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Inside a New Brunswick elementary school before students return to class

Click to play video 'Concerns raised about lack of personal protective equipment in schools' Concerns raised about lack of personal protective equipment in schools
The teacher’s association in New Brunswick says teachers are prepared, but concerns raised about a lack of PPE. Callum Smith has more.

New Brunswick students are preparing for a return to the classroom next week.

While public health rules and regulations vary by age group, the principal of Sussex Corner Elementary School says they’re looking forward to the return of students.

Margaret DeMerchant doesn’t forget the day things changed — when schools across the province were shuttered due to COVID-19.

“I would never have dreamt in a million years in February, or even on Friday, March 13, that we would have experienced six months like this,” DeMerchant says.

Read more: New Brunswick releases operational plans for schools online

Once classes resume students will gather outside at a picnic table each morning with their teacher and classmates or their ‘bubble.’

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Masks will be encouraged when students enter or depart the school, or if they’re in common areas. Guidelines are different for different age categories.

People can walk both ways in the hallways but directional markings on the floor encourage people to stay to the right side.

DeMerchant says about 311 students are enrolled this academic year.

Arrows on the floor encourage people to stay to the right side and keep six feet apart at Sussex Corner Elementary School in New Brunswick.
Arrows on the floor encourage people to stay to the right side and keep six feet apart at Sussex Corner Elementary School in New Brunswick. Callum Smith / Global News

But due to rearranging classrooms to accommodate physical distancing protocols, class sizes had to be reduced; a positive for all, DeMerchant says.

“In the upper elementary from [Grades] 3-5, typically we could have 25-26 children and our maximum this year is 20,” she says. “As well, in Kindergarten to Grade 2, it could’ve been 21 [students], and they’ve been reduced to 13 or 14 children.”
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But smaller class sizes has resulted in more classes.

Three new teachers have been hired this year, DeMerchant says. And among the makeshift modifications, the library has been set up as a classroom.

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For the younger students especially, even some of what they teach will be different because of the pandemic.

It’s a new vocabulary, talking about ‘bubbles’ and disinfectants,” DeMerchant says. “We have lessons, mini-lessons, on how to put on a mask, how to take off a mask, how to sneeze, how to cough.”

Teachers returned to the classroom Monday to prepare and provide feedback for the school’s working operational plan.

Those have been released online, says the province.

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The library in a New Brunswick school has been turned into a classroom to accommodate more classes
The library in a New Brunswick school has been turned into a classroom to accommodate more classes. Callum Smith / Global News

DeMerchant says changes will likely have to be made on the fly.

“There’s no question that cannot be asked because we’re all learning and starting this journey together.”

New Brunswick Teachers’ Association President Rick Cuming says while there’s some anxiety, teachers are as prepared as they could be.

But, he notes some concerns have been raised.

“We’re hearing from teachers that have noticed, in some cases, not all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) may be available in their particular context.”

Read more: New Brunswick’s Return to School plans include support for vulnerable students; testing for staff

He says they’ve been assured by the province’s department of education that there is enough PPE.

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DeMerchant didn’t mention those concerns but wants parents of students at her school to be reassured.

“We’re really looking forward to having everyone back,” she says. “It’s been a long time.”