Nanaimo Christian School and Aspengrove School will see the 2020-21 school year start on Sept. 8 and 9 respectively. Public schools in the Nanaimo area see school start Sept. 10. (Stock photo)

Independent schools in Nanaimo create their own back-to-school plans

Nanaimo Christian School and Aspengrove students returning Sept. 8 and 9, respectively

Students from two independent schools in the Nanaimo area will be back in class before their public school counterparts.

Nanaimo Christian School and Aspengrove School students will get a head start on hitting the books, as school begins Tuesday, Sept. 8 at Nanaimo Christian School and Wednesday, Sept. 9 at Aspengrove School.

At Nanaimo Christian, students will be returning for in-class instruction five days a week, organized in cohorts, or learning groups.

James Sijpheer, school principal, told the News Bulletin the school’s restart plan complies with the B.C. Ministry of Education’s directives. The ministry earlier announced 60 students per group for elementary and middle school, but Sijpheer said that is the maximum.

“In our middle school and elementary, kids are going to be primarily in their homeroom classes for the majority of time,” said Sijpheer. “Even though they’re part of a learning group or cohort that is up to 60 students, their homeroom classes are significantly smaller than that. Our kindergarten classes have class sizes of 18 and 17, our Grade 1-2 classes are class sizes of about 22.”

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Nanaimo Christian School will also offer remote learning. According to a letter to parents, Grades 1-5 will have the option to learn remotely full time, with an option to return to the bricks-and-mortar school in January, if space is available. Grade 6-8 students can sign up for remote learning for the year, with re-entry to on-campus learning if space allows.

Grade 9-12 students at Nanaimo Christian can register for instruction on-campus full time or a hybrid, part-time on-campus/at-home model. Like Grade 6-8, re-entry to full-time on-campus schooling would be allowed, dependent on space

Over at Aspengrove, head of the school David Thompson said six cohorts have been created in keeping with ministry guidelines.

“For example, we have [junior kindergarten] three- and four-year olds, that will be one group, K-2 will be another group, 3-4 will be another group, 6-8 another group, 9-12 another group,” he said. “That’s our bubbles.”

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Thompson said remote learning for Aspengrove students would be allowed under special health-related circumstances.

“There are some parents who have reached out to us expressing their concern about returning primarily because of health-related issues either with a child or members of the family that are in the household,” said Thompson. “What we have expressed to them is we’ll be working with them to be able to continue the learning that is happening. That’s obviously an online piece.”

In terms of personal protective equipment, Sijpheer said masks will be required for middle and high school students for high-traffic areas or outside their cohort.

RELATED: SD68 students to return to school in ‘learning groups’

Thompson said Aspengrove will be providing masks to staff and students with the school’s branding.

“Our leadership team has spent a huge amount of time during the summer going through all this … at one point we had masks on everyone throughout the school, but what we have now come to, [after] listening to legal advice, listening to other pieces, is for our Grade 6-12, they will be required to wear masks where they cannot contain within their bubble or where social distancing is not possible,” said Thompson. “Those who are K-5, they may wear masks if they want to, but it’s not mandated.”

Nanaimo Christian School teachers will wear clear masks.

“We just think that students seeing the facial expressions and smiles of teachers is a real important piece for their emotional well-being,” said Sijpheer.

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