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SD48 to expand use of online learning tools

Whistler's school district's initial priority during COVID-19 crisis will be on graduating students
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online learning School District 48 has committed to expanding the use of online learning tools, including providing devices to any student who needs them, during the COVID-19 crisis. <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com">www.shutterstock.com</a>

just because schools across British Columbia are essentially closed through the COVID-19 pandemic doesn't mean students won't have the opportunity to continue learning.

In the Sea to Sky School District, many teachers already use a variety of online learning tools, such as SeeSaw, Google Classroom and Zoom, to connect with their students, and the use of those platforms will be expanded in the coming days.

"In order for students to have access to all of these excellent tools, they will require good internet connections and a device at home," wrote district superintendent Lisa McCullough in an email.

Many Sea to Sky schools already have "close to a 1:1 student-to-device ratio," McCullough noted, and devices will be loaned out to students who need them. The district has also ordered an additional 250 Chromebook laptops to hand out.

"Every student, regardless of whether or not they are electronically connected, will have a learning plan provided," she added.

Specialist teachers will connect with parents and students with special needs to develop personalized learning plans. Those students will also have access to any specialized learning devices, such as voice-to-text and text readers, that they would normally use. Student counselling and mental-health support is available as well.

Some additional onsite programming may be provided to children of families working in provincially designated essential services.

The Learning Disabilities Society this week also launched RISE at Home, an online platform providing students with learning disabilities one-to-one at-home instruction. Learn more at ldsociety.ca.

Communication from the district to both students and parents has been robust, said Whistler Secondary School (WSS) PAC chair Tanya Goertzen, who added that teachers were in constant dialogue with their classes during the spring break.

"We're super lucky that both our administrative team and counselling team at Whistler Secondary, and even our district superintendent, have been very forward with online initiatives and everything to do with technology," she said.

The priority initially will begin with Grade 12 students preparing for graduation. Planning and access to resources will then prioritize students in Grades 10 and 11 before moving down the line to middle-years and elementary students.

Myrtle Philip Community School PAC chair Kelly Hand (who stressed she's speaking from her experience as a parent at the school, not on behalf of all parents) said she wasn't concerned at this early stage that her kids, Grades 3 and 4, would fall by the wayside in favour of more senior students.

"Having kids in the lower grades, I feel like there is more cushion to be able to absorb the disruption in learning," she said. "Maybe I'm being too laidback about it, but I do trust our school district, and if I was in their shoes, that decision makes a lot of sense to me. Right now I'm not worried about my kids falling through any cracks, but I think time will tell."

School administrators have also recognized the need to support students' mental and emotional well-being through the COVID-19 crisis, something Goertzen appreciated, particularly as a parent of a graduating student dealing with the added anxiety of preparing for post-secondary school in an uncertain landscape.

"Our counselling department ... has reached out to our students and given them, at the bottom of all their [communications], links to information on mental health outreach," she said. "Without having to think too hard about it, the students have access to that and it comes to them regularly."

The district has also eased some of the stress by extending the March 30 deadline for students to hand in their applications for community scholarships.

Goertzen wanted to reassure graduating students worried about missing out on their traditional senior-year festivities, like prom.

"Nobody has a crystal ball to know what it's going to look like in 11 weeks, which is when their graduation time would be," she said. "We'll make sure that it happens, however it looks, when we get to that time, but there's a lot of learning and a lot to take care of until then."

Phillip Clarke, director of instruction for School District 48, is urging parents to maintain familiar household activities and routines, to monitor their children's' physical health and well-being, and to reassure them about their personal safety in an age-appropriate way, while not ignoring that it's "OK to be concerned."

"Modelling calmness and resilience is comforting," he wrote in an email.

"Remember, children are often listening when you talk to others about COVID-19. Keep this in mind by choosing supportive language and a calm tone. Accept whatever feelings they express."




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