Making the most of online school

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

During these difficult and unprecedented times, there are stories that make you feel good, hopeful and cheerful. Stories that despite it all, give hope for a promising and brighter tomorrow.
Sharla MacKinnon, principal at Crossroads Public School in Devlin, shares some positive and feel-good stories as her school navigates the difficulties of online teaching amidst COVID-19, a pandemic that left thousands of students outside of the classrooms.
MacKinnon said she has been fortunate to have a great staff including vice-principal Heather Bridgeman, and they have asked their teachers to share their good stories each week.
“Our teachers have been engaging students in Google meet sessions where they are able to see not only their teacher’s face but also classmates’ faces as well,” MacKinnon said. “I think that especially for our youngest learners who are having a hard time not always quite understanding why they can’t play with their friends right now. I think they are at least enjoying the time that they have to connect with one another.”
With the sudden implementation of the online teaching mode, many parents, teachers and students experienced technical difficulties with joining the sessions on time and taking notes.
“We have had a couple of parents that reached out to the teachers after they realized that they may have missed helping their child get connected to a session online. I think that just speaks volumes of the fact of how it is important for the kids to stay connected and so our teachers have been very flexible at sending out additional sessions in case kids have missed them or setting up multiple sessions so that they can be part of other small groups as well.”
But this sudden change did not discourage teachers from expanding their creative horizons by implementing learning methods that are informative, online-frindly and fun.
“Some of our teachers have played online jeopardy during the session. It is all part of the learning and the content is there for learning. Some of our teachers have also been conducting virtual art lessons and we have been sending home art supplies for the students to follow along while the teacher teaches them through the virtual session.”
On May 19, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that online classes would continue until the last day of classes on June 26, with the possibility of online classes during the fall term remaining open.
However, Ford said the most important thing that will guide all their future decisions is the safety of students. “The safety of our children is my top priority,” Ford said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said a full plan of reopening schools in September will be available in June. The plan, he said, will include physical distancing measures and will be “bolstered by an enhanced province-wide virtual learning program that will allow all students to learn, regardless of the challenges that may transpire in the coming months.”
“It is obvious that schools will not look the same, that we will have to reimagine education in some respects in September given that there will have to be some protocol changes,” Lecce said.
MacKinnon said they had a virtual staff meeting shortly after that announcement and they reminded the staff that although they might not always see the impact of the work that they are doing, it is there.
“Part of the challenge is that when we went off to education school, and become part of this community of learning, we didn’t quite learn at that time how to put it into a virtual world. And I think in a very short period of time, we have done that really, really well. To try to keep the morale up until the end of the school year, I’d have to say our staff is doing amazing.”
The school cancellation announcement also meant that there will be no formal graduation ceremonies, an event that students across Canada look forward to. MacKinnon said there are graduation plans in the works to make it meaningful and a way for them to wish their graduates well.
“The most important lesson we have all learned from this is what a great team we have,” MacKinnon said. “It has taken everybody working well together and doing everything they can to support our families during this exceptional time. I feel privileged to work at a school where everybody pitches in and works together.”