More than 150 mostly high school students successfully returned to the classroom for summer school this month in a few central Alberta communities.
The provincial government cited this success earlier this week, when it announced classrooms will return this September, with safety protocols in place.
”The plan will work,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, who is MLA for Red Deer-North.
“We’re able to somewhat trial test it this summer, when school authorities ran in-person summer school programming,” said LaGrange on Tuesday.
“School authorities such as Chinook’s Edge, Calgary Catholic, Medicine Hat Public and Progressive Academy have all run in-person programming under the guidelines.”
Kurt Sacher, superintendent with Chinook’s Edge, said none of the students in class in Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Olds have contracted COVID-19.
“We’ve had a couple of situations where a student had to stay home because they had a minimal cold symptom or something. Otherwise, it’s been off without a hitch,” Sacher said.
The Chinook’s Edge program is running Grade 10, 11 and 12 classes until the end of July and was one of a few school jurisdictions offering summer school.
To minimize the spread of COVID-19 classes are smaller, sanitizer is available, facilities are thoroughly and regularly cleaned, physical distancing of two metres is maintained as much as possible, and there is no shared food or large gatherings.
Students self-screen daily for illness before they leave home for school.
Sacher said he was pleased with how well the program has been running during the pandemic. Enrolment was at 85 per cent, compared to previous years.
“We felt we could mitigate the risk and we have had a firm belief that face-to-face instruction is significantly more effective than online.
“As a society, it does not look like the pandemic is going away. Our students will suffer in multiple ways if they’re not back in a face-to-face learning environment.
“They learn better with other students. They learn better with the teacher face to face. And then there’s the social, emotional, physical development you’d lose out on.”
But health and safety remain the top priorities, he said.
Sacher said the majority of students are expected back for classes in September and guidelines for school operations will be available to parents prior to Aug. 14.
“There’s still a few loose ends. Masks are encouraged. We’re trying to get clarity from medical professionals who have the expertise around exactly what does that look like.”
He said it will help that central Alberta has fewer COVID cases than other areas, and some Chinook’s Edge rural schools have lower enrolments.
“We do have an advantage.”