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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Public School adapts to new health and safety measures

by Adam Gault

Photos submitted

In the around one-month since elementary students and staff have returned to in-class learning across the Greater Essex County District School Board, much has changed in terms of health and safety protocol, since everyone left school in early March.

  Students and staff have had to adapt to the new measures put in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, which has provided a host of challenges for learning in an in-person environment.

  When classes resumed at Essex Public School (EPS) in September, the initial emphasis was on welcoming students back in a safe manner, focusing on the importance of the new safety routines for the first few weeks to help students become accustomed to the new measures before turning their attention to academics.

  “Our focus was on routines and safe protocols that we’ve put in place,” EPS Principal Bruno Pallotto said. “Those were practiced over and over again with our students and teachers, so they became automatic.”

  These included a focus on school arrival and departure procedures, such as heading directly to their respective homeroom class upon arrival, the use of reusable water bottles amid fountain closures, and staying in their assigned seat when using the school bus.

  “I say this with the utmost respect to everything that’s going on, I feel like things are feeling normal,” Pallotto said. “You can see the children and staff are feeling like they can move forward and really focus on learning now.”

  This adaptation has not been without its challenges, however, with the mental health of students being a top priority with the return procedure.

  To address this, a program through Mental Health Ontario titled “Creating Caring Connections in Supporting Student Mental Health and Wellbeing” has been put in place at EPS, which will focus on providing students with an outreach to teachers and staff, and link them to a number of welcome back activities, focused on bringing them together and creating a greater sense of community in the school.

  “We have absolutely seen an increase in anxiety, not only in children, but in adults,” Pallotto explained, noting that stress is being felt throughout the school. “That’s why we built these Caring Connections right from the beginning.”

While many have adapted to these measures, some children are becoming withdrawn, or struggling in other ways, with the current measures. Some parents have called the school with concerns on the toll the pandemic is taking on mental health.

  With the Caring Connections, staff will check in with certain students in the morning and throughout the day to help alleviate their concerns and let them know someone is looking out for them.

  “We try to connect the child to a trusted adult in the building, and then that adult is someone that child can go to when they’re feeling anxious, when they’re feeling upset,” Pallotto said. “It might be as simple as going for a walk with them. It’s incredible, the power of exercise, of fresh air.”

  EPS will also continue to focus on outdoor learning and classes throughout the fall, providing students with an ample amount of physical education to go alongside their academics.

  Around three-quarters of students are currently attending in-class learning at EPS, with parents to be given the option to remain or switch to virtual before the beginning of the second “quadmester” on November 9.

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