Red Deer Catholic finding at-home learning is reducing class sizes

Close to 1,000 students in the district participating in the program

When many students opt for at-home learning, it gives school administrators the opportunity to reduce class sizes and minimize social distancing concerns within actual schools. (The Associated Press)

Red Deer’s Catholic school district is counting on a home learning model as one way to help reduce class sizes.

Associate superintendent Ryan Ledene said it has been difficult putting together a plan for this school year, given the uncertainty of COVID-19, and he hopes their strategy will be effective.

“We’ve developed an at-home learning program, and what that at-home learning program is doing is, it’s taking almost 1,000 students in our division, out of classes,” he said.

“We’re having to staff that and it’s providing the biggest challenge this week, because the numbers continue to come in and we continue to reallocate staff, reassign staff and even look at doing some back filling with hiring. All of that comes without funding.”

He believes in part, that with so many students opting for at-home learning, administration will be able to reduce class sizes and minimize social distancing concerns within actual schools.

“When it comes to additional spaces and trying to reduce the number of students in classes, this is actually happening as a result of this model we’re doing. We are pleased with the class sizes that are evolving,” he said, adding they’ve prepared in the model for students to come back if they feel it’s safe to do so.

With 10,480 students in 21 schools in Red Deer, Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Innisfail and Olds, the regional catholic district is also closely monitoring the situation surrounding substitute teachers.

Ledene said with the regional nature of the catholic school district, it will likely be extremely difficult to limit substitute teachers to two schools or less. He added overall, the number of substitute teachers is up this year, with more than 160 set to fill in for 2020-21.

“We’ve evaluated our sub situation here and it looks to be that we have a strong sub group. Our numbers are up. We do know that subs could be in higher demand this year. It’s hard, because you don’t know how much more of a demand,” Ledene said.

Ledene added that if they do run into a situation where they are low on substitute teachers, they have explored adding instructional supervisors. That would be support staff or people from outside the school, who would come in and not provide instruction, but simply look after the class.

“They would basically be supervising the class because there is no one else to do it. That would only be explored, in our case, if we find we are running completely out of certified teachers,” he said.

With more funding, Ledene said they could provide more resources to support the at-home learning program, as well as potentially adding more substitute teachers.

That funding could come from the provincial government, which is working to allocate $262 million that was handed down by the federal government earlier this week.

“We’re really hoping that comes in, and even if they earmark it for COVID support, we see this at-home learning program as a great way to get those teachers some support and it also reduces some class sizes,” Ledene added.

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