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Interest in local private schools rises amid pandemic worries

Small class sizes makes it easier to manage new COVID-19 safety protocols set out by the province, says local private school administrators
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With parents feeling anxiety about sending their kids back to school through the public and Catholic school boards, many are seeking other options for September, such as private schools.

Joanne Harrison, owner and director of Little House Montessori School in Collingwood says her school has been operating for more than 20 years. However, up until this year, the child-care portion never had a wait list.

“This year, I have 50 people on that waiting list,” said Harrison.

Harrison said she is being told that because of COVID-19, parents are moving out of the Greater Toronto Area up north and are looking for alternative options for their kids come September.

“We’re getting an influx of people moving to Collingwood because of the virus,” said Harrison.

While Montessori schools tend to cater to kids from two to six years of age, there are also Montessori programs that cater up to Grade 8 and into high school.

“It’s an alternative method of education where we use tangible materials to teach concepts,” said Harrison.

In September, Harrison said her school will be following the guidelines mandated by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and the Ministry of Education. Children will be screened daily upon arrival, and sanitation practises will be increased. Social distancing will be encouraged, but Harrison said sometimes won’t be possible due to the nature of the ages of the kids.

“Kids are like magnets; they’re drawn to each other,” she said. “We try to implement playful games to make the children more aware of their space in a gentle, playful manner.”

While young children will not be masked, teachers will be and Harrison is hoping to also incorporate face shields.

Harrison said a lot of parents in the area are not aware that the school also offers an elementary program for Grades 1 to 3.

“I know a lot of parents are up in arms about large class sizes. We could take their children for September if they’re looking for small class sizes,” she said.

For more information on Little House Montessori, click here.

Allen Schenk is principal of Unity Christian High School in Barrie. While he says the school hasn’t yet seen an increase in registrations for September, they have seen an increase in inquiries.

“We’re just getting re-opened too and are getting back at it,” said Schenk. “We’re getting questions about what we’re doing that’s different from what the public school boards are doing.”

One of the benefits of being a smaller school – currently enrolment for September for the entire school sits at 63 students – is smaller class sizes.

“We’re able to cohort students a lot easier than some of the bigger public schools. When you compare that to schools with 800 to 1,000 or more, it’s much easier,” he said. “Most of our class sizes are already at 15 per class, so we’re not having to modify our scheduling or our programming.”

This also means students at Unity will not have to move into the quadmester schedules that are being used by the public and Catholic boards.

“Smaller class sizes are always a benefit, whether due to a pandemic or not,” he said.

Schenk said janitorial staff will be doing thorough cleaning every evening at the school, and shared spaces such as the science lab or art rooms will be cleaned between classes by volunteers. Parents will be sent information on how to screen for COVID, and are being asked to screen children at home.

“If they’re already coming to the building and then we’re screening them, it’s almost too late because then they’ve potentially exposed other children on the bus and will already be in the school,” he said.

Masks will be mandatory as per directions from the health unit. Schenk said he has received one inquiry from a parent about allowing their child in school without a mask, and had to turn them down.

“Even though we do have some flexibility as a private school, I don’t think it would be wise for us to deviate from that directive,” he said.

Schenk said there are still spaces open at the school for registrations. For more information on Unity Christian High School, click here.

Jeremy Kuikman, principal of Orillia Christian School, has done three tours of the facilities for parents in the past week. The elementary school has about 75 students registered for the fall, with the largest class planned to have 17 students.

“We’ll evaluate as we go. This is a learning experience for us,” he said.

Kuikman agrees with Schenk that existing small class sizes are a benefit of private school for people looking for an education experience this year for their children that isn’t so restrictive. He said he has heard anxiety from parents considering the private school route that class size is one of their biggest fears.

The school will also be following Ministry of Education guidelines for return to school, including enhanced cleaning protocols and hand washing.

“We’ve hired a new janitorial service that will be disinfecting and cleaning in the evenings,” he said, adding that teachers will be able to clean commonly used surfaces throughout the day as well.

The school will also be providing screening on-site for staff, students and visitors. Masks will be required for students in Grades 5 and up.

“Being a private school, we are able to do that. We’re able to meet more and let our staff know more about what’s going on since we have a smaller staff,” said Kuikman. “Being able to do that is a big help for us.”

For more information on Orillia Christian School, click here.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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