entrances and exits also help control the access and traffic flow to keep everyone safe. And, there are enhanced and frequent cleaning schedules in place at every school.
While the task of transitioning has not been a small one, everyone across the Vancouver School District pulled together throughout the last couple of weeks to once again transform the delivery of education for students.
Learn more about the more the resumption of in-class instruction here.