Williams Lake First Nation prepares to welcome students back to school next week

A cleaner has been hired to wipe down high surface areas and clean washrooms throughout the day at Little Chiefs Primary School. Further cleaning is completed in the evening by the school’s custodian. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Little Chiefs Primary School lead teacher JoAnne Moiese is excited to be welcoming students back. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Lead teacher at Little Chiefs Primary School JoAnne Moiese is getting ready for the new school year. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic she is already thinking of ways they will be able to safely hold their Christmas concert that drew more than 100 attendees last year. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
JoAnne Moiese is completing some online principal training modules through the First Nations Education Steering Committee before Little Chiefs Primary School opens for in class learning. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Elementary students and staff will have their temperature taken by a hand held thermometer before starting classes at Little Chiefs Primary School near Williams Lake.

The school is one of more than 100 First Nation-operated schools in B.C. that will be welcoming students back in the classroom amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to make it as comfortable, soothing and welcoming as possible,” said lead teacher JoAnne Moiese who has worked tirelessly with other staff to ensure they and the school are ready to safely open.

“I don’t want to scare students and I don’t want to frighten the parents, but I need them to also realize that this is serious — that we have to take it seriously.”

Read More: Teachers’ union slams B.C.’s return-to-school plan; says ad with Dr. Henry is ‘unrealistic’

Following B.C.’s back to school principles established by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Kindergarten to Grade 4 school is looking to open on Sept. 10.

Before entering the classrooms, students and staff are expected to apply hand sanitizer from one of the bottle pumps placed near the entrance which Moiese said will eventually be replaced with a motion sensor automatic dispenser.

Inside the upper floor classroom where 15 students will receive lessons, the desks have been spaced apart and one-way directional arrows have been applied to the ground where carpet once was.

Downstairs where there will be 11 students, Moiese said she was grateful for School District 27 that has provided students with individual desks until an order arrives from Sandtronic.

“We’re limited with space,” she added, noting there are 26 students rerolled and five on their waiting list. “Our dream list is to have a larger school.”

Parents won’t be able to access the school, and are required to provide an emergency contact to immediately take their child home should they be feeling unwell.

Although students will not be required to wear a mask in the classroom, the bus driver for Little Chiefs Primary School will be using a face shield as they had previously in May and June.

Read More: Williams Lake and 100 Mile House secondary schools going to quarter semesters due to COVID-19

The school which closed earlier this spring, had reopened at the end of May and held a summer school that wrapped up in July.

“I think that was our trial basis,” Moiese said, noting she had received support in ensuring the appropriate guidelines were met from the First Nations Education Steering Committee and Emergency Management BC as well as Williams Lake First Nation senior education manager Norma Sure and chief administrative officer Aaron Mannella.

Before the school year officially begins, Moiese will be providing parents an opportunity to tour Little Chiefs Primary School and see the safety precautions that have been put in place.

“I feel good but a lot of that I have to give to my staff because if I didn’t have them returning, if I didn’t have their support in getting everything set up then I would probably feel pretty stressed,” she said, noting she will be wearing a t-shirt that says ‘be healthy, be happy, be kind’ on their first day of classes.

Read More: Williams Lake Indian Band thanks educators during COVID-19 with drum song

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