VANCOUVER -- While the vast majority of B.C.’s 550,000 kindergarten to Grade 12 students are learning at home, there are some students in the classroom.

The children of essential workers like nurses, bus drivers and grocery store clerks are able to send their elementary-aged students to four schools in Surrey. One hundred and forty students have been registered, 40 of them at Simon Cunningham Elementary where five classrooms are now in use. Because their parents are mostly shift workers, most students don’t come to class every day.

"What we have is probably five to six kids in each class and in every class there are siblings,” said Hugh Mackinnon, a teacher on call who volunteered to return to a classroom at Simon Cunningham during COVID-19. “We try to make it relaxed, comfortable for the children. Because it's a very stressful time for adults, for teachers, for kids. And if I’m calm and quiet, they tend to be.”

Each student has a checklist when they arrive at school in the morning.

“Do you have diarrhea, do you have a fever, this type of thing. The parents go through that, but the parents are never in the school,” said Mackinnon. “Each classroom has an outside door. Then they come in and wash their hands.”

“One student goes and washes their hands and returns to their spot, then another student goes does the same thing,” said educational assistant Amrit Dillon. “It’s definitely different from our regular school setting because we are constantly reminding ourselves and the students to stay away from each other. Social distancing is a must.”

But that’s not always easy with young children.

"They like to run around play tag, things like that, so in this setting they’re quite different. They are getting the hang of it, they’re doing quite great. They’re reminding one another about keeping their distance,” said educational assistant Roopie Maan.

Because each classroom has children from multiple grades, the in-class teacher is not expected to give them each a lesson plan. The student’s regular teacher sends them assignments, which are accessible on an iPad that’s kept on their desks.

“Most of them are online with their teachers, and I’m there to support that,” said Mackinnon. “So they will get an instruction from their teacher, and then I can go through that. If they have any questions we go through that together.”

The teachers and educational assistants who’ve chosen to work in a classroom rather than at home say it's the least they can do for essential workers. “I look at the doctors and the nurses and wow, I take my hat off,” said Mackinnon. “I was thinking what can I do? This is a small thing and I think...I know they’re appreciative.”