By Sue Tiffin
The details of schools reopening are still being worked out, but a modified School’s Cool program began last week in Haliburton, Coboconk, Gravenhurst, Huntsville and Lindsay.
In March, while the province was seeing cancellations and closures of events, programs and services due to the attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, SIRCH Community Services announced the temporary suspension of several programs and services including Cook It Up Tuesdays, Repair Cafe and School’s Cool, until further notice.
The 20-year-old School’s Cool program typically runs in the summer inside schools for six weeks, offering an introduction to school for three- and four-year-old future students. The program had only been cancelled once in the past when it was short on funds, but was cancelled for the second time this past May affecting about 30 to 40 kids, some whose parents had signed up in January for a spot.
To open the modified program, SIRCH worked with the health unit to implement protocols in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: classrooms are sanitized throughout the day, class sizes are capped at 10 kids, and the children in each program are considered a cohort for the three-week period, meaning no other children or adults will join, according to Gena Robertson, executive director of SIRCH.
Additionally, parents do not enter the school, with instructors meeting them upon arrival and pick-up, bringing students to and from the classroom.
“The programs went really well today,” said Robertson last week. “Since we are allowed limited toys – no fabrics, stuffies, etc., surfaces must be able to be disinfected – and can’t use the playground equipment, the instructors are having to be quite creative. We Zoom meet daily to share best practices.”
She noted that School’s Cool is following guidelines for day camps and those issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Chris Lynd, a School’s Cool trainer for many years, worked with 14 instructors – two per course, plus back-ups in case anyone has to take time off, according to Robertson. “[Instructors] have used their knowledge of how young children learn and found interesting ways to keep the children active and engaged,” said Lynd. “They are taking the children outdoors for games, obstacle courses, ball toss, bubbles and explorations into the natural spaces around the school. They are using the outdoors as much as possible, bringing their stories and counting and letter work outside.”
The programs are funded by Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
For further information, contact SIRCH at 705-457-1742 or at www.sirch.on.ca.