Things at Stettler Elementary School were moving forward smoothly earlier this year until the COVID-19 pandemic changed virtually everything.
With the regular teaching year set to wrap up June 20th, Principal Sharon Fischer said the past several months have been absolutely unprecedented.
“The world of education is really about relationships,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that everyone who has gotten into this has done so because they love the kids. So the ‘work’ part – the preparing of lessons, the marking – those are all extraneous that are of course very key and very important in covering all the curricular objectives.
“But the real reason that we are here is for the students; for the children,” she explained. “That piece was ripped away from us on March 16th.
“So it has been very difficult, and I would say that the first few weeks were survival mode – the learning curve was immense. I honestly can’t say enough good about our staff – they have jumped in with both feet, and they learned the platforms that they needed to learn.
“This is the third month of this already, and the lessons that the teachers are still sending out and the videos they do – some of the teachers of the younger grades are reading to their students a chapter a day like they would have done in a class,” she said. “They really, I think, maintained as much quality in education as was possible through this time,” she said.
“As it’s dragged out, I think it’s become more and more difficult for families – and it’s definitely become more difficult for us,” she said. “One of the hardest parts is not knowing how long this is going to go on, and what it’s going to look like.”
An official announcement will be made Aug. 1st that will provide details on what the new school year will look like – a full and normal return, a mix of attendance and online learning, or simply a continuation of primarily online learning.
“This is about relationships and if a child’s first introduction to school is ‘Don’t touch that; don’t go over there, stay six feet apart’ – that’s not education, and that’s not really in anyone’s best interest,” she explained.
“So I don’t know how it will look, but what I do know is that if we have children in the building, it’s going to have to be functional.”
As mentioned, the staff have worked to adapt to teaching students ‘virtually’ – which can prove to be a challenge on some levels. But Fischer noted that staff members who are very comfortable with the technology in general worked to really help staff members who weren’t as comfortable with it.
“Once you start clicking those buttons, you find that it’s not that hard. You think, ‘Look what I produced! That’s really cool,” she added with a laugh. Some staff had to, in some ways, ‘relearn’ education by delving into the various online platforms – but it’s proven to be something of a success story at Stettler Elementary.
“They did it! And they didn’t question it. They just jumped in and did it like everyone else,” she said.
“There are people on any staff for who producing a Google Classroom project or putting together a Youtube video – or any of those things – they can be on a list of things that we might say, ‘I’m going to learn those one day’. But come March 16th, that ‘one day’ became ‘this day’.
“There was no longer a choice in when or how I’m going to learn this.”
Moving forward, these new skills will certainly broaden teachers’ abilities to connect with the kids.
“We aren’t going to unlearn those things – we will be able to use Google Classroom inside the classroom as a differentiation tool,” she said, adding it’s been good to see the increased confidence amongst staff as they branch out with various learning platforms. “Our parents have also been phenomenal,” she said, acknowledging that there have been challenges of course in some cases as the pandemic has caused such stress.
“But we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from our families,” she said. “That’s been a silver lining and a blessing for sure.”