The Maritimes’ private schools embrace virtual learning during COVID-19

BY ALEXA MACLEAN GLOBAL NEWS
Posted April 8, 2020 6:27 pm
Updated April 8, 2020 6:28 pm
 
As students across Canada begin dealing with the new realities of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many are starting to learn from home in virtual classrooms.
 
For private schools in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, virtual learning has been underway for many weeks.
 
It was a strategy that was first discussed when coronavirus began spreading rapidly around the globe.
 
“We had some inkling maybe at the end of February, that this was a possibility,” said Steven Laffoley, the headmaster of Halifax Grammar School in Halifax.
 
“So, it was just sort of first hints but then on March 15, the province effectively closed all schools.”
 
Discussions around virtual learning strategies were also taking place in New Brunswick private schools like Rothesay Netherwood.
 
There are 300 students enrolled at the school, ranging from middle school to high school levels.
 
Rothesay Netherwood also has international students who have since travelled home.
 
That has led to a unique challenge of having a virtual classroom with students across a wide range of time zones.
 
“We have 16 hours of timezones to deal with. So, we have kids in British Columbia and we have kids in Japan. So, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., will sound like an odd time but that means that kids in British Columbia would start at 6 a.m. and kids in Japan would start at 10 p.m.,” Paul McLellan said, the headmaster of Rothesay Netherwood.
 
McLellan says the school is currently trying to strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning.
 
“We’re hoping to have four, 30-minute classes each day. From 10 a.m. till 12:30 p.m., will be the synchronous portion of their day and then 1:30 to 3:30, will be the asynchronous part of the day and the first hour of that their teachers will be available,” McLellan said.
 
Some of the virtual curriculum has been so popular, Sussex Christian School is offering its learning strategy to families at a reduced rate.
 
“As people waited for what the New Brunswick department of education would do, we have made that offer,” said Marsha Boyd Mitchell, the principal of Sussex Christian School.
 
“We certainly couldn’t take all the students in New Brunswick, or our community but for a few people that would really like the students to still be in a curriculum-focused environment, we are accepting a few new students,” she said.
 
Although the intricacies of the virtual classrooms may differ from school to school, the overall goal is similar.
 
“The teachers all remarked how happy the students were to see each other. It was a comfort for the students to have some kind of familiarity,” Boyd Mitchell said.
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