File photo by ADVOCATE staff Central Alberta families should expect to hear more next week about plans to provide continuity of learning for students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools scrambling to find ways to keep students learning

Alberta schools ordered closed beginning Monday

Red Deer schools and the college were scrambling Monday to ensure students barred from classrooms because of COVID-19 will continue their education.

The Alberta government announced Sunday all classrooms will be closed until further notice to minimize the risk of passing the virus on to others.

All provincial achievement tests have been cancelled. However, diploma exams will be still be held.

A conference call was held with government deputy ministers and school division superintendents Monday morning to pull together a plan to provide continuity of learning for students.

Red Deer Public Schools followed up with a meeting of all its principals Monday afternoon to plot out the next steps.

All central Alberta superintendents will also soon be meeting to discuss how they intend to approach the situation.

“Really, at this point, I would say there are more questions than answers,” said Bruce Buruma, Red Deer Public Schools director of community relations.

“The interest is to try to provide a consistent approach as much as possible between jurisdictions, and that it’s an equitable response in how we’re able to provide continuity of learning,” he said.

“We want to keep the students learning. There are definitely a lot of creative ideas and ways to move forward. But there are also lots of questions and just even concern on how we’re best going to be able to meet the needs of all of our 11,000 students.

“This is uncharted territory. It’s new for us, and we need to figure out how we’re best able to respond to that.”

Buruma said they planned to send out an update and will tell families to expect to hear more about the plans to continue schooling next week.

“It’s not going to be something we can turn over right away. We want to make sure we’re doing this right.”

Whatever the school division does, it must treat all students equitably, he said. Besides the huge age range of students, there are those with special needs, or who are learning English, or have been receiving additional support.

Schools already have various online learning options for students and some teachers use Google Classroom.

“Some have talked about doing it through technology. Some have been talking about doing it a bit more old school.”

One of the challenges with online learning is ensuring all students have the computers and Wi-Fi at home to take advantage of it and do not get left behind, he said.

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools also sent word to students and parents that this week was to be spent developing a plan going forward.

Spokesperson Haleigh Sanderson said more information will be sent out to parents and guardians later this week on the strategy to keep students learning.

Meanwhile, parent and teacher interviews have been cancelled that were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday evening.

The question of how to retrieve students’ belongings from their schools has also come up.

“We are working on a plan for that to occur,” said Sanderson.

Some teachers used social media to reach out to students and parents to help ease their fears.

Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School teacher Jason Zackowski posted on Facebook: “I’m a teacher at LTCHS and I want all Red Deer parents to know that the high school teachers are doing everything we can possibly do to get your kids through and to get our diploma kids ready.

“We care about them and even though I’m not 100 per cent sure what the plan will be, we are working first thing Monday on getting kids learning in some fashion or another, or at the very least, prepared.”

Red Deer College announced Sunday it was cancelling all classes, including all apprenticeship sessions in the school of trades and technologies.

RDC plans to begin online and remote delivery of classes starting Wednesday.

The college’s main and downtown campuses will remain open, and all employees are expected to go to work.

Students are to receive specific information and instructions from each of their class and practicum instructors, as soon as early this week.

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