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After reopening: A look inside Pontiac schools

PONTIAC May 27 2020 
Elementary schools in the region have adapted to abide by physical distancing requirements due to COVID-19.
Dr. S.E.  McDowell Elementary School taped up their classrooms into nine or less two-metre by two-metre squares where each student will work at. 
“It looks like a tic-tac-toe board,”said Principal Grady Robson. “For anyone that’s down that middle row of the tic-tac-toe grid , the desks are right in the middle of the two-by-two square and for the kids on the two outside, they’re up against the wall, so they’re as far apart as they possibly can.”
Shelves with nonessential books were either removed from the classrooms to provide extra space or turned to face the walls to restrict access to these books.
“In my room, the books are just put at the back and [the students] are not allowed to touch them,” said Sarah Lavoie, who teaches grades two through four at McDowell elementary.
Each student has a workstation in their taped-off square, provided with materials such as pencils, paper, crayons, markers and rulers.  
“The material at their desk is theirs to use for the rest of the year,” said Lavoie. “I don’t go through their desk, and they don’t touch mine.”  
For the math and language arts she teaches, Lavoie has made a kit out of a plastic container that has all the materials the students need for the rest of the year, including blocks, cards, a whiteboard, dominos and dice, along with work packages for the week at the desk.
In case a student needs help on a question, they are to hold the paper up and show it or explain it to Lavoie, who will then write it on the board and work it out there.
“There’s a lot of oral communication going on, but it’s not easy ” said Lavoie. “We’re still kind of learning how to deal with that.”
McDowell staff found it challenging to have Zoom calls with their students staying home like the other schools in the region, since not enough of the rural population have access to high -speed internet, according to Robson. 
Regardless, the kids who are staying at home are receiving the same packages as their peers in class, which are usually sent to them on Monday or Tuesday. 
“Pretty much anytime I’m not in front of the students I’m checking my email to see if there’s a question,” said Lavoie. 
At Poupore Primary School, Principal Stéphane Bouchard said the teachers are checking in with their students two or three times a week and have been. Most teachers are also using sites like Google Classroom and Seesaw to work with the students at home, or are sending the videos.
 Something that  Poupore has done beyond the government directives was to double up supervision for pupils in kindergarten groups.
“In the majority of the classes, we have two adults working together as a team to create space or time, or we provide support to the teacher,” said Bouchard. “This organisation is to make sure that the teachers are able to also follow/support the kids at home or having time for planning.”
 McDowell is also doing something similar with their kindergarten classes
“We only really need to have one [caregiver] in a small kindergarten class, but because we have staff available and because those kids are young, we have extra bodies,” said Robson 
In McDowell’s kindergarten classes, any objects, such as toys, in the kindergarten classes that are not made of plastic or metal are taken away, since they cannot be cleaned properly. Children are not to share their toys, which must be disinfected after each use. 
These groups are capped at nine students just like the elementary classes, however no groups reach the limit. 
At McDowell, during recess and at the end of every day, the students’ desks are cleared off and get disinfected by the custodial staff.
Students have also been given a bag with a piece of chalk, a skipping rope, tennis balls to play with independently and the play structures and gym equipment has been taped off and Lavoie also organized some activities that the children can do at a distance, such as games of rock-paper-scissors and physical distance walks in the yard. 
Robson said McDowell’s reopening was successful mainly thanks to the staff having six days to prepare for the new situation beforehand. 
“We were told initially that there were going to be 15 students per class,” said Robson. “When these members of staff looked at the dimensions of their rooms, we realized that we couldn’t even come close to 15 students safely, so we realised as a group that nine is the most we could do.” 
On the other hand, Bouchard said keeping up with the evolution of the unknown virus and constantly adapting to the changing directives, from the government, particularly sanitary ones, was a challenge for Poupore. 
“The most difficult challenge for us was the short timeline to be ready with all the directives, but we did it,” said Bouchard.  
Despite the measures set in place at McDowell, the number of students attending class, which was 47 on May 11, has decreased, according to Robson, who did not disclose the new number. 
However, Robson said that his  students present in school  have done a good job abiding to the new norms - an opinion shared by his staff member Lavoie. 
“They’re doing a really great job of understanding the rules,” said Lavoie “They get what physical distancing is and they are maintaining it, so that’s really positive.”
 A similar message came from Poupore.
“No matter the age, the students learned quickly  to ensure their well-being and that for the others also,” said Bouchard. “Our staff were calm, positive and welcoming.”

Another view of a classroom at Dr. S.E. McDowell Elementary School, in Shawville.


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