As with other schools nation-wide, the staff and students at Wm E Hay Stettler Secondary Campus had to adapt quickly to new ways of connecting with each other and continuing the educational journey.
“I think the transition has gone very well with the time-frame we were given from the Province to cancel classes,” explained Norbert Baharally, the school’s principal. “We had about a week from the time that decision was made before we needed to be up and running online to provide education for our students.
“So we met that first day after we learned of the announcement and tried to implement a plan. We talked about lots of things as a staff – what it would look like, and what the needs were – and at the same time we were trying to decipher information that was still coming in on quite a regular basis at that time.
“I really want to commend our staff here in our school with regards to how quickly they are able to adapt to change – moving from a traditional learning environment into an environment they hadn’t (necessarily) been trained in, or participated in or had to instruct in.
“Prior to the announcement, I would say we had half of our staff using Google Classroom already as a platform to push out some things – such as if a student was sick for a few days or absent for a day,” he pointed out. “They could go on Google Classroom and get whatever assignments they were missing and stay caught up.”
With the onset of the pandemic, Baharally said other staff who weren’t accustomed to using that particular technology had to quickly get onboard.
“For me and our administration team, it made supervision of our teachers different because no longer can we walk into their classrooms and observe what they are doing and ask the students what they are learning, all those kinds of things.
“So I added myself to each of the teacher’s Google Classrooms so I could monitor and see what the teachers were pushing out, and how often things were being pushed out and what kinds of assessments were happening,” he said.
“I would say for the most part, right away, we had a pretty high level of engagement from our students,” he said.
From there, Baharally said it was also about utilizing various staff in different ways, which included educational assistants linking up with students via Google Meets for constructive consultations, too.
“This way, they could assist and help students along the way,” he said.
Ultimately, there is a bit of a silver lining that may emerge from such a trying time.
“At the end of the day, when we get through this pandemic, each of our staff will have other tools in their tool kits with regard to delivery and instruction,” he explained. “They will now be able to expose topics differently and be able to draw kids into their learning in a bit of a different way than the tradition ‘stand-at-the-front’ and deliver,” he said.
As he noted, there will continue to be students who do need some extra support as well. And with the bolstered online connections with educational assistants and staff, it could be a system that really helps them.
“I think that’s where we’ve been able to reach out with our EAs and our other staff more – to dial into those kids that need that one-on-one attention and have meetings with them to help them get through.”
In terms of this year’s graduating students, things are of course a far cry from the usual routine.
But staff are doing their best to help mark the occasion in a meaningful way.
“We will be doing something to recognize our grads this year based on the guidelines the provincial government has put out there regarding gatherings and social distancing.
Formal cap and gown graduation photos will be taken June 8th-1th.
“We are also going to see if we can somehow get the diploma presentations to each individual student done somewhere with a picture, because we normally get a picture of that on grad night as well.
“We are also going to maybe look at doing something out on our football field – maybe in groups of 50. Who knows, by June 20th those restrictions might be upped a little bit. We might be able to get our entire Grade 12 class out on the field and spread out and be able to be together for at least that part of it.”
Of course, this all depends on the provincial rules and what is allowed for photographers, too.
A virtual message will also be produced including speeches and inspirational messages. This will be played online on the day that grad ceremonies would have normally been held on.
For Baharally, it’s been inspirational to see how everyone has worked hard to create an effective learning environment in such unprecedented times.
“I think the biggest thing, and I’ve always maintained this as far as teachers and educators go, is the amount of flexibility and adaptability they need to possess and use,” he said.
“This was a classic example. With about a week’s worth of time, when the world gets kind of turned upside down, we had to figure out how we were still going to reach out to our students, and try to instruct them and engage them at a high level.
“For me, it was good to see that our staff were that flexible and able to adapt to the changing times we are in right now.”
This indeed is a year that Baharally will never forget as it also includes the close of a chapter. He is set to retire this year.
Unfortunately, major gatherings marking milestones and events – like his retirement – can’t be held in the usual way.
But Baharally said it’s time to call it a career and he’s all right with it wrapping it up during what has been a challenging time on many levels.
“I’ve had this date in mind for a long time,” he said. “And it will be a year I won’t forget for sure.”