Still innovating: here’s what back to school looks like at IPS

Island Pacific School staff and students are settling into new routines as they enter the third week of classes.

While teachers and staff learned a lot last June when students returned to a modified school environment, IPS is still innovating, said head of school Scott Herrington. “We still have to be thinking about right now and the uniqueness of right now.”

“We, as a small school, I think, are in a very favorable position of low numbers to begin with,” said Herrington. They’ve divided the school into two cohorts—one junior for grades six and seven and one senior for grades eight and nine––with roughly 29 students each. 

Each cohort is restricted to either the upper or lower level of the building, depending on the day and stick to one classroom (in the past students would move from classroom to classroom, now the teachers move). Students have the option to be masked or not while in the classroom (and many chose to mask), but teachers are always wearing masks indoors as they interact with both cohorts. 

However, interaction between grade levels is something IPS prides itself on, noted Herrington, and COVID-19 has frustratingly curbed that. Traditionally, every morning all IPS students meet up for “the stretch.” These days the stretch happens at a distance outdoors but with rains in the forecast, Herrington and the other staff have had to dream up another way to come together without being in the same room. “We’ll be spread out in our rooms,” said Herrington “And that will be okay.”

The school is also preparing for what’s to come. 

There’s preparing for if staff or students need to stay home because they’re sick or identified as a contact––ipads are already in use for students in isolation. Those at home can participate in classes or even the stretch through Google Meet and an ipad on a stick. 

There’s preparing for the eventuality that someone contracts COVID-19 or is a contact.

“It’s a health issue and therefore they [the health authority] control the lines and we have to rely on them to do their job,” said Herrington. “We also as a school need to let our parents know what we can tell them, which is not very much. We’re not divulging names, we’re not giving out the details. That’s a privacy issue. 

“But we’ll let you know and we’ll let you know in conjunction with the public health authority.”

And there’s preparing for the possibility to moving to a more restricted phase––one cohort could stay home should the school suddenly need to move to 50 per cent capacity, said Herrington. 

The students have had to get used to some new routines. “There’s a lot of new nagging, new reminder, reminder, that type of thing,” said Herrington: sanitizing whenever one enters the building, remembering masks.  

“I think they’re doing remarkably well,” said Herrington of the students. The first week of school is team building and usually involves a camping trip––this year there were day trips instead overnights but students got to get out hiking and white water rafting, among other adventures. “I really felt like they settled in amazingly quickly.”

There’s also been a concerted effort to normalize mask wearing said Herrington and not tolerating any stigmatization of mask wearing. “This twisted thought that, maybe if you’re not wearing a mask you’re strong…we just tried to cut that down. That is not the case.” 

As an independent school, that costs money to attend, COVID has on the one hand meant that the school has needed to work hard to provide emergency financial aid and on the other hand hindered fundraising events.

IPS has had to work diligently at fundraising and at taking advantage of other revenue streams. “So government grants government loans, wage subsidies, we took advantage of everything we could. And we basically funnelled that as a priority into emergency financial aid, so we didn’t lose those families, which was really important to us,” said Herrington. “I had a kind of an attitude whereby if I know somebody wants to be at our school, and now they can’t, because of COVID, I’m going to do everything I can to keep them.”

There won’t be a typical gala fundraising bash this year, but IPS is looking to virtual and remote fundraising. “We have to step up, we cannot stop swimming, we can’t even tread water, we have got to go full on into the Maelstrom type of thing,” said Herrington. 

“We have a bunch of new realities but it’s a great team here at IPS and I’m super thrilled to be part of that team.”

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