By Cole Parkinson
Horizon School Division continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as best as possible, and a large reason things continue to run smoothly is thanks to the tireless effort put forward by staff every day.
Staff and students have been shifted to at-home learning several times throughout the last two years, but there has been little to no complaining as staff do their best for the kids. Looking back at 2021, there certainly have been challenges for the division, but they are more than proud of how their staff have carried themselves through the past two years.
“I can’t say enough good things about our staff. They have been working in very stressful times with continual changes to provincial and jurisdiction health guidelines since March 2020. They have had to pivot to at-home learning on more than one occasion, with little to no warning, and adapt to families with and without technology, adjust to regular notifications of COVID cases that result in their isolation and/or isolation of groups of students,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “They have gone above and beyond to support their sick colleagues and students in other teacher’s classes when schools encountered staffing shortages and continue to work in a context where people’s polarizing perspectives create conflict between those who want more safety measures and those who do not. During all of this, they continue to focus on teaching and supporting students and creating a welcoming and safe learning environment. They continue to provide quality teaching, analyzing context, and make decisions about which pedagogical knowledge and abilities to apply so they can have optimum learning for all students.”
That being said, Tymensen also realizes the students have sacrificed and given just as much effort as the teachers have.
It hasn’t been an easy thing for students to attend school virtually, have less time for extracurricular activities, and having to mask constantly. But, from administration’s perspective, students have done everything they can to make the best of this situation.
“Similarly, I can’t say enough good things about our students. They are also experiencing stressors, yet continue to learn and strive for success. They have lost a part of their school experience given the cancellation of field trips, extra-curricular activities, and school community events such as graduation,” he said. “Many of our elementary students have never experienced a normal school year. We know learning is not the same. While it is not ideal, these times have also created positive opportunities. Students are learning resiliency and problem-solving skills that will sever them positively for the rest of their lives. They are dedicated to self-improvement and motivated to succeed.”
And while everyone is doing their best during this rapidly changing environment, there are ups and downs.
“I would describe the mood as one you would expect from dedicated student-centred professionals. They are tired, stressed, and have overtaxed themselves, all in the name of ensuring student success. They are worried about their own health and the health of their families given their regular interaction with a large number of individuals, but continue to come to work with a positive disposition. Their job is not easy the best of time and certainly not these last two years,” continued Tymensen. “I believe that our staff deserve a huge thank you. I know all Albertans are living through this pandemic and everyone has been impacted, but school staff have been interacting and many continue to interact with a segment of the population that cannot be vaccinated, and continue to interact with a large number of individuals in close quarters.”
Looking ahead to what the new year brings, Horizon is hopeful 2022 brings a break from COVID-19. While no one knows how much longer the pandemic will continue, the stress it has caused to teachers has been a long arduous process and the entire division is hoping for some relief.
“I would say one of the biggest challenges is COVID burnout. People are tired of health measures and tolerance is dwindling. People are becoming less compassionate and more prone to attack others based on disagreements in perspectives. One only needs to look at the comments on social media posts to see that the vast majority are negative. As a society, we need to get back to being caring compassionate members of society. We need to look at things from other people’s perspectives, and while we may not agree, we need to continue to be civil,” stated Tymensen. “I believe we all want the same thing. We all want everyone to be happy, safe, and healthy, and I believe everyone is doing what they believe is the right thing to achieve that. Let’s work together and commit together as a community. If for nothing else than our children.”
Tymensen continued by stating he hopes the new year brings the end of the pandemic.
“The biggest thing we are looking forward to is the end of the pandemic and a return to normal. We all hoped that the vaccine would bring an end to the pandemic, and yet we are currently seeing the largest increase of COVID cases since the start of the pandemic thanks to Omicron. Even though more than 85 per cent of Albertans are vaccinated against COVID,” he said. “While one may argue that this means vaccinations don’t work, I believe that the vaccine has contributed to lower hospitalization rates and milder symptoms. While this virus is endemic (it’s here to stay), I am looking forward to the removal of health restrictions.”