As restrictions designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 begin to be lifted across the province, Principal Geoff Butcher at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School is preparing to once more host students and a modified version of the grad ceremony.
Butcher has been teaching at the high school since 1992 and has been principal of it since 2014 and has seen more than a few things and students come and go through its halls. COVID-19 and its fallout have created more than a few new challenges and issues however that he and his staff have had to meet to ensure the continuation of student learning. Since the school was shut down in March, both Butcher and his staff have been working to provide remote education for all their students over email, the phone and whatever else is available to them.
Now, however, with Dr. Bonnie Henry and the government’s recommendation for schools to begin a partial reopening on June 1, Butcher said both he and the district are now looking to phase in, quietly, the return of some of their students. At PSO they’re planning a staggered return to ensure no more than 25 per cent of the student population is in the school at any one time and that each student only comes to school once a week.
“We’ve broken up the student body into 12 different groups, alphabetically, that meet that target threshold, and they’ll be coming on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for one day and then Friday will be teachers continuing to support online learners who are choosing to continue their schooling from a distance,” Butcher said.
Next week before these changes go into effect Butcher said PSO will be having a “soft start” for students who would like to come in to get the ball rolling and work the kinks out before June 1. He feels that, overall, this is a good idea as it may help address the significant anxiety that is currently prevailing society.
However, he said they’re still trying to figure out how many students will be willing to come back and whether or not busses will be running certain routes. To determine this he’s done some informal surveys of families to determine if students will be returning and has plans to ask them all more formally over the rest of May to confirm attendance numbers.
Regardless of how many students end up returning, the system that will be put in place should ensure that no student attends school in person more than four times over the course of June, Butcher said.
“It’s going to continue to be a patchwork of piecing together what needs to be covered in preparation for the year-end and getting ready for September,” Butcher said. “It’s not going to be business as usual for sure we’re going to continue to juggle online and in-class instruction with more of it being online than in class at this point.”
When asked if these precautions would extend into the next scholastic year, Butcher said that all depends on the course of the virus and if it returns in a second wave. Should it be required come September Butcher said schools will at least have a model on how education could work in the future. He’s hopeful that if we continue the hard work now, however, in the longterm the school will be able to return to some kind of normal.
In the meantime, both he and his staff are excited to see some of their students in person again while understanding that some will choose to stay distant for safety.
This year’s grad, meanwhile, will be happening Butcher confirmed but it will not come in the form of a traditional big ceremony where all the students and their families gather together. As restrictions on large gatherings have yet to be lifted and they have a relatively small grad class this year, Butcher said they were looking at a wide range of options.
What they’ve ultimately settled on is a more personalized grad for each student rather than host them all as a group. In an appropriate but intimate setting Butcher said each student’s accomplishments will be recognized in front of their parents and families who are integral to the whole graduation. Some of the options they were looking at would have excluded them but Butcher felt that approach wouldn’t be proper.
“We’re looking at a more individualized graduation ceremony for each kid, one at a time with family, while still preserving the same sort of grad ceremony format with reading a name and scholarships,” Butcher said. “But definitely physically distant and not having more than what’s allowed by the public health officer in the building at any one time.”
Butcher will be informing grads and their families of the details of this arrangement within the next few days but he plans to hold the ceremonies on the same day as Lake City Secondary’s Williams Lake campus on June 18 and June 19. He recently informed PSO’s student government group of their plans he said they seemed enthusiastic about it.
When it comes to dry-grad, however, Butcher said he does not know what’s being planned as that is the role of the Dry Grad Committee. He’ll support whatever they end up choosing but said he has no sense of what they’re planning.
“Graduation for a lot of students is an important milestone for them, it recognizes for educators, students and parents that the things they need to move forward have been covered,” Butcher said. “That all the credits and requirements of 12 to 13 years of schooling have been accomplished. It’s a part of their life for the bulk of their existence so far and at the end of it to say well done, it’s important.”
This year 82 students are on track to be graduating come this June with Butcher stressing the importance of staying the course and completing all their required studies over the next few weeks, even in these unusual times.