By Cole Parkinson
Horizon School Division adapted to a high standard under short notice in 2020, and now they’re hoping for a return to a more normal school atmosphere this year.
While 2020 was not ideal for school divisions across the province, Horizon was able to quickly transition into at-home learning in the spring and then again in December after the province announced another lockdown.
Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools, says looking back at 2020, it will certainly not be forgotten any time soon.
“I’d have to say ‘different,’ I could go on about how challenging and all-consuming it was, but I would prefer to stay focused on the positive things and share how impressed I am with our staff and students. They have been placed in a situation none ever expected. A context that has required people to be flexible, adaptable and resilient. Staff and students have had to turn on a dime and change practices and procedures, while striving to maintain learning and ensuring student and staff safety. We truly have all been in this together, and the professionalism of our staff has been so impressive.”
While the quick closure of in-school learning in the early spring may have been a reason for concern and chaos, the division was not only able to move to a digital format, but they were able to do so without any major issues, though they did have to work out some kinks.
“Classes were cancelled with no warning or preparation on March 15. At-home learning was new for everyone and there was a steep learning curve,” continued Tymensen. “While many students continued their learning throughout the spring, initial communication informing students they would not fail their grade/class and their marks would not go down did result in some students opting to end their engagement and school-based learning.”
“This fall, staff and students were better prepared, and had a better idea of what to expect. Accountability, including higher levels of expectations regarding student workload, and evaluation has resulted in far more engagement on the part of students. Enhanced safety practices, while not ideal, allowed us to have little to no spread of COVID within our schools. While some parents opted for at-home learning at the start of the 2020-21 school year, the vast majority of students registered to attend school. The government’s decision to return to at-home learning for Grade 7-12 students for the month of December and the week after the Christmas break did not see as significant a drop in student engagement as in the spring. The vast majority of students have continued to engage and will wrap up the semester with school-based assessments while attending school.”
A major reason for the relatively easy transition to at-home learning falls on Horizon teachers, says Tymensen.
While it was a very different learning experience for both teachers and students last school year, the division was more than happy with how everyone adapted to an unusual circumstance.
“Our teachers have been amazing. They have reinvented how they teach and altered plans and lessons so they can be taught in either a virtual or at-home context. They have spent countless hours reaching out to individual students to support them and ensure success. I think we also need to acknowledge parents. I can confidently say they were not expecting to have to spend this kind of time at home with their children nor take on the work of supporting their children’s learning at home. We know having their children at home has placed enormous stress on parents, especially in households where there are no at-home parents. We will continue to focus on our students and will get through this together,” said Tymensen.
The re-start of the school year saw students back in an at-home learning situation for the first week before returning to school. With the return of students, Horizon is anticipating a similar last six months of the year in terms of COVID-19 safety within facilities.
“While 2020 is behind us, we remain in the midst of a pandemic. Vaccinations for the general population will probably not be broadly distributed until the start of the 2021-2022 school year. As such, I assume the first six months of 2021 will be very similar to September through December of 2020. If COVID rates remain low, schools and classes will remain open and students will continue to attend school. Community restrictions may be reduced, but school-based safety protocols will remain in place. Individuals who test positive for COVID and their close contacts will continue to be quarantined.
“We will continue to be flexible and adaptable and our staff remain doing everything necessary to ensure our students are successful,” added Tymensen.
And with the New Year underway, Tymensen is hopeful we see a more normal return to life.
“I think it’s the same as everyone else. Not having to wear a mask every day and being able to socialize with friends and family.”