Jen Spies Kirby’s two young daughters are heading back to school next week. Her girls, Olivia Brascoup, 12, and Stacey Brascoup, 14, will be starting seventh and eighth grade, respectively, at Howard S. Billings Regional High School in Chateauguay.
“They will be able to eat in the cafeteria like a regular school year, so I am hoping that they are looking forward to that because last year was horrible,” said Kirby.
The mother of five said that the 2020 school year was very difficult for her girls because of all of the safety measures that were in place to protect students and staff at their school.
“It just sucked for them last year because they did not get to do anything. So, this year I think it is going to be better than last year because it’s going to be more of a normal school year for them,” she said.
She explained that the hybrid model introduced last year to allow children to continue learning from home was disastrous for her daughter Stacey.
“I just want them to have a normal functioning school year and actually learn because my daughter (Stacey) failed last year because she missed so much school,” explained Kirby.
“It was really tough because she was online, and then she was back in school and then back online again. She learned absolutely nothing.”
Here in the community, the Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) has decided to bring back students to classrooms full-time because, they too, agree that remote learning is just not enough. Robin Delaronde, the director of KEC, said that after analyzing last year’s data and feedback received from parents, students and teachers, the consensus is that the children suffered immensely, specifically from the social and emotional developmental growth aspect.
“We really are hoping and encouraging parents that when they see and hear all of these different measures that we have in place to protect their children, we really hope and encourage them to send their children to school,” said Delaronde.
“We clearly know that schools are a place for academic and educational growth, but this year really did highlight and bring forth the strong need of what schools do for social and emotional growth. We want our students engaged back with their peers.”
However, the KEC will still offer an online learning program for parents who feel uncomfortable sending their kids back to an on-site classroom.
“The home learning program will look different this year. So, any parent who was in it last year – who is thinking of enrolling their children again this year, must be clearly advised that it will not be implemented the same as last year,” said the director.
The director explained that there would be additional guidelines to the home learning program as well as more face-to-face interaction within a safe environment. Furthermore, the program will be more structured, with weekly feedback and communication with parents.
For the children returning to on-site learning, KEC has brought back safety measures used last year and has also implemented new ones.
“The measures that we had in terms of ensuring the health and safety of students, as well as teachers and staff, are the same measures of last year that will apply, which includes requiring the masking for all students in grades one to 11,” said Delaronde.
She explained that students will not have to wear masks when seated at their desks or when they are having lunch in their classrooms.
“There will be the distancing and the hygiene. And in addition, our schools have the extra health and safety and cleaning protocols in place as we did last year. And we have continued to retain additional maintenance in each of our three schools, as well as our health and safety monitors.”
Additionally, there will be daily health checks for both staff and students prior to arriving at the schools. “This is something that is really important – making sure that parents are not sending their child in if they have some of the symptoms. They must contact local Public health for screening,” said Delaronde.
This year, the new measure requires staff to provide proof of a two-dose vaccination. If they cannot provide proof of vaccination, Delaronde said that they would have to undergo screenings three times a week in order to enter the school.
“It is a non-invasive mouth rinse and gargle screening (testing) – that they will be required to do three times a week,” she explained.
KEC has also hired more teachers – primarily at the elementary level – to ensure that classroom numbers stay small so that students in those classrooms can remain in their bubbles.
The schools will also document students and staff that are required to mix bubbles in case contact tracing becomes necessary.
Delaronde said that there is a sense of optimism and less hesitation from the staff at the schools this time around. “We just finished our opening on Monday, and I was able to visit the three schools in person and connect with people, and overall, I have to say that compared to last year, there was a much more relaxed environment,” said the director.
“Staff were more at ease about walking into the building, being with one another, knowing the expectations of the safety measures. And there was a sense that ‘we want to get back to normal. We want to be here. This is the best place for us – to be on-site for the children.’”