By Collin Gallant
Alberta Newspaper Group
Rural educators in southeast Alberta will offer online learning this fall, like their urban counterparts in Medicine Hat, for pupils who can not or choose not to attend school due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But, the Prairie Rose School Division is stressing connection to specific schools in its widespread and low-tech options are required where high-speed internet access isn’t available.
“We’re so geographically spread out, and we need to maintain that connection,” said Reegan Weeks, the division’s assistant superintendent.
Operating schools in the whole of Cypress County, Bow Island, Oyen and Redcliff, PSRD has offered distance learning for years, but to augment in-class programs or expand options beyond core subjects.
With the COVID-19 lockdown last March, offering general instruction online or via other means looked quite different.
Ahead of a return to school on Aug. 31, PRSD has entered an agreement with Edmonton Public School Division for take-home packs, essentially work plans and exercises for students and parents, and the accompanying packs for teachers in specific schools.
Those will be distributed to students who register for home learning, or are required to be out of school.
“As they arise, you need to have it be as seamless as possible, leaving and returning to schools,” said Weeks.
All three boards are contemplating the possibility of students having to leave school potentially due to illness or quarantining precautions if they have been in contact with a positive case.
Weeks also said that parents face “unknowns” when deciding what to do this fall.
“There are unique needs in each family,” she said. “Parents should think about their kids as learners and what will help them succeed. We’ll be as flexible as we can.”
Dwayne Zarichny, the superintendent with the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education, previously worked with a division based in Wainwright that offered traditional distance-learning programs.
That is similar but different in that previously, projects might have meant extra credit, or could be worked on during nights of weekends.
He is making it clear that the coming program will mimic a school week closely – more closely that when schools closed abruptly last March – and students will be expected to complete the work as it is due.
“Parents have a very large part to play in their children’s education,” said Zarichny.
Catholic students in Medicine Hat who work from home will report to their regular teachers in assigned schools. Those teachers will also handle in-class instruction.
Medicine Hat Public Schools is offering an “At Home HUB” program that groups all at home learners together for work by class with specific teachers dealing only with HUB students.
Initial registration for that program runs Aug. 15-24.
School administrators declined to provide estimates about potential enrolment numbers for online options.