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Most of Gray Academy's Grades are Now Full to Capacity To Ensure Necessary Physical Distancing

by Rhonda Spivak September 1, 2020

Lori Binder, Head of  School of Gray Academy of  Jewish Education has told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that in terms of enrollment, "We're very close to being where we were last year," and that under the current provincial framework,"All students from JK to Grade 12 will be in school daily for in-class learning."


Binder notes that "To ensure the necessary physical distancing between students, most of Gray Academy's grades are now FULL, including JK, K, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4 and Grade 8. Very limited spots remain in other grades.


Binder explains that "When we realized that we were able to arrange for  2 metres of space between students for children in elementary school in their classrooms, we made the decision we would cap the elementary classes to maintain the two metres, for the well being of  our entire school community and to support the students in the elementary. It allows our elementary students in grades 4-6 who are mandated by the province to wear masks when they do not have the 2 metres to be able to have mask-free time in the classroom. They will enter the school with a mask and exit with a mask but they are not mandated to wear them once in the classroom with the 2 metres."


Physical distancing measures at Gray Academy will include "the use of cohorts from JK to Grade 12." As Binder indicates a cohort "allows us to group students for things such as entering the school, walking through the hallways and recess time. The Province mandates the number for a cohort at 75 students or less." The use of student cohorts limit exposure of one group to another, including at recess times and the start and end of the school day. Cohorts at Gray Academy have been organized by pairs of grades (JK/K; Grades 1/2; Grades 3/4; Grade 5/6; Grades 7/8; Grades 9/10; Grades 11/12)." 


For example, Early Years (JK and K) will be its own cohort in the early year’s wing with its own entrance/exit and 1.5+ metres of space for a variety of learning settings (Note that children in JK and K are not mandated by the province to wear masks).


"In elementary, we have 2 metres between students in the classroom so technically we don't need to cohort in the classroom but we need to cohort for recess, for example," Binder points out.


"For high school, we have a minimum of 1.5 metres of distance between students in the classroom plus some spaces which have two metres of distance, which means that the high school students can have mask breaks for some of their classes (where there is two metres of distance).In  high school where there is less than 2 metres between students in the classroom, the students will be wearing masks and they are cohorted so they are on the same floor for the whole day and the teachers will come to their classes, " Binder indicates.


Pursuant to the Gray Academy plan for re-opening the school, parents/guardians must monitor their child(ren)’s health each morning before bringing them to school. Any child with COVID-19-related symptoms must be kept at home. Gray Academy will be using EduSafe, a physician-led, educator-inspired digital screening app. This will allow staff members and families to complete the screening process in less than 30 seconds each morning.  A student who exhibits symptoms due to a known medical condition such as asthma or allergies must provide the school with a note from a physician to differentiate from those symptoms that require a student to stay home from school.


In addition to measures for physical distancing and the use of cohorts, Binder explains that the movement of students will be limited in the building by having teachers move from classroom to classroom in both elementary and high school instead of having students move between rooms. The halls, stairwells and doorways in the school have been marked clearly with brightly coloured directional signs and floor markers to support the flow of traffic. Some doorways students are accustomed to using may be closed to limit student traffic.


There will also be "staggered drop off and pick-up routines, with specific entrance and exit points for cohorts to reduce congestion." As well there will be routines to support physical distancing, such as  hand hygiene, cleaning and sanitization. There will also be a staggered start to the school year to give each cohort a full day of orientation and training on new routines and protocols.


Recess for students in Grades 1-6 will be organized to allow for a staggered exit and entrance to avoid congestion in the hallways and doorways.


As Binder notes, "We are fortunate to have two separate play structures, a large hard-top play area and a large field for play." Recess for JK and K will each remain separate from Grades 1-6 as per regular school routines. "Students will remain in their cohort group for all recesses and will be assigned one of the three play areas for the day: the play structure and hard-top closest to the school building; the second play structure and adjacent hard-top; and the field. Physical barriers will mark the division between each cohort’s play area. This will rotate daily."


Binder points out that students are not to bring shared play equipment or toys (including cards) from home. However, the school will provide and maintain equipment for play for each cohort. The equipment will be sanitized between each recess.


Phys-Ed classes for all students will continue to take place in the gym. "We are fortunate to have a very large gymnasium that provides ample space for safe physical health education, and as much as is possible, Phys-Ed classes will take place outdoors," Binder states.


As the province has just mandated masks for students in grades 4 and up when physical distancing of 2 metres is not possible, Gray Academy families are asked to bring an adequate supply of non-medical masks to school, as well as a labelled container for students to store their mask for when they are taking mask breaks, are eating or do not require their masks. "While it has not been mandated by the Province for students below Grade 4 to wear masks, we strongly recommend that all students in Grades 1 – 3 be in a mask at drop off and pick up times," Binder adds.


Binder notes that each child will get a reusable mask with a Gray Academy logo and two reusable masks from the Province. "We are getting 14,000 disposable masks to have on hand for students and, staff as needed," Binder says.


"This year, out of an abundance of caution for the health and well-being of  the children and the entire school community, none of the high school students at the start of  this school year can leave campus as they have in previous  years. We want to get them used to the routines in school " Binder states. This will be re-assessed a couple of weeks in," Binder says.


Gray Academy’s co-curricular program includes holiday celebrations, assemblies, gathering for Shabbat and much more. As Binder explains, "These moments help to create community and provide opportunities for our students to experience the meaning of an upcoming holiday and to participate in our Jewish traditions.  These programs will continue to be an important part of school life for our students but will be reimagined, as in-person assemblies and gatherings will be replaced by virtual assemblies and in-class celebrations."


The Kaufman Silverberg Library will continue to play a role in students’ lives. Students will be able to regularly take out books and the library will maintain the proper protocols once materials are returned and before they are put back into circulation. "This year, students will not be going to the physical library, but the library will be coming to our students. Students in both elementary and high school will learn to use the Kaufman Silverberg Library’s online catalogue and library staff will regularly come to each classroom for book distribution and returns," Binder says.


The school building is closed to all visitors, including parents. Access to the school building will be permitted by appointment only.


It is also to be noted that while Gray Academy has a well-ventilated building, the Asper Jewish Community Campus has implemented upgrades to the building’s ventilation system. "This includes increasing the fresh air intake to the maximum possible for the system and upgrading the HVAC filters to MERV 13 filters. These higher density filters are recommended and increase particle capture efficiency, "Binder explains.


One of the best measures to protect against transmission of the coronavirus is frequent hand hygiene. "Additional time for hand hygiene will be built into programming to ensure students follow the proper guidelines," Binder says. This will include regular reminders of proper handwashing protocols. Signage is visible at hand washing stations throughout the school as reminders, and hand sanitization stations are strategically placed throughout the school in 13 hallway locations and in every classroom and bathroom.


"Increased frequency of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing, particularly on high-touch surfaces and in common/shared areas, will be an essential part of our daily routine. This will include disinfecting commonly touched surfaces. We will be ensuring that washrooms and classroom surfaces are cleaned and disinfected frequently throughout the day. Two dedicated cleaners will be assigned to the school – one for elementary and one for the high school, "Binder adds.


As well, "Water fountains will remain available for bottle filling only. Mouth pieces on all water fountains will remain disabled throughout the year. We ask all families to send a filled and labelled water to school with their child(ren) daily."


'While we have been planning for reopening of our school, we are also fully prepared for a potential return to Gray Away (remote learning) should the need arise," Binder concludes.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.