Blyth Academy Back to School

Keeping students safe and structured this September

Blyth Academy London COVID-19 Classroom

We are one week into back-to-school, and the nervous energy that first filled the hallways has quickly turned into excitement for a safe and successful school year.

Our campuses were well prepared for the return of students, with physical distancing and sanitary protocols in place across our 10 Ontario locations. Our signature small class sizes (with an average of ten students) as well as small school communities, have enabled our campuses to easily adapt to the safety protocols set out by the Ontario School Board.

While the return to school has been different this year, it has also been an extraordinary opportunity for families, students, and faculty to work together to minimize risk and deliver quality-learning experiences.

”Our staff, students, and parents have all really stepped up by respecting cohorts, using masks, demonstrating excellent hygiene, and following our staggered schedule,” says Adam Hurley, Principal of Blyth Academy Downsview Park.

As our School for Elite Athletes, the Downsview Park campus has implemented unique protocols to ensure sports training and daily meals continue to be delivered in a safe and exceptional manner.

“Our flexibility and ability to adapt has allowed our school to continue delivering exceptional academic and athletic programming,” says Principal Hurley. “Our chefs have completely reinvented our meal plan by individually packaging meals and delivering them to each class. And our gradual return to hockey, soccer and fitness has provided us with time to ensure students, staff, and families have mastered our new policies and procedures.”

From the reorganization of classrooms to additional sanitation stations and strict screening protocols, our students are settling into their new routines and already engaging in class activities.

“I witnessed a tomato plant getting fused onto an eggplant root structure yesterday; spaghetti towers have been built; a slightly adapted soccer game was played at the park, and generally school is as it should be,” says Luke Coles, Senior Principal at Blyth Academy and Principal at Blyth Academy Lawrence Park. “Laughter is back in the building!”

Many of our schools are taking advantage of the outdoors to host classes in their local communities. At Blyth Academy’s Etobicoke campus,teachers are taking advantage of the sunny fall weather, proximity to unique ecosystems, and relationships with local BIAs to conduct a wide range of classes outdoors.

“Many of our classes now take place in green spaces on the banks of the Humber River. Our photography classes are out in our neighbourhood every day capturing the intersection of urban environments and nature,” says Laurie Foley, Principal of Blyth Academy Etobicoke. “Our Marketing class was out yesterday assessing the advertising in our Bloor West Village neighbourhood, and our English classes got to create their own version of Shakespeare in High Park.”

Blyth Academy faculty members have embraced teaching students both in-person and virtually as cohorts rotate throughout the week, with little-to-no disruption — ensuring students don’t miss out on interactive lessons, whether they are on campus, or online.

“As I visited classrooms this week, I have been nothing short of awe-struck by the way that my teachers have found ways to expertly manage teaching to students who are on-site and on-screen at the same time. On-site students are engaging with virtual students, helping each other and answering each other’s questions,” says Sheila Robitaille, Principal of Blyth Academy London. “The teachers have modified their teaching tools and strategies to ensure each student, no matter where they are learning from, receives the full benefit of their instruction and attention.”

Blyth Academy’s ability to provide seamless in-class and online learning stems from Blyth Academy Online — a well-established online school offering more that 160 Ontario credit courses — which, over the years, has allowed our students the flexibility to be able to simultaneously study a range of subjects in-class and online.

“Blended (or hybrid) learning has always been part of our DNA, and our smaller class sizes have made it infinitely easier to implement,” says Kathy Young, Chief Academy Officer at Blyth Academy. “We are now providing a comprehensive suite of solutions — including on-campus, fully online, and live virtual classrooms — and this approach supports the synchronization of online and in-person learning experiences where the student is empowered and has a measure of control over place, path, and pace.”

In July and August, Blyth Academy’s summer school went virtual, with live teacher-led classes being delivered daily through Zoom. This approach allowed for a run-through of what a new way of learning could look like, which ultimately morphed into Blyth Academy Orbit – Ontario’s first fully virtual high school campus.

“Over the summer, we conducted a pilot to road-test our new all-virtual campus called Blyth Academy Orbit. We found that remote/distance learning can be, for some students, not only highly enriching but also deeply empowering,” says Young.

As Term One continues to move forward, we are optimistic for a full year of in-class learning. Though we cannot predict how the fall and winter will unfold, our campuses are prepared for all scenarios. Throughout a challenging and unpredictable 2020, Blyth Academy has maintained our commitment to providing our students with stability and the best opportunities for academic excellence and success, and will continue to work with each family to find the best solution that works for their needs.

Though our physical doors remain temporarily closed, the minds of our students stay open. Summer classes are continuing to meet on their regular daily schedules, in virtual classrooms with face-to-face instruction and peer interaction.  The Blyth Academy model of small class sizes, flexible scheduling and individualized approach have enabled us to remain faithful to our standards. Our commitment to ongoing and meaningful communication between school, teachers, students and families has been critical to this effort.

Although our students have transitioned into summer mode and COVID-19 restrictions have begun to loosen, we are looking ahead to what September will hold for our campuses and families.
We want to be clear - our preference and our priority is to get students back to our campuses, but we must ensure this is done in a safe and effective way. While we await official guidance from Public Health and the Ministry of Education, a "return to school" task force has been hard at work putting concrete operational plans in place for all likely scenarios. This includes a full return to campus with safeguards, a blended model of virtual and in-campus learning and the continuation of fully virtual classrooms. All scenarios will provide robust learning and live, daily instruction and interaction with teachers and peers. 
With ten campuses across Ontario, we realize that each one of our schools is a unique space and community. We will be implementing across-the-board policies on hand washing, facility cleaning and social distancing measures. Each school is also prepared to pivot individually based on the guidance of local health authorities and to best serve students and families. 
Our recent survey showed that over 80 per cent of Blyth Academy families are eager to return to campuses, and we are hard at work to prepare for this day. As September's scenario becomes clearer and more information becomes available, we will continue to communicate. 

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