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Prince George high schools switch to quarter system for smaller COVID-19 learning groups

SD57 Board Chair, Superintendent provided further details on the districts plan
SD57 - Prince George Board Chair Tim Bennett and Superintendent Anita Richardson take media questions outside of Heather Park Elementary School. (via Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters)

The new school year is going to look a lot different for students across the region, especially for Prince George high school students as they'll see a shift in the semester system to accommodate smaller learning groups.

Following the release of School District 57's (SD57) re-start plan today (Aug. 26), Board Chair Tim Bennett and Superintendent Anita Richardson answered media questions about how the plan will be implemented locally.

One of the biggest changes, the pair revealed, is the shift from a semester-based class system to a quarter-based system that will see students attend two classes per day instead of the regular four.

Bennett said the district heard a lot of concern from parents that the learning group size for secondary schools was 120 students, so staff looked into ways to keep those groups smaller than the 120 maximum.

“What we wanted to do was create a learning environment that kept the learning groups smaller and allowed all students to get all of the courses they need to move successfully on in their learning journey,” added Richardson.

She said after weighing many options, SD57 decided on a quarter system of two courses for a 10-week duration. 

This will allow learning groups to stay around the 60-student mark, and including staff would inch closer to 65 or 70 people, roughly 50 per cent fewer than the Provincial Health Officer's 120 recommendation.

“Students will still have the full slate of options available to them they will simply take them two at a time rather than four at a time,” said Richardson, adding that the new system allows for increased one-on-one learning time and less prep work for teachers.

“It’s not a huge shift in pedagogy or thinking for teachers and I think we may have some teachers that actually prefer this model.”

However, smaller populated rural schools in communities like Mackenzie and McBride will retain their regular semester system.

Elementary schools

For elementary schools, the biggest changes will be no more early dismissals on Wednesdays, no set recess times and altered lunch breaks.

As class sizes are remaining the same, learning groups at the elementary level may participate in activities together like reading buddies, recess breaks, assemblies, gym class or other activities that would otherwise normally see larger groups of children participating.

The learning group number at the elementary level is 60 students. 

Both elementary and high schools will also have daytime custodians in the building who will facilitate a cleaning regimen.

The Ministry of Education has provided additional health and safety funds that allow the district to add 12,000 hours of custodial time and have personal perspective equipment available for staff and students.

“Each school is different in terms of it’s layout and in terms of its population so schools will have to take that into consideration when they are developing how to actually take our district plan and operationalize it,” said Bennett.

He says parents or guardians should also expect to hear from their children’s schools directly over the next week.

“I’ve heard from several families that their school has already made contact today and I think as a district we are going to start putting out more information just for kids and families to know what school is going to look like in September.”

Alternative Options

For parents who are uncomfortable with sending their children back for full-time instruction, Richardson and Bennett said there are options for families.

While 16 of the largest high schools in the province, located in the Lower Mainland, qualify to operate on a remote learning hybrid model, the rest of the province does not, except in the circumstance where a student or family situation makes it impossible for a student to be in a classroom setting.

“If they have health considerations that prevent them from being in the classroom we will provide an individual learning plan that would likely involve a hybrid model,” said Richardson.  

“Schools will work with parents who are maybe wanting to have a bit of a gentler start for a child as well. If that is a concern I would encourage them to have a conversation with their classroom teacher about what that could look like for their child.”

She says another option would be for families to sign up for the district’s distance learning options.

Richardson says SD57 is currently putting people on a waitlist until it can determine how many people are interested and assess what kind of staffing arrangements the program will need.

“We know that families are having a lot of conversations at home right now and are needing to decide what is best for their family. If they are interested in distance learning I would encourage them to get onto the waitlist so that we know what that staff level looks like,” says Bennett.

However, both Bennett and Richardson stressed that face-to-face learning is the best option for learning.

“The best learning happens when we have teachers in front of kids. We as a district have followed the guidelines from the ministry of education, from the provincial health officers, and we are working closely with Northern Health and WorkSafe BC to ensure our buildings are as safe as possible for our students and staff,” said Bennett.

“Research shows very heavily for most students that safe and caring learning environment with a teacher who understands them, their needs and goals, is the best-case scenario for a student and that drives the ministry's desire to see all kids return to a classroom,” added Richardson. 

“We know there needs to be some exceptions to that, but we hope that parents see the work that we are doing behind the scenes to make sure that we are providing the safest and most caring classrooms we can for students in our district.”

You can view the SD57 restart plan in its entirety online, or check out SD57’s frequently asked questions guide for more information.