These are uneasy times for students, teachers and administration at Hope secondary school (HSS).
Returning Monday (Jan. 10) after a Christmas break that was a week longer than expected, everyone is wondering what the future holds. The fear is that the continuing spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant will force the school to close, either due to a lack of staff, or a provincial government mandate.
HSS principal Rosalee Floyd said everyone within the school is united in not wanting online schooling, and they’re doing everything they can to avoid it.
“We’re really, really hoping we don’t have to go to remote learning,” she said.
When HSS students returned in September, the school had daily health checks in place, meaning kids were met by an adult as they entered through a designated entrance. They were checked for symptoms. Students who had signs of COVID went into isolation and were sent home.
That remains in place and Floyd believes it sends a strong message about how seriously the school is taking things.
New measures include opening up classrooms in different areas of the school for students to ‘hang out’ in.
“Students like to huddle together in hallways, but we’re trying to limit that face-to-face contact as much as possible,” Floyd noted. “We’re not saying don’t hang out together or don’t have conversations. We’re saying, do so in a classroom where you’re seated and we can create as much as possible between people.”
Prior to Christmas, Floyd said breaks between classes were four minutes long, allowing students to quickly visit the washroom before hustling off to class.
That’s now shortened to two minutes.
“We’re saying move from point A to point B quickly,” Floyd explained. “If a student needs to use the washroom or get their water bottle filled, we ask them to touch base with their teacher first so we avoid large numbers of people congregating in the hallway, waiting to get into the washroom, waiting for the water fountain, what have you.”
HSS is also running two seperate lunch breaks, for seniors and juniors, and everyone is expected to adhere to mask rules.
“I’m the COVID police,” Floyd said with a chuckle. “I tell the kids I hate being the COVID police, but I also tell them it’s really, really important they work with us.”
Things appeared to be getting back to some form of ‘normal’ prior to Christmas.
Basketball games returned, and the HSS gymnasium was packed. The band concert happened for the first time in two years, and Floyd said it was emotional watching kids perform in front of an actual audience.
“It was so nice to have people back in the building, outside of our own students of course, and share the good things that are going on here,” she said.
Having things pulled back — basketball games can proceed, but with no spectators allowed — is discouraging.
If the worst-case scenario unfolds and HSS does end up going to online learning, Floyd will be disappointed, but she believes her team is ready.
“We’ve reminded our staff since the beginning of the school year that we may have to shift online at the drop of a dime,” she said. “Staff have been encouraged to have their platforms ready and make sure their students know how to access information should we have to shift to remote learning. It should be a smoother process than it was the last time we did it.
“Some teachers are doing test sessions with their classes this week so they can troubleshoot potential problems.”
As we said off the top, there is an underlying current of uneasiness knowing how quickly things could turn for the worse.
“It’s frustrating for parents, students and staff and it’s taken a toll on our overall mental health, but our staff have done a phenomenal job of supporting one another,” Floyd said. “I remind them frequently that it’s important for them to do things that fill their heart and do things that are stress relievers. These past two years have been all-consuming, but we have to carve time out for ourselves so we can assist others, because it is the unknown and it is hard.”