On Sept. 14, thousands of students in London, Ont., and the surrounding area will take to their laptops and computers for the first day of virtual school.
From the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB), about 3,000 students have opted to enroll in online learning, an option that was offered to parents and guardians concerned about in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), which has more than three times as many school as its Catholic counterpart, will see more than 13,000 students attend class online.
Both school boards have adopted online learning models that are dictated by provincial guidelines.
The two boards also promise that the new school year will bring a more robust online learning experience than the emergency online learning model that was brought in at the tail end of the 2019/2020 school year.
LDCSB director of education Linda Staudt said students are expected to be logged on for five hours or the equivalent of the amount of time that they would be spend physically in class.
“They won’t always be on-screen, so to speak, because there will be work that they have to do independently,” Staudt said.
“So it will be that combination of work that they’re doing with the teacher online, that everybody is sort of seeing the same screen and working through it, and then independent work as well.”
TVDSB director of education Mark Fisher said the public board will now offer a full range of curricular choices for elementary students, expanding on the emergency learning model brought in last Spring.
“We’re trying to stagger different breaks and we’re trying to do all kinds of different types of activities where you’ll do some live interactions, you’ll do some video recordings, there’ll be opportunities for kids to go away and do some work and then check-in,” Fisher said.
Fisher added that TVDSB has delivered more than 14,000 devices to students in need ahead of the new school year.
“Many of those are internet-enabled because we recognize that there are certain members of our community that do not have access to reliable internet.”
Both directors of education said that the biggest change to this school year’s version of e-learning will be noticed among high school students.
“We’ve had to move to what we’re now calling the octomester… and they’re taking one course at a time and they’re taking it for 24 days,” said Staudt, adding that LDCSB’s online teachers will be set up in classrooms at their home schools.
Similar to elementary students, high school students will also have a mix of synchronous learning and asynchronous learning.
Staudt added that there is hope for a full return to in-person learning before the 2020/2021 school year is done.
“We and Thames Valley… are still in those areas where the COVID incidence isn’t as low as we would like it, but if it continues to improve then the hope is that eventually that all of our high school students could move everyday to in-person learning,” Staudt said.
Staudt added that the Catholic board is hoping to see that happen by what would typically be the second semester of the school year.
As of Thursday, LDCSB and TVDSB are still in the process of hiring more teachers to support the new learning models. That’s in combination with a number of other final preparations that need to be carried out before students return to school.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years and at no point were any of these kind of issues ever contemplated in terms of the delivery of education,” said Fisher.
“The scope of trying to run two parallel systems… it’s just a mammoth undertaking.”
Both boards will hold their first day of school on Sept. 14 with a staggered entry beginning that day for elementary students.