Students in Nova Scotia are once again turning to virtual learning during a week of record-breaking COVID-19 cases and tight restrictions.
On Monday, Premier Iain Rankin announced that all schools in the Halifax region were to close immediately and begin online learning on Thursday for the next two weeks.
The next day, that announcement was expanded to include all schools in the province. They will begin online learning on Friday.
An update about a potential return-to-school date will be released on May 7 for schools in the Halifax area, and an update for families will be provided by May 12 for schools outside of HRM.
Before the announcement, more than 30 schools connected to a COVID-19 case had already shut down and moved to online learning.
According to the province’s at-home learning plan, students will do a combination of online instruction with their teachers and self-directed learning, either by themselves or in groups.
How much time they spend in virtual school depends on their grade level:
- Pre-primary students will receive a take-home package of play-based learning materials.
- Students in grades primary to 3 will have two hours of school work daily, with one hour of that time spent online. Students will be provided with a schedule indicating when they will be online and when they will be working independently.
- Students in grades 4 to 6 will have three hours of schoolwork daily, with up to 1.5 hours of that time online, either individually, in small groups, or as a class. Students will be given a detailed schedule.
- Students in grades 7 to 9 will have about four hours of schoolwork daily, with up to two hours of that time spent online either individually, in small groups or as a class. Students will be given a detailed schedule.
- Students in grades 10 to 12 will follow their current schedules, with up to half of their school day online. Students will be given a detailed schedule.
In all grades, some students may have additional time with learning support teachers and other support staff depending on what their needs are and their individual program plans.
The province also purchased more than 32,000 Chromebooks for students who don’t have access to a computer. The at-home learning plan said any student who needs a computer will be given one.
The Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Child Development did not respond to a media request asking about what supports were in place for working parents during at-home learning.
It’s not the first time schools have shut down in Nova Scotia during COVID-19. Last spring, students left for March break and didn’t return as the first wave of the pandemic made itself known in the province.
While in-person classes started up again in the fall, two schools in the Halifax region had to abruptly make the switch to online learning in November after COVID-19 cases were found to be connected to them.
‘A little bit of a shift’
One of them was at Auburn Drive High School. In an interview, English teacher Libby Olmstead said after last spring, teachers went into this school year with the expectation that they might have to pivot to online learning at some point.
So when Auburn High had to close in November, they were ready — or at least as ready as anyone can be during a pandemic.
“It wasn’t too much of a surprise, although it was a little bit of a shift, for sure, learning what was useful for the students and what worked for us,” she said.
During at-home learning, Olmstead meets with her grade 10 and 11 classes through Google Classroom each day, where she instructs them and gives them assignments to work on throughout the day. She stays in the call so students can come and go with questions, and she also schedules one-on-one time with them.
In terms of grading, she said students won’t necessarily get more leniency — but teachers are taking the extraordinary circumstances into account when coming up with assignments.
“I certainly wouldn’t be assigning something immediately or having a test online right away as students and teachers are getting used to the idea of being online,” she said.
“But as the two weeks move forward that we’re working online, and if it happens to go on longer, we have goals to meet and students need to be assessed, and we need to be supporting them in that.”
Olmstead said a big part of every teacher’s job is to learn how to adapt and find what suits the diverse needs of their students, and this is “another layer” of that.
She added that while it’s been a tough time for students in the province, they’re taking it in stride. Olmstead said she is still moving forward with the class’s routines and lessons as planned and hasn’t made changes to the units, which helps preserve a sense of normalcy for them.
“I know it can be difficult to be learning from home. Everybody has different circumstances that they’re living in, and it can be distracting or challenging for all of us to be working from home at any time, and so students are no exception,” she said.
“We are here for our students, and so it’s just a matter of taking a minute to shift into that new way of being.”