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Calgary school boards transition to online learning during COVID-19 pandemic

Calgary school boards transition to online learning during COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: Calgary students are getting ready to finish the school year at home, while others are already weeks into online learning. Adam MacVicar reports.

As schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgary school boards are beginning to transition to online learning for students at home.

Alberta health officials ordered schools be closed until further notice on March 15.

The move has forced local school boards to adjust to an online learning platform with three months remaining in the 2019/2020 school year.

Students at the Calgary Catholic School District have done online classes for two weeks.

According to school board officials, teachers have been using apps like Google Classroom and other sources to get learning materials to their students.

“[Teachers] are reaching out to families via telephone or online learning and in some cases they are providing paperwork as well for children… who may not have access to technology,” CCSD chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas said.
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Szumlas said the district is working to get laptops and tablets to students who don’t have access to technology at home, as well as providing donated laptops through the United Way.

How classes will be taught may vary between teachers, Szumlas said, with some teachers using group sessions on applications like Zoom to teach the curriculum and hand out assignments.

Meanwhile, students at the Calgary Board of Education are coming back from their spring break.

According to board officials, teachers spent Monday contacting parents as well as working to set up schedules and classwork online for younger grade levels.

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High school students are expected to begin online learning within the coming days.

Similar to CCSD, classes at CBE schools will be taught using various platforms depending on the teacher.

“I think that we’ll really pick up momentum and as we hit next week. Monday or Tuesday, we’ll be hitting our stride, albeit a bumpy stride,” said CBE education director Mark Nelson. “For high schools, over the next few days as they connect with their students… they’ll create those opportunities for video connection and they’ll have one or two video connections a week, and then there will be ongoing dialogue within D2L.”

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According to Nelson, between 700 and 900 CBE students were already using online learning prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the school is working to transition online learning to its population of 120,000 students.

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Over the next few days, CBE officials will be working to determine what technology availability is like for their students, and what can be done to ensure students receive work materials.

“When you consider that we have 7,000 to 8,000 teachers that usually teach face to face, and they usually bring technology into their class somewhat, but now they’re full-time; it’s a pretty huge undertaking,” Nelson said. “We’re going to do what’s best for our families, what’s best for our students and what’s best for our teachers.”

Both school boards said they are following weekly timelines that have been set by the province: five hours of work per week for elementary students, 10 hours per week for junior high students and three hours per each diploma course for high school students.

Szumlas​ said supports are available for students and parents who may feel overwhelmed with the transition.

“[I’m] really concerned about mental health and wellness for all,” Szumlas said. “If a child is struggling, know to please contact the school and we’ll get the supports that they need.”
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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta students, parents adjust to class work being done online

During the announcement cancelling in-person classes in Alberta, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said that she expects students to get a final mark and advance to the next grade.

However, both Calgary school boards responded differently to the announcement.

According to CCSD, any student who was successful prior to the COVID-19 outbreak will move forward and advance to the next grade or graduate high school.

“However, a student that wasn’t passing in assignments, wasn’t engaging in class, wasn’t even showing up for class — it’s our challenge now to re-engage them to get them caught up so that they can pass the course,” Szumlas said.

According to the CBE, board officials will work with the ministry to understand the parameters around final grades.

“We’re going to try and provide the richest experience for our students… as we move through the next weeks and potentially months,” Nelson said. “We’ll move our students along and if they need extra supports next year, we’ll do that as well.”