Gyms, theatres and band rooms transformed into classrooms as schools adjust to tougher restrictions

It’s a space where students would normally be cheering on their home team but now, shower curtains are hanging to make the gym of École River Heights School into a classroom. 

As schools within the Winnipeg metropolitan region and in the north moved to a level orange on the province’s pandemic response system, schools must ensure students have two metres distance between them or have the option to learn from home.

That means schools like École River Heights School are using every space possible. 

“The gym, the theatre, the dance studio, the band room, all those spaces are now transformed in classroom spaces,” said Principal Brad Burns of École River Heights School.

The gym at École River Heights School now functions as a classroom. (Holly Caruk/CBC News )

The new rules, which came into effect Monday, are a response to increasing community transmission of COVID-19, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said last Thursday. They will remain as long as the Winnipeg metropolitan area and the Northern Health region remain at the orange, or restricted, level on the province’s pandemic response system.

Burns says his school is fortunate enough to have the space to accommodate two metre distancing, so there hasn’t been a need to move any additional students to home learning.

But accommodating that extra space means some classrooms are even now divided in two, meaning some teachers have to be in two places at once.

“We have some teachers that are trying to do a virtual meeting between two classes so that they can actually be in the one room talking to the class and the other class can see them in the virtual meeting,” Burns said. 

Principal Brad Burns said the school is fortunate enough that it has the space to be able to accommodate the tighter restrictions without having to send more kids home. (Holly Caruk/CBC News )

Some teachers, on the other hand, are running back and forth, Burns said. 

The Manitoba Teachers Society says the situation is putting an increased burden on teachers.

MTS president James Bedford says he’s hearing from many teachers who are already overwhelmed and exhausted since coming back to school in September. 

“They’re extraordinarily stressed, and it’s not just one or two teachers that are telling me this but I here stories of teachers finishing a morning of teaching and they go to their cars … and they’re taking a nap so they can make it through the afternoon,” he said. 

“This is not one or two instances, this is happening all too often in the system.”

Requiring teachers to do blended learning, where some students are in class and others are not, puts tremendous amount of extra pressure on teachers, Bedford said. He’s worried about how long teachers can carry on before they burnout. 

Burns says the situation isn’t ideal, but so far teachers and students at the Grade 7 to 8 school are making it work.

“It’s not what it normally is but, you still walk around and you see kids laughing and … you can’t see their smile but you can tell from their eyes they are smiling and they are having fun and they are just glad to be here and be at school.”

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