Submitted by Mike Hooker, Revelstoke School District 19 Superintendent of Schools
In this submission, Revelstoke Superintendent of Schools Mike Hooker reflects on the first few months of the 2020/21 school year and provides an update on how schools are adapting to changes in the learning environment aimed at keeping students and staff safe as the second wave of COVID-19 continues:
Reflecting on the first three months of the school year, it is clear that many things have changed. Most notable, however, is all of the things that remain the same. Our students in Columbia Park, Arrow Heights, and Begbie View Elementary Schools have enjoyed increased opportunities to be outside for field trips and of course for play. Wetland experiences, hikes, museum visits, and the classic trip to the fire hall have all contributed to a sense that things are “normal.” Assemblies and celebrations are still happening with a small group of students ‘live’ and others tuning in from their classrooms on the big screen. Although staff are missing more frequent connection with parents, they are finding creative ways to stay in touch and be connected. Parents and volunteers on the Parent Advisory Committee’s (PAC) have served hot lunches and supported the extras that help make school special, and breakfast coordinators are putting out healthy options for everyone.
At Revelstoke Secondary School, things look different in the hallways with face covering and pretty good attempts to physically distance “where possible.” This has not changed the student-staff connection that is so evident in class, before and after school, and during lunch hours. On the lower floor of the building, in addition to regular PE classes, volleyball teams practiced after school, large garden sheds took shape in the carpentry class, and senior students’ cars and trucks kept coming and going from the auto shop, in and out, for real world learning. Our drama students pulled off a fabulous production, our senior music (jazz and concert band) students make music three nights a week and the grade 8s and 9s rotate through music class during the day. On the main floor, everyone is still welcomed in the morning with free healthy breakfast choices, and at lunch they access the cafeteria, or head across the field for ‘downtown’ options. From the home ec and fine arts classrooms down the hallway through the humanities and learning support spaces, students are engaged in everything from ‘burger wars’ in foods and nutrition class to philosophy, a new senior offering this year. Not surprisingly, more students are accessing the counseling and support services in and around the office area whether to plan for post-graduation or talk about more current pressures. Upstairs the science labs, math, French, and learning support rooms are busy during regular classes and occupied through lunch as students stick around for extra help with their teachers. The library is open and providing tech access and quiet workspaces for students and staff.
Schools encouraging a ‘mask friendly’ environment
We know that as much as we normalize school life, the pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways. It is extremely important that we do our very best to acknowledge the significant stressors that many people in our school community are feeling, provide support and connection that our community is so well known for.
We continue to hear a great deal in the provincial news about the spread of the virus, and now close to home, here in town. At the schools, we have kept our safety guidelines consistent with the direction from the provincial health office since the opening this year. The provincial guidelines haven’t decreased the level of any of the precautions, but our focus in some areas is shifting. While masks are still not mandatory, we are encouraging a mask friendly environment. At the high school level, staff and students are using masks in hallways and areas where they are outside of their learning groups (cohorts). At the elementary schools, staff are using mobile Plexiglas and masks when distancing can’t be maintained, and we are seeing more students using masks. At both secondary and elementary we are still limiting parents and volunteers to keep the number of adults in the building to a minimum and there is no community use of our facilities. We have increased custodial time and the focus on cleaning specific areas and we keep monitoring to ensure our schools as safe as they possibly can be.
Revelstoke one of 28 school districts in the province with no COVID-19 exposures to date
Last week the provincial health office reported that there had been 549 active COVID-19 exposures in schools. Of those 549 exposures, only 12 lead to transmission, meaning someone caught COVID-19 in a school. For context, there are approximately 650,000 students in BC schools, 80 per cent of the exposures took place in 14 school districts, the majority of which were in the lower mainland. In Revelstoke, we were one of 28 school districts that have had no exposures. Ten other school districts have had a single exposure. (Note, there are 60 school districts in the province). According to the provincial health office, risk of contracting COVID-19 in a school is four times lower than in the community at large. The provincial health office continually reminds us the spread takes place in the community and in social gatherings.
So, what happens if there’s an exposure in our Revelstoke schools? Public health determines if a student or staff or other person is COVID-19 positive and was in a school during their infectious period. If that is the case, the school is notified by Interior Health directly, we provide them with information to help them in their tracing, and they work with us to ensure that parents, staff, and children who were potentially exposed are notified. The experience in the Lower Mainland so far suggests that in communities where basic measures are being followed outside of school, exposures are controlled and limited at school. This is good news for us since we have a long history in Revelstoke of working together and looking after one another.
There will be plenty of social media posts sharing both true and false information. Please do your part to understand the facts about what’s happening and focus on what you can do to help our community stay healthy. For accurate information, all of our COVID updates are on our website at www.sd19.bc.ca and the Provincial Health site has the full story on the short pieces we see in the media.
Thanks for doing your part so that we can continue to safely welcome our students to school each week.