By Esther Wendel-Caraher
Principal, Kettle Creek Public School, Port Stanley
Well, COVID-19 has hit and in education, it is safe to say that we will never be the same.  As you can imagine, getting our school year organized and off to a safe start has been both challenging and stressful at times.  Between sorting out all the changes and modifications that have had to take place in our school facility itself, we have been faced with the challenge of how to adapt collaborative programming and delivery models of teaching as well.

As a school board, we have approximately 4,000 students who have chosen “remote” learning this September and at Kettle Creek Public School, that translates to 68 of our students who have chosen this format.  We are really looking forward to the time when we are all together again, but for now, we are pleased that these students have the technology and remote teachers to continue their programming.

For the other 360 students who chose the “in-person learning model,” we have had a wonderful start to our school year.  It was actually a relief when students walked through the doors because they showed us how to adapt, be flexible and stay calm.

Our students exceeded all of our expectations as they adjusted and followed our new procedures and routines beautifully.  We were also thrilled with all the support our community provided as we adjusted to our new norms.  Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, some of our traditional events, such as the Meet the Family Barbeque, have been adjusted to a virtual format, but staff are creating other opportunities to connect and learn about their students’ families and individual needs.

While there are some things that are challenging to adjust to, our new adaptations have not all been bad.  For example, our first Home and School, and School Council meeting was held virtually, and nearly 30 participants joined us.  Typically, about 10 people attend our in-person meetings, but because it was virtual, many more parents could take part because they didn’t have to worry about child care or the logistics of a night out. The virtual format made participating easier for many of our young families.  We may continue with this format even if our COVID-19 restrictions change, who knows.

Another fantastic change in procedures allows our teachers to spend significant portions of the day outside with their classes.  We have an absolutely gorgeous schoolyard, and this outdoor time has proven to be positive for staff and students alike.  As well, we have cohorts during recess time so that half of our school eats their lunches, while the other half is outside on the playground, and then we switch.  This procedure is also working beautifully because it has allowed even more space for students and less opportunity for conflict.  Our staff agree that this is a procedure that works well no matter what.

We have continued with Spirit Days, such as Red and White Day, where we celebrated and honored the great Canadian hero, Terry Fox.  This was followed by Orange Day, where staff and students discussed stories of our Aboriginal people, issues around equity and the profound contributions of our Aboriginal people to this country.  Our Student Voice initiative is carrying on and our student leadership team is coming up with “COVID-19 Friendly” ways to build school spirit and have extra fun at school.

Other positive expectations are that parents are not sending sick children to school.  We know that this is very challenging for working families, but we are very grateful for this new procedure because it is keeping all of us healthy and learning-ready at school.

While some Thames Valley District School Board schools have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, we are relieved that at this time, Kettle Creek has not had to deal with that yet.  The good news is that Southwestern Public Health personnel have prepared us and support us fully with the procedures we must follow, if we are faced with that situation.

As well, we are pleased to report that throughout TVDSB, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 at school have not spread to other members of the classroom, verifying the fact that the procedures we have in place are effective in preventing the spread here at school.  As a member of staff, it has been reassuring to know that we are in fact quite safe learning together because we are really enjoying teaching our students in person rather than online.

As we enjoy this season of harvest, we are filled with profound gratitude for the fact that we are able to be at school with our beautiful children and for all the people in this community who support our efforts to make Kettle Creek Public School a wonderful place to learn and grow.