By Trevor Busch
With students headed back to class next week under the province’s pandemic re-entry guidelines, staff at St. Mary School have been hard at work to help ensure the learning environment will be as safe as possible.
“I guess the big thing is taking Alberta Education’s and Alberta Health’s guidelines and just finding a way that it works for our building,” said new principal Mark DeJong, who is taking over the role from Randy Spenrath in the 2020/2021 school year. “I think the nicest part was — to the extent that you can make it work — fortunately we’re a smaller school, so it makes it a little easier to move bodies around. There’s challenges being Grade 6 – 12 in terms of scheduling, but thankfully the population is the right size for the building, so we’re not packing people into rooms.”
Spenrath retired following the 2019/2020 school year after serving for three decades as a Catholic educator in the community.
“Over the duration of his career, Randy has provided leadership in a number of roles and has always ensured that the needs of his students and staff are well-met,” said Ken Sampson, superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.
DeJong explained the upcoming school year will be far from “business as usual” at St. Mary School.
“I think in terms of additional measures…I know that Holy Spirit is saying we’re not doing any extra-curricular, from drama plays to sports, until we have a better handle on what’s going on, in terms of what’s going on in schools. That was something that came down from the province. We’ve worked hard to get these cohorts set up, and we don’t want to undue any of that by switching kids around. Also, board-wide (division) there’s nobody allowed in the buildings before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.”
Public access will be very limited and at the discretion of DeJong throughout the year.
“No one is allowed in the building without principal approval. And that would be parents. So it’s call and make an appointment. We would usually have a lot of consultants come in, working with specific cases, and all of that has to be pre-approved, go through the screening process — basically they would be called in, and I would see if they’re to be allowed in or not. That’s from maintenance people, to contractors, to parents.”
Student cohorts and staggered entry will be the order of the day when students begin reporting to school.
“The big thing is we’re doing the staggered entry, starting with the high school kids on day one, that way they can get their schedules figured out and still meet their required hours of instruction,” said DeJong. “And then Grade 6’s to follow — it just gives an opportunity to let them know how the protocol works and what’s going on in the school. The other big thing is the screening. Go through the checklist every morning, if you’re not feeling well, don’t come to school. And I think the other big piece, especially for parents, is just phone the office when you have a question. The best way to communicate would be through phone under these circumstances. It allows us to respond quicker.”
There will be a heavy emphasis on sanitation and proper techniques for students and staff once classes get underway, and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has also invested in some state-of-the-art sanitation sprayers which can quickly disinfect large areas.
“The school board has secured sanitation stations for every room, so before going into the room the kids will sanitize, and upon exit they will, too,” said DeJong. “And same with entering the building. The north entrance will be the only entrance that kids, parents and whoever is coming in will be able to access, but they can exit anywhere. Sanitizer will be available at any sort of threshold or entry point, and the school board has paid for all that. Also masks, and face shields — the school board bought some and the province is also providing some, so we should be alright for PPE that way. The school board also paid for electro-static sprayers, which are pretty fantastic spray units that can sanitize a room within minutes. They’re kind of cool.”
The school office is open as of Aug. 25.