In-person learning back at Fonthill high school

The high school is welcoming some 170 Grade 9 students to the school which is similar to past years. Those new students were given a sneak peek at the school during an orientation day last Thursday.

“As a staff, we met yesterday on the field and there was definitely an excitement to be back together, and today, with our students in the building, there was excitement about actually all being back together here at school,” said Principal Janice Sargent.

Sargent estimates the total number of students at Crossley will be between 775 and 800.

“I may have some 12Bs that won’t come back and we have students who have moved and we don’t know about yet,” she said. “By the end of the first week, I have a good feel what the actual number looks like.”

The District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) surveyed families of secondary school students in June and in August about their intentions for in-class learning.

“From there, they determined how many students would participate remotely and how many would be in-person,” Sargent said. “We have very few students who chose remote. Our percentage is in the high 90s for those returning.”

Sargent is looking forward to a return to normal even if it is the “new” normal.

“We are going to take it slow as a staff and transition back into high school but everyone is excited for it and what is really cool is that the kids are so excited to come back,” she said. “I can’t say 100 percent of the students but the vast majority students are looking forward to coming back and being here. And the best part is we will all be here together.”

Included in the transition back to normal will be the return of extracurricular activities like sports and clubs.

“We are learning more about extracurriculars,” Sargent said. “The first week we are really focusing on welcoming our students back to school, having them transition smoothly back into the routine of school because it has been a little while. We are making them feel comfortable, developing relationships with them and then we will find out a little more what the extracurricular offerings can be and what that will look like. Hopefully by week two we will be able to start.”

With the Delta variant causing the Covid-19 case counts to rise again in Ontario, health and safety protocols will be a part of the daily routine of students and staff.

The Covid protocols include: students have to wear masks indoors at all times; hand sanitizing stations have been set up in every classroom and there are disinfectants available for desks and workspace areas; there are three different entrances and exits with hand sanitizers at all locations; the school’s administrative assistants will greet students on the way in in the morning and ask if they have completed their daily Covid self-assessments; and students are to head directly to class once they enter the school.

“In older days, when maybe we had some of the kids milling around the foyer, now it’s you wait outside until 7:55 and then they go directly to class,” Sargent said.

Another structural change is the students’ schedule. Instead of rotating between four classes, students do two 150-minute classes each day for a week, and then switch to two different classes the following week.

Lunchtime is divided between junior and senior students. The junior 40-minute lunch starts at 10:50 AM and the senior lunch begins at noon.

There is no requirement by the DSBN for students to be double- vaccinated.

The way that busing is done has also been altered.

“The biggest difference for us is the buses don’t just arrive and open their doors,” Sargent said. “They pull up to the main doors and students disembark bus by bus. Instead of en masse, it is staggered.”

The school has also undergone physical changes.

“We do have portable HEPA air filters in some of our classrooms and the fourth floor of the school is getting some air conditioning,” she said. “We’re in the process, but just like everything else with Covid, components for air conditioning are difficult to get. We are going to have a couple of rooms ready but most of them will be done within a couple of months,” she said. “That is exciting news.”

Provisions have also been made at school for additional counseling for academics and emotional/social issues.

“For academics, we are very lucky to have an amazing in-school team,” Sargent said.

That team includes: special education teachers Don Lockhart and Melissa Amadio; student success teacher Carolyn Ranieri; transition student success teacher Jordan Lew; and guidance teachers Janet Cripps and Michelle Gibson.

“We did a lot of work with the elementary schools to focus on good transition plans for the Grade 8s to 9s,” Sargent said. “In previous years, we would have had a Grade 9 day here at the school where kids could get a taste of high school.”

Due to Covid restrictions and protocols, Crossley wasn’t able to do that this year so Sargent and Vice-Principal Tyler Graham met with all the Grade 8 teachers, elementary school principals and special education teachers, social workers or youth workers.

“We focused on student strengths and from there we built timetables to help support that,” Sargent said. “That is the academic part of it but it will also provide a lot of emotional support. We did a lot of work up front to try to put some pieces in place and we also have a social worker [Carleen Cizmar].

Cizmar in entering her fourth year at the school.

“Carleen is with us full time and we have a lot of support through our student services area for any students who are needing some mental health support.”