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Monday, December 6, 2021

Coronavirus: A look inside a Winnipeg elementary school amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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Downsized classrooms, plexiglass barriers between desks and hand sanitizer on every corner — much like every other public space, these are all now the norm at Forest Park School.

The Garden City-area school has made numerous adjustments and adaptations to continue to educate students safely and effectively.

“I was very worried in the fall, but in looking back it’s just been so good that the kids were here, so good that we were here,” principal Christine Wigglesworth told Global News.

“They got used to the plexiglass, they got used to the masks, and they’re all doing really well.”

Wigglesworth says they’ve made numerous adaptations, including embracing technology and outdoor learning more, and converting space within the school.

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The school also hired additional staff in the fall to help spread classes out and keep students space apart. One of them was Grade 4 teacher Clinton Neufeld.

“Spacing is obviously a big thing. The kids have their own personal bins where they take all their stuff, everything is kept in there,” Neufeld said.

“Math manipulatives — so things we would regularly use like cards, dice, blocks, anything they would use to learn at their desk — they have their own personal materials for that.”

Hand sanitizing before and after class is now a common practice.

Marney Blunt / Global News

There have been some unintentional benefits to following the COVID-19 protocols. Neufeld says outdoor learning is now a daily routine in his classroom, which he says has benefitted the students immensely.

“Going outside has been fantastic. It brightens the mood of the kids. It’s been really beneficial,” Neufeld said.

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“We’ve been learning a lot about things in our community, nature, the changing of temperatures and the season and stuff like that, it’s been really good.”

Outdoor education is something gym teacher Robert Ens has embraced in full. He’s has taught gym class outside every day this year, with the exception of six cold days in February that forced them indoors.

But it also poses its own challenges, and Ens says he has to take it one day at a time.

“I like to be an organized person, but I kind of have to wake up in the morning and see what’s happening, it’s not even just about the temperature,” he said. “It’s about the wind and there’s all sorts of things that I didn’t really have to take into consideration before.

“I’ve got my list of games we can do when it’s really cold because kids have their mitts on, (and) I’ve got my list of games that we can do when it’s really, really windy.”

Robert Ens has taught gym class outside all but six days this school year.

Marney Blunt / Global News

Ens also says he hopes this teaches his students to embrace the outdoors, as well as Manitoba winters.

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“I think it’s really important for kids, especially because we live in Winnipeg, to kind of embrace the winter,” Ens said. “Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t be outside and run around.”

Outdoor gym class doesn’t mean the gymnasium is sitting empty. The space has been converted into a music room.

“When we went into code red, the other biggest change for me in my program is that we couldn’t sing anymore,” music teacher Erin Risbey said.

“So that has been a huge impact because singing is our first (instrument), so not being able to use our first instrument that we take around with us and we don’t have to sanitize has been challenging this year.”

The gymnasium at Forest Park School has been converted into the music room, while gym classes have been moved outside.

Marney Blunt / Global News

Risbey also uses a microphone to speak to the students in the gymnasium, who sit spaced six feet apart on the floor. She also says supplies and instruments for students have been another obstacle.

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“Students can’t share instruments anymore and we usually only have one classroom set of instruments,” she said. “So instead of sanitizing between every class, which could take up to 10 minutes and then they have to wait, we’ve made our own instrument packs, so each student has their own little instrument packs that we’ve made for them throughout the year.”

She also says its remarkable how well the students have adapted to the changes.

“The students have been wonderful actually, they’re really wonderful,” Risbey said.

“They’ve been excited to come to music class, they’re excited to see what we have to do. It’s just trying to make actually music-making experiences for them.”

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