Carihi teacher Nicolas Pisterzi says there’s no doubt about it, school is different these days. Photo contributed

Carihi teacher Nicolas Pisterzi says there’s no doubt about it, school is different these days. Photo contributed

COPING WITH COVID: School staff take up the challenge of delivering education safely during the pandemic

SPECIAL REPORT: Education staff have to interact with hundreds of children

Fifth in a series

Teachers are frontline workers critical for society to keep functioning and keeping the learning environment for our children safe.

That was the message from School District 72 trustee Daryl Hagen back in November when after eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his colleagues on the Board of School Trustees were becoming concerned that teachers and school support staff were being forgotten, especially when, at that time, the approval of a vaccine was on the immediate horizon.

The SD72 school board sent a letter to the provincial government asking it to put teachers and school support workers in amongst the first group of people to receive the vaccine. That hasn’t happened as the vaccine rollout began just prior to Christmas but the trustees’ point was that school staff have been on the frontline of this pandemic ever since the province mandated that students should return to school with a mix of online and in-person instruction.

Trustees noted that teachers and school staff rolled up their sleeves and went to work making the school environment as safe as possible.

School board chairperson John Kerr in a letter on behalf of the SD72 Board of School Trustees, expressed “heartfelt admiration and appreciation” for all School District 72 employees who have made the return to school for students as safe as possible. These employees are providing an essential service to the children of B.C., he says.

“Despite uncertainty, frequent changes, fatigue, safety concerns, and stress, employees worked long and hard to make the return to school for students and colleagues as safe as possible,” Kerr says. “Despite some remaining concerns and questions that remain unanswerable, they continue to do so in classrooms, in hallways on buses, and on school grounds from the time students arrive each day until they leave.

“Those who work in classrooms are in a confined place with large numbers of students who are not required to wear masks. These workers are with the students for extended periods of time and they may face the increased threat of infection from the COVID-19 virus as a result of these conditions.”

To demonstrate support and appreciation for the work done by school district employees and to underline the board’s concern for their ongoing health and safety, the board “strongly requests and advocates that these employees, both in our district and across the province, be considered front-line workers who are providing an essential service.”

The board’s letter arose from a Campbell River Board of School trustees meeting held in November in which trustees felt teachers and school district employees were not getting the recognition they deserved in the face of the pandemic.

Trustee Richard Franklin said at that meeting that “there’s not very many positions in our society where you have an adult in a room with upward of 30 students with no masks on but that is what faces our teachers and educational assistants every day.”

Like nurses and doctors, teachers and school employees are placing themselves in a position of risk and they need the board’s support, Franklin said, and to that end, he put forward a motion to have the government place a high priority on providing a COVID-19 vaccine to school district employees.

Because the school board’s letter was sent to Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside Dec. 2, it recognized that vaccine rollout plans were most likely already underway. However trustees felt it was important to publicly support school district staff and alert the public to the impact the pandemic is having on employees just doing their jobs. They also felt school staff deserve credit for their courage in the face of the pandemic. Like all frontline employees, they not only do their job but have to worry about the potential impact on their own families.

Carihi teacher Nicolas Pisterzi is one of those teachers at his post in the classroom. He welcomed the return to work even under the pandemic conditions.

“It’s good to be back, even during a pandemic,” he said. “Working online through the lockdown and comparing it to our work life now, I would take coming to work each day hands down. I enjoy what I do in the classroom. I felt that the online learning wasn’t best suited for me as a teacher, and also noticed that quite a few students struggled in that model.”

Pisterzi is confident the measures in place in schools will provide a safe atmosphere.

“The school district does a good job to provide a clear outline for staff, parents, and students when it comes to the COVID-19 protocols,” he said. “They have also supplied masks and sanitizer throughout the district, which has been helpful in maintaining a clean classroom.

“Although I have found it a bit nebulous when there have been exposures in our school. Staff are not provided with much information, but it’s likely for good reason. For example, when Carihi’s first exposure went public, I was coming back into cell reception from fishing with my kids. I found out about the COVID exposure through my friend who texted me and asked if I was okay and if I knew anything.”

Not knowing certainly creates worry among teachers, he said, especially those who are immunocompromised. However, he said it looks like Island Health has been handling the pandemic well.

“For me, the proof is in the low number of cases in our schools,” Pisterzi said. “I feel safe, yet fully know there is a risk stepping into the classroom each day.”

The pandemic has necessitated a change to the way things are done in the classroom.

“I have noticed both positive and negative shifts at the high school level,” Pisterzi said. “Schools are different today, without a doubt. The new five week cohort model in our district high schools is intensive and forces teachers to try new things. It can feel exhaustive at times.

“I find this part of teaching in the pandemic a unique challenge. I’ve tried a myriad of new ways to engage students because I have them all day. Dad jokes only last so long.”

A positive, though, is that everybody’s no longer bound to the bell at Carihi, “which is honestly quite liberating. We have staggered start and end times for each of Carihi’s school wings, as well as lunch times, to reduce student interactions and clustering. Not having bells allows a more fluid way to teach.”

In fact, Pisterzi believes schooling during the pandemic has given high school teachers more professional autonomy and have more design power throughout their day. Without bells and the regular timetable of four 75-minute classes each day, this new model gives them greater choice in how they approach their delivery, he said.

Pisterzi, who is known for launching Carihi’s innovative and much-heralded fly fishing program, gave us his thoughts just prior to the Christmas break.

“Heading into the holidays I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with my family,” he said. “Maybe I’ll check out a river or two for some steelhead, but I’m hoping most of us will follow the ministry’s protocols, so when we’re back, we’re not dealing with more flair ups of COVID-19.

“Another shutdown would feel disheartening because being around the kids is what motivates me. It’s what motivates us as teachers. I sell learning best in person, not through a computer.”

Campbell RiverCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Those who want to view the Strathcona Regional District’s public meetings will have to do so after the fact by going to their Youtube Channel. Photo courtesy Youtube.
No live public option for SRD meetings again

Public Health Order says governments must make ‘best efforts’ to give public a live option

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

The students in the Timberline Musical Theatre program rehearse this year’s production, Once Upon a Mattress, three days per week after school in preparation for next month’s virtual performances. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Timberline’s popular musical goes online for 2021

Once Upon a Mattress will be streamed right to your living room thanks to school’s AV department

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. The First Nations Leadership Council says an attempt by industry to overturn the phasing out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in contrary to their inherent Title and Rights. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)
First Nations Leadership Council denounces attempt to overturn salmon farm ban

B.C.’s producers filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Islands decision Jan. 18

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Residents of the Cowichan Valley decorated more than 55 vehicles with anti-racist slogans for a car rally in support of Cowichan Tribes on Saturday, January 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Dozens join anti-racism car rally and virtual panel in Cowichan Valley

Provincial ministry and BC Green caucus issue joint statement detailing concerns

Jesse Savidant, 31, is wanted by the RCMP after failing to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo in December. Police warn Savidant should be considered violent. (Photo Submitted)
Warrant out for man accused of stolen property offences across Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant did not appear for court date in Nanaimo last month, say RCMP

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Most Read