Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Earlier this month, the Yukon government announced that classrooms will be closed to students until April 15, and the Department of Education is still working to determine how students will complete their studies this spring.
“There is a variety of different scenarios that are possible, so this is a very important time for school staff to plan and adapt,” Nicole Morgan, the deputy minister of Education, told the Star last Thursday.
The department is awaiting direction from Dr. Brendan Hanley, the chief medical officer, on how schools should plan to proceed after April 15.
Until then, students are not expected to attend school nor complete lessons at home.
Many Yukon teachers returned to work this morning, and their first task is to determine their students’ progress thus far, having completed three-quarters of the year.
Teachers will gauge what essential learning will be required between April 15 and the end of the school year.
This task for teachers is made more complex by the territory’s recently modernized curriculum, which is based on individual learning programs.
This means the method of continuing education will also be individualized, and depends on teachers developing unique learning plans for each student, according to Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.
“We’re asking teachers to make sure they are assessing students where they are, what needs to be done and what the priorities are for each student so they can be properly assessed,” McPhee said.
“It’ll be a great test of this type of learning, and this type of assessment, and we are confident in our teachers.”
There has not yet been a decision on whether students will return to classrooms on April 15.
If classroom closures continue beyond that, teachers will be tasked with implementing distance education for their students.
Morgan said a significant amount of new technology has been implemented in Yukon schools with the new curriculum, including digital textbooks, Google applications and video conferencing.
Teachers will be looking to these tools to support alternate ways of finishing the school year.
All Yukon students will receive a final report card, and Grade 12 students will stay on track to graduate.
The new curriculum also requires frequent meetings between students, parents and teachers, enabling continued open communication.
“It sets us up for this unusual situation,” McPhee said.
The Education department has been working closely with the federal government to determine the next steps forward.
“Every jurisdiction in Canada right now is tackling this question, and awaiting direction from chief medical officers,” Morgan said.
“We do plan for different scenarios and they range from some students coming back to class, or none are and classes remain suspended. I think it’s safe to assume we aren’t going to put 700 students back in F.H. Collins (Secondary School) on April 15 – we can see that writing on the wall.”
Parents have already received initial updates from teachers, and a “frequently asked questions” page has been uploaded to yukon.ca regarding school closures.
Parents should rest assured they will be informed of next steps well before April 15, Morgan said.
The government is also working on how to support students who rely on school meal programs.
Some Yukon schools offer breakfast and lunch for students, and the department is working with communities, First Nations, Food for Learning and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition on how to continue those supports safely.
Schools are still open for teachers who prefer to return to work or need to pick up supplies. Teachers have also been given the option to work from home.
The Yukon Teachers Association previously negotiated a one-to-one cost-sharing program for technology. As a result, many teachers have acquired laptops and tablets that will enable them to work from home, McPhee said.
Sue Ross, the association’s president, said this morning there has been good communication between teachers and principals so far.
She’s received a wide range of opinions from teachers regarding returning to school.
“Certainly, those with immune deficiencies are more worried than people who are robust and healthy,” Ross said.
“People who have kids at home are concerned about how they’re being managed; it’s a whole gamut of different feelings.”
Ross said teachers are working to gauge anxiety levels, as well as the status of learning, in their students.
“That’s one of the big things: if kids are feeling more anxious, they’re not prepared for learning,” Ross said.
“It’s hard to know what we’ll need if classes are resumed before the end of the year. We want kids and families to know when they come back that schools are safe.”
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