It’s been back to school for a while now — but not for everyone.
Staff and trustees of the Trillium Lakelands District School Board were caught off guard by the number of families choosing at-home learning with work booklets, rather than online at home. Only now, the week of Oct. 19, are students finally starting school for those who chose this learning option.
Director Wes Hahn told trustees that because of an unexpected demand for the Learning at Home option in general the board had to once again re-organize staff in early October. They did so to ensure there would be enough teachers to deal with the in-school component, called the “synchronous model” of Learning at Home and the “asynchronous model” of Learning at Home.
Essentially, one model — synchronous — is real-time learning from home online while the teacher is teaching at a school whereas the other — asynchronous — is simply completing pen and paper exercises to be marked by a teacher from the TLDSB board.
Communications office Sinead Fegan shared with the Advocate via e-mail that 2,000 elementary students and 600 secondary students have enrolled in remote learning.
Students opting for the synchronous Learning at Home model began their elementary programming on Sept. 21 and secondary programming on Sept 16.
But, for those students who chose the asynchronous model with work booklets, it’s been a painfully slow start.
While a teacher will check in semi-regularly, there is no expectation of delivering program.
“We anticipated a much smaller number of families choosing the paper at home option,” Fegan said, “so it took longer than expected to put a system in place. Over the last couple of weeks we have been preparing staff to support paper at home learning.”
A local administrator, who commented on the condition of anonymity, shared, “No one who has lived here any length of time is surprised by the number wanting work booklets. Rural internet which is crucial to synchronous Learning at Home is expensive, slow and unreliable for many of our students.”
“Parents discovered that last spring,” the administrator continued, “and were looking for other options. Some of my elementary parents are also concerned about the amount of screen time the synchronous model asked of students as young as five or six.”
“We believe there are some incredible learning experiences going on at home right now,” Hahn said, “but it took longer than we expected.”
Student trustee Kaylee Kelly, a Grade 12 student from Huntsville Secondary School, shared her student experience of the first octoblock for local high school students.
“The feedback I am getting from other students is that they are falling behind and struggling with mental health issues,” Kelly stated.
“There is too much to do in just 22 days,” Kelly said. “Teachers are cramming too much into an octoblock and some students are looking at 4-5 tests a week in their class.”
“Stress is very high. One of my friends told me that if you have senior English and you are trying to work a part-time job to save for school there is not enough hours in the day to get all your work done,” Kelly added.
Kelly also told trustees and senior staff that she is concerned for the stress she feels many of her teachers are struggling with.
Superintendent of Schools Katherine MacIver promised Kelly that the board would be tracking credit accumulation after the first octoblock closely.
“We are also working with staff to make sure that they identify the key learning outcomes that they need to complete by the end of the octoblock,” MacIver said.
Haliburton-area trustee Gary Brohman wanted to know if the board had enough cleaning supplies and PPE. Brohman had noticed that the cleaning supplies and paper products shelves at Costco were empty and wondered how the board is doing.
Superintendent of Finance Tim Ellis told the board that MGCS, the board’s primary supplier, has warned the board that sanitary wipes have been designated by the province as a priority product for health care settings so they will soon be much more difficult for boards to obtain.
“There are supply chain issues with paper towels and we have been warned there could be a problem there too when we put in our November order,” Ellis said.
For now, Ellis said that the school PPE stocks are holding up, and there are enough masks to supply one to any student who arrives at school without one.