Online learning is not a “buffet”: you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of it you want to do.
That message was delivered to parents during a New Westminster school district information session held Thursday night. The session was held to offer details about the district’s online learning option for kindergarten to Grade 8 students.
Students who are currently in classrooms now have a chance to opt in to the program for the new term starting Jan. 4. Any families who want to opt in will need to register next week.
Director of instruction Maureen McRae-Stanger acknowledged that some families wanted an option in light of COVID-19 – and the district recognizes that rising numbers during the pandemic’s second wave may be changing some families’ needs.
“Many of our parents wanted an alternative to being in face-to-face classrooms,” she said.
Currently, there are about 440 students registered in the K-8 program, which is taught by 20 teachers. The district is hiring four additional teachers for January to support new enrolment.
But McRae-Stanger warned the program is not for everyone.
“Not all of our students actually fit best with online learning,” she said.
The online learning program covers the full B.C. curriculum, including both core subjects – such as English, math, socials and science – and also such areas as music, art and physical education.
But McRae-Stanger noted it’s not just like face-to-face instruction put online, so children don’t sit in front of a screen for a full day of virtual classes. Online learning, which is conducted through the Microsoft Teams platform, involves a combination of real-time virtual “classroom” sessions along with independent assignments and projects.
The need for independent learning means families need to be involved.
“Our program is actually a really important partnership: the teacher, the parent or guardian and the student are all working together,” she said.
The level of parental involvement varies depending on the age of the student, she said, noting parents are generally most heavily involved in the younger years – kindergarten to Grade 3 – but less required for older students.
She noted that students also need to be aware that they’re making a commitment to being in school, with required participation, assignments and projects just as if they were in a classroom.
“It is not what I’m calling a buffet,” she said. “It’s not picking and choosing the activities you would like to do.”
The program is open to all students, including those with diverse needs. Students who need extra help from learning support teachers, education assistants or child and youth workers will still get that help from the teams at their home-based school – though McRae-Stanger cautioned that scheduling and availability may be different than it was in the face-to-face classroom.
Families will have the choice to remain in the online learning program until the end of the school year or to opt back into classrooms in the spring; a window will open up in March for a return to class in April.
Students who want to return to classrooms are guaranteed a spot somewhere in the district for the rest of the 2020/21 school year – with the caveat that it may not be at their home school. McRae-Stanger said the district will do its best to get students back into their catchment school for the rest of the year, but that will depend on classroom space.
All students will be guaranteed a spot in their regular catchment school for the 2021/22 school year starting next September.
Families who want to apply for online learning for the new year need to do so online between Dec. 7 and 11. The application form is online at https://newwestschools.ca/application-to-transfer-from-in-class-learning-to-online-learning-for-k-8/.
It’s not first-come, first-served, so families don’t need to rush to get their applications in right at 9 a.m. on Monday. If there are more applications than there are spaces in the program, the district will use a lottery system to pick students.
Between Dec. 14 and 18, the district will go through applications – keeping in mind factors such as how many students are enrolled at each grade level and ensuring families are kept together – and send out welcome letters to selected students by Dec. 18.
If there are students who don’t get in, there will be a waitlist for the month of January in the event that any families change their mind.
For those who get into the program, Jan. 4 to 8 will be a transition week, with independent, at-home schoolwork, and a full virtual learning schedule will begin Jan. 11.
For full details, parents can watch the Dec. 3 virtual information session at the school district website.
A FEW QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Can French immersion students do online learning?
Yes. There are currently about 20 French immersion students in the program, although all courses are taken in English. There is a core French teacher working in the program who is providing extra support to help students keep their French up to speed. The goal is to get all of those students back into French immersion by September 2021, but students will need to keep up their French language skills for that to happen. The district will meet with families before then to make recommendations as to how to make that happen for students – for instance, offering some extra supports or having the student do additional work over the summer to enhance their French skills.
Will students remain connected to their home school?
Yes. Where possible, students from the same grade and school will be placed into the same virtual “class,” and teachers will be paired with students from their home school where possible. The district will try to make sure students remain connected virtually to their home school – still receiving the school newsletters, for instance – and keep communication open with the home school.
What technology do families need?
Students can use a tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Some printing of assignments and sheets will be required, so a printer would be a positive but is not an absolute requirement. The district will try to make sure there are options available if you don’t have a printer – such as teachers creating printed packages for students to pick up at their home school.
How do students study physical education online?
There’s less emphasis on skill-based activity – such as volleyball or basketball – and more focus on a healthy lifestyle and keeping active. Teachers are giving students their own individual work to do around physical education, such as keeping their own activity log and taking part in the virtual “Go Noodle” fitness program. Students who are involved in outside sports and activities can use that as part of their evidence of being active.