St. Michael’s principal positive in return-to-school plan

“Let’s give this school year the opportunity to be awesome …” - St. Michael’s principal Julia Mason.

Not all schools in Trail are going back on Sept. 10.

The government of B.C. delayed school start times to Thursday, but an independent school in Trail is sticking with its original plan.

St. Michael’s Catholic School, member of the Catholic Independent Schools of BC, is required to meet the Ministry of Education, WorkSafe BC and provincial health safety measures, yet has some flexibility.

The school will invite Grade 1-7 students back to class on Sept. 8 to ease them into the new normal, with a compassionate and caring leader at the helm.

“Along with our re-start plan, the Sept. 8 start date was approved by the Ministry of Education Independent Schools Office,” said St. Michael’s principal Julia Mason. “For those that know me as an administrator, my number one priority is the safety of the students. Of course, there are the unexpected scenarios that may appear, but it would not be for lack of prevention and being proactive with protocols and procedures in place.”

St. Michael’s staff is required to attend two administration days prior to school start and so returned to school last week for two full days which gave them time to review the protocols and procedures put in place back in June, explained Mason.

“The first week back to school will be dedicated to safety and health protocols. We have dedicated an entire week for training, orientation, and reflection for the students before returning to our in-depth learning programs.”

According to St. Michael’s Revised Restart Plan, cohort sizes will be less than 60 students. During the first days of orientation students will meet their teacher, get settled into their classrooms and learning groups, and learn and practice the new rules and routines.

When asked if she was at all tentative about a return to school amidst the pandemic, Mason says it is a positive and integral move for the students, staff and parents.

“I always use the term, ‘let’s not delay the inevitable.’ At some point in time, we need to start moving forward in re-establishing routine and responsibility to society, and we can do this in a safe and controlled way.”

In addition to maintaining cleaning and sanitizing protocols, the school will enforce, albeit grudgingly, self-distancing as required by the provincial health authority.

“The most proactive measure we can take as a school community is to enforce proper handwashing and hygiene,” said Mason. “If handwashing and hygiene protocols are in place and followed correctly, it will minimize contamination of high touch surfaces. The challenge will include restricting those well-deserved and possibly needed hugs and high fives.”

School District 20 schools like J. L. Crowe, Webster and Glenmerry Elementary will begin classes on Sept. 10 with two days of orientation before jumping into the curriculum on Monday, Sept. 14.

Despite the delay, the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union (KCTU) voiced some trepidation about the province’s return-to-school plan.

“Our BCTF and KCTU position is that the current plans are flawed and can easily be deconstructed and are ‘containment’ and not ‘protection’ plans and are focused on contact tracing and not our or our student’s health and safety, particularly when groups over 50 in our communities can be fined but schools can be stacked with up to 120 ‘bubbles’,” said the KCTU in a statement.

As a Group 1 Independent School, St. Michael’s teachers are not KCTU members, but are under contract to the school.

The chief administrator, however, remains vigilant in considering and embedding the extra precautions. Students and staff at St. Michael’s, as well as SD20 schools, will be required to take a ‘Daily Health Screening Check’ each morning before school, while all parents and guardians are prohibited to enter school grounds without an appointment.

Students have to be dropped off and picked up at definitive times, and there will be constant oversight and direction offered, in addition to constant hand washing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing when required.

Those students that are not comfortable, can ease themselves back into the curriculum by Sept. 30.

Mason is confident that the vast array of protocols can be implemented effectively and students and staff will be safe when they return.

“It is quite amazing how resilient and adaptable little humans (children) can be. Children are so observant and absorb their surroundings, for example in June, the students naturally kept a distance and reminded others to do the same.

“They shared stories of their experiences living through COVID and were not bothered by some students wearing masks or not. In fact, you could hear compliments in the halls, ‘I like your mask did you make it?’ These little people (students) can be trusted.”

Mason says her goal as an administrator starting off this COVID school year is to calmly lead and to build trust, with the maxim, “I am not fearful, I am faithful.”

She points to a social media post that sums up her philosophy when facing the very real and dynamic challenges of the new school year.

“Let’s give this school year the opportunity to be awesome, don’t throw a label or judgment on it before it begins, it may just surprise us in big beautiful ways.”

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