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Paintball and obstacle course businesses may supervise students learning online

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Some students may bounce back into school work this fall in unexpected locations — trampoline parks and laser tag courses.

With some parents increasingly nervous about sending their children to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, some enterprising businesses with warehouse-sized spaces are offering an unconventional alternative.

Rachael McIntosh, marketing co-ordinator for Calgary’s InjaNation, said the business is exploring the idea of supervising students during school days when classes resume in September.

Parents could return to work, children would be exposed to much smaller groups of people and the kids could burn off energy in the 55,000-square-foot facility’s trampoline park and obstacle courses, she said.

“The whole idea of this is to offer a safe option to parents who need it,” she said. “It’s not to make money. It’s not to go against the school.”

Students would register in the distance learning option at their usual school, then bring a laptop or portable device to InjaNation, she said. There, staff would supervise them and tutors would come in to help with any questions they have about their online lessons.

If they follow the model used for summer camps, the business would group the kids into cohorts of nine and keep the groups separate, she said. It would give children the opportunity to socialize in a larger space.

Although the company is still sorting out the details, McIntosh said they’re looking at charging between $1,000 and $1,200 a month per student.

Laser City, which runs spacious laser tag and paintball facilities in Edmonton and Calgary, is considering a similar offering, co-owner Rob Davy said on Tuesday.

Through trade associations, he saw similar businesses in the U.S. offering the service. Some schools in that country resume classes in August.

Davy said his 17,000-square-foot locations could accommodate about 30 elementary students on weekdays. After talking to parents who enrolled their children in online summer camps with Laser City, Davy said many feel unsafe sending their children back to school while COVID-19 continues to spread.

“We’re not at all pretending that we are teachers,” he said. “We’re not trying to replace the teachers or anything like that. We are trying to give the assistance that parents would be giving.”

Davy said students would have to be registered in online learning with their usual school. The business does not want public schools to lose any funding, he said.

Parents also tell him they think their children will be more co-operative with online learning when someone else is supervising them.

Programs not endorsed by Alberta Education

Advocacy group Support Our Students Alberta (SOS) brought attention to the phenomenon of private school supervision by posting some program advertisements on social media on Monday.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said businesses offering alternative locations for students to participate in online learning are not endorsed by Alberta Education.

“Public, separate, independent and charter schools are required to follow our robust school re-entry plan and its accompanying public health guidelines, and we would encourage parents to have their students either attend Alberta schools in person or participate in their distance learning programs from a safe learning environment that parents have confidence in, such as their homes,” Aitchison said in a Tuesday statement.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said she’s unsurprised businesses are being innovative to offer options as parents balance their careers with concerns about their children’s safety.

She said the offerings prove there are spaces available, in businesses, libraries, churches and community centres, that the government could use to better space out students and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Why don’t we actually take the little thread of what they’re offering, which is more safety and abiding by what are currently the recommendations of the chief medical officer of health, and find ways to make that accessible for all students, not just those whose parents have thousands of dollars that they can afford to pay every month,” Hoffman said.

Mock classroom shows challenge of distancing

On Tuesday, Hoffman held a press conference in Edmonton’s Federal Building, where the Opposition created a mock classroom to demonstrate the challenges of physically distancing students in schools.

Education critic Sarah Hoffman staged this demonstration, showing what classrooms could look like in the fall if classes are not capped. 1:41

Provincial standards say new classrooms should be built with 80 square metres of usable space to accommodate students and furniture. With desks and tables for 30 students arranged in a taped-off area, the desks were less than one metre apart.

Public health guidelines say people should stay at least two metres away from others to prevent spreading COVID-19.

The UCP government has allotted $10 million for reusable masks, hand sanitizer and other protective equipment for schools. School boards should use savings in reserves to pay for any additional needs to adapt to the pandemic, the education minister has said.

The government has said its school re-opening plan is endorsed by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and the College of Alberta School Superintendents.

Aitchison called the NDP’s mock classroom a “stunt” and said the Opposition’s competing school plan is unfeasible.

Class sizes in Alberta have risen steadily during the last 15 years. Some teachers report 40 or more students in some of their core high school classes.

A mock up classroom put together by the Opposition NDP shows desks for 30 students in an 80 square metre classroom are less than a metre apart. The mock classroom did not include shelves, a teacher’s desk or other furniture. Public health recommendations say people should stay at least two metres apart to prevent transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Edmonton junior high teacher Renee Englot said she has 35 students registered in her Grade 9 class next year, and her room is smaller than 80 square metres.

“I worry that students and parents and members of the public in general may have a false impression of what school’s going to look like in September because the government keeps using the term physical distancing,” she said. “It is impossible to physically distance in a classroom without a cap on class size.”

Heather Quinn, president of Edmonton Public Teachers local 37, also called on the government to invest more money into re-opening schools. Class sizes should be capped for student and staff safety, and boards need more money to pay more teachers, caretakers and buy protective equipment and cleaning supplies, she said.

“COVID-19 is a public health problem in public education that requires a public solution,” she said.



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Education

Toronto school board hires 350 teachers in rush to meet demand for online classes

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TORONTO —
The Toronto District School Board has hired 350 new teachers as it scrambles to meet a rising demand for online learning that has resulted in some students being left without a classroom.

The TDSB had previously pushed back the start of online learning on two separate occasions due to higher than expected demand.

On Tuesday, virtual school finally began for many students, one week after those who opted for in-person instruction began to return to classrooms.

However, an unspecified number of elementary students logged on to the board’s online learning platform to find that they have not yet been assigned a teacher and will be expected to learn independently for the time being.

In an interview with CP24, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said that the board has seen the enrollment for its online learning program balloon from 56,000 students just a few weeks ago to about 78,000 today.

He said that as a result the board has identified a need for 500 additional teachers.

Over the last 24 hours it has hired about 350 teachers off its supply list but more will have to be brought on board in the coming days in order to assign classrooms to the thousands of students that have not yet been assigned one.

“We need these teachers hired as soon as possible. I anticipate we will be able to whittle that number down even further today,” Bird told CP24. “We should have a better idea in a day or so as far as a more concrete timeline. We are aiming and hoping that we can get all our virtual classrooms up for this week but really we will have a better idea once we get those staffing numbers updated later on today and tomorrow.”

All parents that enrolled their child in the TDSB’s online learning program were asked to log into the remote learning platform Brightspace on Tuesday morning as scheduled but those students who have not yet been assigned a teacher were then redirected to some independent learning resources on the board’s website.

Bird said that while the board had hoped to have its virtual classrooms “fully up and running” in time for today, the sheer scale of the undertaking made that impossible.

“We have never done anything like this on this scale and I would argue probably haven’t done it in public education across Ontario or Canada to this level,” he said. “It takes some time and we understand that parents, staff and students are frustrated. We get that. But for the majority of students, they are learning today. Whether it is in person or online, a majority of students are learning today and we are aiming to get everyone else up and running by the end of the week as best as we can.”

The TDSB has said that a total of 60,000 students have been signed up for its online learning program at the elementary level and 18,000 at the secondary level.

A total of 2,200 teachers are required to fill all of the needed virtual classrooms at the elementary level.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Education

Seneca joins collaborative national network supporting student mobility

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Toronto, Sept. 22, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Seneca has taken the next steps in its digital adoption strategy by joining Canada’s official credential wallet and national network led by the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC). Called the ARUCC National Network, it provides students with the ability to access and share official, digitized transcripts, credentials, badges and microcredentials — anytime and anywhere.

Pioneered by ARUCC and powered by Digitary’s global digital credentials platform, the Network is unique in scope and moves Canadian higher education to the forefront of innovation by providing a trusted credential engine built for learners. By joining, Seneca will unite with other Canadian colleges and universities that have collaborated to create this national credential wallet and trusted, online document exchange platform.

The Network is the first of its kind in Canada and will provide three million learners nationwide with a secure, permission-based platform for accessing and sharing their official documents and credentials. The initiative supports student mobility as they transition into, between and beyond postsecondary institutions in Canada on their educational journey into the workplace. The Network also protects them, institutions and government from increasing document fraud. 

Other key features of the ARUCC National Network include:

  • 24-7 access for learners
  • bilingual service and support in French and English
  • ability for learners to access, view and share their verified and official transcripts, credentials, badges, microcredentials and documents in a digitized format
  • ability for Canadian postsecondary institutions and higher education partners to work together with the network to exchange official documents — with permission of the learner

“Providing secure, verified digital credentials to our students is incredibly important and hugely valuable in supporting them as they embark on their future employment,” said Sharon Kinasz, Seneca’s Registrar. “We are delighted to join the ARUCC National Network powered by Digitary as we embrace digital adoption and enhance our sustainability practices at Seneca. Our enhancing supports for our students, graduates and alumni demonstrate Seneca’s dedication to supporting the learner’s experience through innovative digitization.”

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Seneca and extend the benefits of trusted digital credentials through a secure, national platform — the very first of its kind for Canada,” said Joanne Duklas, ARUCC’s Executive Lead. “Our ultimate mission for the ARUCC National Network is to deliver a portable credential wallet to the three million postsecondary learners across Canada. Powered by Digitary technology, we are supported by global digital credentials experts who are skilled at implementing scalable, national solutions that make sense for students.”

“Digitary has always been learner-focused in everything that we do, and we strongly relate to ARUCC and Seneca’s mission to enhance the experience and digital capabilities offered to students. In providing effective digital solutions and verified academic credentials, we can support learners’ global mobility and their journey through employment,” said James Murray-Beckman, Digitary’s Chief Operating Officer. “We’re delighted to welcome Seneca to the ARUCC National Network powered by Digitary and will continue to support ARUCC and its partners to extend the digital capabilities to all learners across Canada.” 

About Seneca

Combining career and professional skills training with theoretical knowledge, Seneca provides a polytechnic education to 30,000 full-time and 60,000 part-time students. With campuses in Toronto, York Region and Peterborough and education partners around the world, Seneca offers degrees, graduate certificates, diplomas and certificates in more than 300 full-time, part-time and online programs, now most of them virtually. Seneca’s credentials are renowned for their quality and respected by employers. Co-op and work placements, applied research projects, entrepreneurial opportunities and the latest technology ensure that Seneca graduates are highly skilled and ready to work. Learn more about Seneca.

About the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC)

ARUCC provides leadership in the post-secondary education field and service to its member institutions nationally and internationally, helping foster the advancement of registrarial practices and learner focused service delivery in Canada. Learn more about ARUCC.

About Digitary

Digitary was launched in Dublin, Ireland in 2005, and has grown to become a leading online platform for certifying, sharing, and verifying academic credentials. Learner-centric since the very start, Digitary enables millions of learners to share their verified academic achievements online, securely, quickly and easily. Digitary is now used by organizations in over 135 countries. Learn more about Digitary.

Caroline Grech
Seneca
media.relations@senecacollege.ca

Joanne Duklas
Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC)
info@aruccnationalnetwork.ca

Catherine Stanley
Digitary
catherine.stanley@digitary.net

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Education

Boards pivot to Plan B as outbreaks close schools

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Local school boards say they’re prepared to pivot to remote learning if and when an outbreak of the coronavirus forces them to halt classes and send students home.

An Ottawa elementary school has become the first in Ontario to close due to COVID-19 after two staff members and two students tested positive.

It’s not ideal, but it’s something that we’re prepared for.– Mike Dubeau, West Quebec School Board

Parents of students at Monsignor Paul Baxter Catholic School in Ottawa’s Barrhaven neighbourhood have been told that for the next two weeks their children’s learning will move online.

“The entire class including the teacher will move to distance learning,” Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) spokesperson Sharlene Hunter wrote in a statement to CBC.

Hunter said it may take a couple of days to iron out technical issues, but she said both students and staff already have the basic tools they’ll need to continue learning online.

“All of our staff have received training on the use of the learning management system (Hapara) in order to be prepared for this scenario,” Hunter wrote. “They have been posting resources on the learning management system even when students were attending in person.”

 

Hunter said students have had instruction on how to use the remote learning system. Students who don’t have access to a laptop will be provided with one. 

The OCSB says students’ marks won’t be affected while they’re learning remotely, and those who require educational assistance will continue to receive it online.

These remote classes are different from the full-time remote learning program some students have opted to take instead of attending school in person.

Outbreaks elsewhere

Monsignor Paul Baxter isn’t the only school in the region that’s had to pivot to Plan B. Last week, a COVID-19 outbreak closed Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., while 45 students at South Hull Elementary School in the Aylmer sector of Gatineau, Que., were sent home to isolate for 14 days after two tested positive. 

Mike Dubeau, director of education with the West Quebec School Board (WQSB), said a plan for online learning was already in place and went into effect as soon as the school was notified about the positive tests.

“If students have to go home for two weeks or if we have to shut down the school, we switch to online learning,” Dubeau said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s something that we’re prepared for.”

Currently 250 students are enrolled in the WQSB’s virtual learning program. Dubeau said given the unpredictability of the current situation, online learning now has a bigger role to play than ever in education.

“I believe it’s an opportunity for lasting change because we’re learning new ways to deliver the curriculum, new ways to assess, new ways to teach,” he said. “So when we come out on the other side of this pandemic, there’s going to be a richness of knowledge on how to teach online and how to evaluate.”

Similarly, teachers at Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) schools have been set up to teach remotely through Google Classrooms or Virtual Learning Environments. 

“These were created prior to the start of the school year and are maintained weekly by educators,” OCDSB spokesperson Joe Koraith wrote in an emailed statement Monday evening. “Key learning, resources, tasks, etc. are posted to support student learning. Students who are away or who may be isolating would have full access to the virtual classroom.”

Koraith said in the event that an entire classroom, cohort or entire school is closed or can no longer meet, students can shift to remote learning “with enhanced synchronous requirements.”

“Knowing that we may be required to move from in person to remote with little notice, we are ready to support students,” he said.

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