Dear Parents and Guardians,
I am delighted to be able to unveil our back to school plans for our Junior, Middle and Senior Schools.
It should be stressed that our plans and guidelines will change with respect to Ministry advice and in the context of what is a dynamic situation. We will be prepared to change, flex and even pivot if necessary, according to the latest situation. We will continue to update the website as required.
No one needs reminding that a great deal of water has passed under the proverbial bridge over the last six months since the school was forced to close in March. We have witnessed a full term of remote learning, the Class of 2020 graduating in pods of 20 together with family and friends, the Junior School producing a virtual film shown at the open-air drive-in at the University of Victoria, and the Middle School successfully completing a socially distanced spirit event. All emerge in my mind’s eye as excellent examples of ‘making the best of the limited options available.’
I was delighted to hear in a personal call with BC Education Minister, the Honourable Rob Fleming, that the BC Ministry of Education is keen to lead schools back to their core business of educating students at the start of September. The Minister’s statement at his announcement on Wednesday, August 26 confirmed that “all students have suffered a profound dislocating impact.” To me, the traditional routine of reopening the new academic year represents a strategic opportunity. The risks of not seizing it, outweigh the obvious risks of increased transmission.
Our back to school plans, which have been meticulously researched and prepared over the course of the last few months, will focus on encouraging all students to return to the benefits of in-class instruction. I will leave the school directors to apply more relevant age-appropriate detail to our three different schools via direct email and on the SMUS website; however, I am keen to make some general points.
- In line with our values and in keeping with our guiding principles since the very beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized the safety and wellness of all members of our community. Although we can not eliminate risk, we can together reduce it in our mutual best interest.
- These plans are designed to be generic. Specific variations may apply at the Junior, Middle or Senior Schools, and will be communicated as appropriate by school directors.
- As previously mentioned, we believe it is in the best interests of students to be back for ‘in-person teaching and learning.’ Medical accommodations and other students who cannot be with us in-person will be personally reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- We will be using the cohort system to maximum advantage, to allow flexibility within the relative security of learning groups. Cohorts will allow distinct groups of students to interact in a relatively relaxed way, to facilitate good teaching and learning. Cohorts will reduce risk, allow us to contact-trace if necessary, and facilitate partial close-down if advised by public health officials, in the event of an individual testing positive or a wider community outbreak.
- At the Senior School, as plans have been put together, we have come to appreciate many of our corridors and passages being outside – a disadvantage in the rain, but suddenly a significant advantage. Our campus was almost designed to support the current situation and help reduce risk.
- At the Junior School and Middle School, pod sizes will be well below stipulated levels, adding an extra layer of security.
- Enhanced cleaning, attention to ventilation, sanitization, face mask and PPE policies, together with protocols relevant to bussing, drop-offs, pickups and every other point of peak pressure will come into effect.
- Faculty and staff have agreed to come back to school one-week early, beginning August 31. We will go through an orientation and training process to ensure we are fully prepared. This time devoted to planning will include trauma training to support those students who may be struggling with increased anxiety. Being thoroughly prepared and anticipating as many scenarios as possible stood us in excellent stead when we moved to remote learning in March. We will be aiming to repeat the advantages gained.
- We have continued to take detailed and extensive advice from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, public health officials and other similar schools within CAIS and ISABC who are facing the same challenges.
The headline quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration speech as the 32nd President of the United States on March 4, 1933, uncannily relevant in today’s context, was, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” This quote has provided inspiration in a multiplicity of different crises and disasters all around the world ever since. The sentiment expressed is obviously relevant to our current situation; however, I prefer to focus on a little known and often overlooked sentence that appeared in the body of his speech.
“This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”
I believe that so far, together as a community, we have faced this pandemic both wisely and courageously. Our back to school plan is based on exactly these two things. The wisdom of much science and experience, along with courage from all us that will be needed to take the next step converting retreat into advance.
As always, I extend my very best wishes and a great sense of anticipation as I delight in the prospect of welcoming students back to our campuses. Six months has felt like a long time.