The Catholic Independent Schools of the Diocese of Victoria will open for a new school year this week. “We’re looking forward to being back,” said Bev Pulyk, Superintendent of Island Catholic Schools. She acknowledges that there will be nervousness, both for staff and for parents and students – but that is normal in this time of a pandemic. However, the hope is that everyone will settle into a new routine quickly. “We are all resilient, I don’t think we give our children enough credit for their resilience,” says Bev. “We want to try to get into a new sense of normal.”
Bev has spent the summer attending virtual meetings with the Ministry of Education and other superintendents, reading through the legislation and guidelines, and passing on the findings to our Catholic school administrators here on the island. The administrators have then consulted with their staff to ensure all the physical surroundings are ready and supplies are on hand in time to welcome students. “The teachers
have to re-think classroom layouts. Setting up desks where students face each other is just not possible for physical distancing.”
There will be staggered start and finish times, with children grouped alphabetically to make it easy for families to drop off and pick up. There will be a staggered lunch and recess breaks, and schools will avoid having students line-up outside, as may have been the practice in past years. In the high school, students will be required to wear masks in the hallways and common areas. Many of the health and safety protocols were practiced when schools were opened in June so the students already have some familiarity with them.
“The bigger challenge is cohort size.” Bev explained that “we can’t hold assemblies and some of the normal activities that are a fun way to start the school year. We have to look at how we can be creative. One example, is celebrating a virtual Mass with cohorts taking turns to participate.”
Another change will be that parents, an important part of the school community, will now have to register as visitors, for contact tracing; and volunteering will likely have to be different.
Bev stressed the importance of mental health for the children. Administrators will be encouraging staff to use a “trauma informed return to school” approach. This approach asks the question ‘How do we help students and staff feel safe and supported, and how do we create an environment that is welcoming and engaging so the can students can learn?’
In order to be focussed for the coming year, Bev held a retreat with the administrators. Using the theme, (adopted this year by all the Catholic Schools in BC) Walk with Jesus our Living Hope, she asked, “How does it speak to you as an administrator? How can we be that living hope for the people we are in contact with? How do we be Jesus to others and how do we see Jesus in others?” Speaking of the uniqueness of Catholic Schools, Bev says, “I often say we are very blessed because we come from a common philosophy. We can draw on Jesus as our centre. He gives us strength and supports us.”
This year the Catholic Schools in BC have adopted the theme, Walk with Jesus our Living Hope. At the annual retreat with the island Catholic schools administrators in August, Bev challenged the administrators by asking, "How do we walk with Jesus who is our living hope? It is a wonderful time to have conversations with our students and our staff about this. Do we see Jesus in everyone? We really want to keep this front and centre.”
“We are looking forward to getting back to school. We are looking forward to reconnecting with families and we are looking forward to having our schools walk with Jesus in living hope this year.”