Alana Giesbricht and her daughter Camryn enjoy some time relaxing before Camryn heads off to her first day of kindergarten on Sept. 11, 2020. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

COVID-19 makes its mark on Shuswap schools, teachers and parents

Pandemic keeps more students than expected away from conventional schooling

Back to school this year is ‘back to’ something no one has experienced before.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are widespread throughout School District 83, yet can vary substantially from teacher to teacher, parent to parent.

Alana Giesbrecht is a parent and a teacher in the school district. She has four children in school. The youngest, Camryn, just started kindergarten.

Giesbrecht is a part-time teacher of Grade 9 and 10 students at the Jackson campus of Salmon Arm Secondary.

She said her children are happy to go to school and she hasn’t been worried about them contracting the virus. She noted that principals were in the schools four or five weeks before the start date, doing all kinds of scheduling and working hard to prepare. At a teachers’ meeting prior to school starting, she said teachers were taking social distancing very seriously. Giesbrecht said many rules are in place to keep students – and teachers and other staff – safe.

“I think if it (the virus) still spreads like wildfire, it’s for other reasons, not school.”

Read more: Two Grade 7-9 middle schools among options considered for Salmon Arm and area

Read more: COVID-19: Most secondary school students in person at B.C. schools

Graham Gomme is president of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association. He said teachers are generally happy to be back at school – “this is what we do, this is what we’re about.”

While COVID-19 made things more difficult, he said the district did the best planning it could. However, the reconciling of predicted student numbers with actual numbers has been more volatile than other years because of the pandemic – and provincial funding is based on student numbers. While enrolment, which has risen in the past five years, is not finalized until Sept. 30, numbers are lower than anticipated.

“The district’s talked about approximately 400 students choosing to stay home. With 6,500 students in the school district, that’s a lot,” Gomme said.

The ‘best guess’ of enrolment was to be presented at the school board’s Tuesday, Sept. 22, meeting.

Three schools are already being impacted by low student-teacher ratios, the ensuing loss of a teacher and class re-configurations: MV Beattie in Enderby, Highland Park in Armstrong and, in Salmon Arm, Shuswap Middle School.

While teachers are being reassigned and not laid off at this point, Gomme would like to see more financial support from the province so all the planning of classes since July could be maintained and disruptions to students and teachers avoided. He pointed out that lower density makes sense with COVID-19.

Superintendent Peter Jory said the district initially forecast a surplus of 12 to 18 teachers, but the education ministry’s transitional enrolment strategy and the infusion of federal funding, which can be used to support online staffing, means only three teacher reductions for now.

Another challenge is dealing with young students. Gomme reported that high school teachers feel for their elementary school counterparts.

“They are trying to figure out how they can work with kids by not tying up their shoes or putting on their jackets. Doing all those things they usually do as a kindergarten teacher when a four- or five-year-old comes in your classroom and doesn’t know what school is about.”

He said COVID-19 makes it tougher to help the district’s children who require supports.

The pandemic has also been hard on janitorial staff, with all the extra work. Some retired janitors have been called back to help out.

Read more: Alberta to require masks at schools but still no mandate in B.C.

Read more: Interior Health prepared for COVID-19 outbreak in schools

Corryn Grayston is the parent of a son who just started Grade 2. She is also president of the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).

Speaking as a parent rather than for the DPAC, which doesn’t meet until Sept. 29, Grayston said she has been quite impressed by the information being provided by school district leadership – how they’re keeping parents informed.

“Teachers, staff, EAs, administrators, janitorial – they have all stepped up to the plate to make the new school structure be as normal as possible,” she added.

Grayston said she and her spouse spent a long time thinking about whether to enroll their son in school. As an only child, he needs the socialization. But they were also thinking about his grandma, who is elderly with a compromised immune system.

So every day the Graystons go through the COVID-19 checklist with their son. They also talk to him every day about the kids at school. Are the kids following the COVID rules, how are the teachers doing, the education assistants.

“So far, for our purposes, we’re pleased how things have gone…We just are doing everything we can to keep him safe and we trust that other parents and teachers and staff are doing the same,” she said.

“But there are no guarantees and we realize that.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusSalmon ArmSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

File photo
EDITORIAL: The power of a single vote

In the Oct. 24 British Columbia election, every vote is important

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Kelowna RCMP investigating unexplained death of cattle

Cattle found dead near gravel road, east of the Kelowna Airport

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Penticton Fire Department chief Larry Watkinson advises against using fireworks on Halloween this year. (Jenna Cocullo / Black Press Media)
How to not get blown up or catch COVID-19 this Halloween in Penticton

Halloween amid a pandemic will present a handful of unique challenges

A portion of Pelmewash Parkway was closed briefly Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, while Lake Country Fire Department and RCMP responded to rescue an eight-month-old puppy stuck on a cliff. (District of Lake Country - Facebook)
Police and firefighters save Lake Country puppy from cliff

A portion of Pelmewash Parkway was closed briefly Wednesday as fire, RCMP responded to rescue mission

The Sicamous Fire Department was able to use their ladder truck to rescue a cat which had been stuck in a tree. (Chelsea Bowman-Facebook)
Cat stuck in tree for two days saved by Shuswap firefighters

Rescue also an opportunity to train with ladder truck

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Shuswap BC NDP candidate Sylvia Lindgren reports several campaign signs have recently been damaged or removed. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap candidate seeking those responsible for stolen, damaged signs

NDP and Green Party signs in the Sunnybrae area have been targetted

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Most Read