By ALAN SHACKLETON
With COVID-19 case numbers showing an increase across Toronto, a local principal understands why a lot of families at his school are deciding to go with the online learning option for this year.
However, Crescent Town Elementary School principal Avinash Mani said that the students who have come back to the Victoria Park and Danforth avenues area school for in-person classes are happy to be there and staff is glad to see them.
“Coming to school is good for many of the kids. For the students to be here is good for their own mental health,” he said.
Mani added that many of those students and their families are also glad to be back attending school.
“We meet the parents every morning and they are happy to see everybody and that their kids are in school,” he said.
As schools across the province opened last month, Crescent Town was dealing with the fact that more than half of the students it had attending last year have decided to go with online learning and the school’s enrollment was standing at 200.
Mani said there were a number of factors as to why so many families of students at the school decided not to return to in-person classes.
“I understand why,” said Mani. “It’s because of the surrounding area. It’s a high-density area and all of the school’s families live in the apartment buildings.”
The buildings of Crescent Town and Dentonia Park are high-rises and residents are dependent on the elevators, which are limited to three people at a time. So even though the school is right beside the buildings, it is tough for many families to avoid long waits and prolonged exposures to others inside the buildings given the elevator situation at school start times.
“Our families have family in other countries in South Asia where the infection and death rates have been very high and that is their context as well,” said Mani of the community’s concerns surrounding in-person school attendance and COVID-19.
Like all schools, safety measures are in place at Crescent Town to stop the spread of the virus.
Mani said he is part of the group of East Toronto educators that doctors from Michael Garron Hospital and East Toronto Family Practice Network are advising regularly on how to deal with the virus. “I participate in that each week. I am part of that continuing discussion.
He said guidance is coming on a regular basis from the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Public Health and the local team of doctors.
“They are going to look at it school by school and area by area,” said Mani.
There is currently a staff of 30 at Crescent Tow including teachers, lunchroom supervisors and caretakers.
Mani said taking advantage of outdoor learning opportunities in nearby Taylor Creek Park and Dentonia Park, along with the schoolyard, are ways the school is helping protect against the spread of the virus.
“We were doing that before this as well,” said Mani of teachers using the local parks for outdoor learning.
Also, because many of the classrooms are not presently needed for students due to the low in-person enrollment, most classes are being held in rooms that have doors linking them directly to the school yard. This limits the amount of time students and staff have to spend in indoor hallways and avoids crowding at start and dismissal times.
“They can go in and out directly to the classroom through those doors,” said Mani.
As has been the case at many schools, parental and community support has been extremely important during these challenging times.
Mani said there is a community mask making initiative taking place organized by Crescent Town teacher Jen Hart.
“We had a mask making program initiated by a teacher. Parents picked up the kits that had fabric, elastic cord and thread,” said Mani. “The parents made two mask for their children and two masks to be donated to the school for other children. Every day now we have families dropping off masks.”
On Wednesday of this week (Sept. 30), TDSB parents had their first opportunity to change their minds as to whether the kids would attend online or in-person classes.
Early reports indicate that some 7,500 students will be switching to online (which will begin on Oct. 13) from in-person learning, but there will also be 3,000 students deciding to come back to in-person classes. How that impacts Crescent Town Elementary School is not yet known.
For parents looking to get the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 situation at specific schools and if there are cases among staff or students, please visit https://tdsb.on.ca/return-to-school/covid-19-advisories