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Chinook School Division reopen plan a success in Hutterian schools; École Centennial School’s has new initiative

Posted on 24 March 2021 by Matthew Liebenberg
<p>There was a video presentation at the virtual Chinook School Division board meeting on March 8 about École Centennial School's initiative to keep their school community connected.</p>

The resumption of learning in Hutterian schools has been a success under the Chinook School Division’s reopen plan.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Michaluk provided an update on learning in these schools during the presentation of the Hutterian status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting that took place via video conference. March 8.

“This was a really important piece to work with our colony brethren at the schools and our staff to get things going in the fall,” he said.

The school division worked with the Hutterian Safety Council and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to create a plan for the safe return of students and staff, and that plan remains in place.

The fact that 26 of the 32 Hutterian schools have remained in face-to-face learning for each day of the current school year is evidence of the success of the plan.

“There were a couple of pauses throughout the year, but for the most part we’ve been really good and things have been going strong,” he said. “We’re thankful that we have had instruction, although our staff are prepared for remote learning, should that need arise.”

The send home or stay home policy has been a key part of the school division’s reopen plan to ensure that any staff or students who are not well are not present in schools.

“We worked hard with our staff, with our colony folks, with the German teachers, with families to ensure that kids came to school only when they were feeling well, and the big plan was if you’re not feeling well that you needed to go home or hopefully not come to school,” he said.

Michaluk added that there were so far only 30 instances since the start of the school year where students have been sent home from school due to illness.

“When you think about 32 schools, that’s less on average than one per school for quite a few months here, and we all know that sickness can pop up,” he said. “What that speaks to me is that our German teachers were cooperating, our families on the colonies were cooperating and if kids were not feeling well, they were not coming to school in the first place and at the odd occasion that’s what we dealt with. So we’re thankful for that.”

He spoke about the different environment under which students returned to school, where there were new protocols in place to ensure everyone was safe in the new COVID-19 pandemic situation. He felt staff were able to turn a challenging scenario into a welcoming and inviting situation, even though there are new procedures such as hand sanitizing upon arrival, screening questions asked to everyone every day, and even temperature checks. That process continues to provide another level of screening to keep students safe and healthy at school.

“Our staff were remarkable into turning tough times into times that can be accepted and our students are resilient,” he said. “So I couldn’t be more proud of the work that the staff have done and the cooperation that we’ve got in this process, because it really wasn’t easy work in the beginning, but we have an understanding and a mutual respect in play here.”

The impact of the pandemic on learning and the consequences of a period of remote learning last year was evident from the results of the school division’s Fountas & Pinnell reading assessments, which indicated that 48 per cent of Grade 2 and 3 students in Hutterian schools were meeting or exceeding grade level.

“This is not a great number,” he noted. “This is down about 11 per cent from last year, and so we’re concerned with that obviously. We want that number to be higher, and we are currently working on intervention plans. … So we hope that number changes and I know staff are working hard to try to make a difference.”

The implementation of the intervention plans only started recently, but Superintendent of Schools Jan Pogorzelec told the meeting she already received positive feedback from teachers at Hutterian schools about the benefits of the additional support measures.

“There were a lot of moving parts to this initiative, and I have never seen the departments come together so fluidly and solidly to support this initiative,” she said. “We’ve been able to roll it out under the direction of Mark [then Acting Director Mark Benesh] and get what we needed into those schools. And the German teachers had a letter that was referenced as to what was going to happen, why it was happening, and it was extremely well received. We are in the first days of the rollout, but so far so good. Things are going very smooth.”

There are currently 499 students in the 32 Hutterian schools within the Chinook School Division. This is an increase of six students compared to the previous school year, but the overall trend is a lower student population in Hutterian schools.

There has been a decline of 170 students over the past 13 years, and Michaluk said the projected enrolment for the 2021-22 school year is 481 students.

École Centennial School presentation about staying connected during pandemic:

The Chinook School Division board meeting on March 8 included a presentation by École Centennial School Principal Angela Schindel and Vice-Principal Chris Siemens about an initiative in their school to keep the school community connected during the pandemic.

“Coming into this year as leaders, Chris and I knew it was probably going to be one of the most challenging years we’ve faced to this point,” Schindel said. “We went into it with a commitment and a motto from Dr. Jody Carrington that we’re braver together and we’re wired to do hard things. We really wanted to focus on relationships and how could we during COVID continue to grow and build that amongst our team and our families and our communities.”

The pandemic restrictions means that school-wide events and activities cannot take place and it is therefore a challenge to keep that sense of a school community. École Centennial School therefore created a virtual assembly by implementing daily video announcements that are available to families through the school’s YouTube and website.

Staff and students can create videos about their learning and classroom activities, which are then shared with the entire school community through the daily video announcements.

“At the start of the year, we were really questioning and thinking about how can we build a positive culture during a pandemic within the restrictions that we had to work with,” Siemens said.

He noted that the contents of the video announcements have changed during the school year to reflect different needs and activities.

“At the start of the school, we were focused on using our video announcements to introduce members of our school community to each other,” he explained. “Video announcements help us to keep our school small where everyone knows each other. As we moved into November and December, the focus moved towards learning celebrations and in the new school year the focus has been on connecting with our school community, building positive values, especially through our school community council book that we’ve purchased for families, called Wish Tree.”

Their presentation to the school board meeting included a video with clips from the school’s daily video announcements. Acting Deputy Director Kathy Robson expressed appreciation towards Schindel and Siemens for their efforts to maintain a positive culture at their school.

“They have a big busy building that’s dual track and it would be easy to feel isolated within that building, but they do such a great job of being creative and positive and really reaching out to make their staff feel connected and supported in their building,” Robson said.

There was a video presentation at the virtual Chinook School Division board meeting on March 8 about École Centennial School’s initiative to keep their school community connected.

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