WEST VANCOUVR -- Mulgrave School’s schedule typically has students back in class several weeks before everyone else in B.C. Students at the pre-K to grade 12 independent school in West Vancouver are now in the middle of their second week of instruction, and they’re adapting to big changes.  

"We have temperature checks, they are required to sanitize their hands, and also they are required to wear a mask," said head of school John Wray, "so every student coming into Mulgrave regardless of age and every adult is required to wear a mask coming and leaving."

Once students get to class those masks are optional, but Wray says about 40 per cent are keeping them on. Secondary teachers at Mulgrave are the only ones who must wear a mask in the classroom, because they move between several cohorts of students. 

The sports field has been separated into four sections to make more outdoor space available, and the cafeteria has been divided with plastic barriers to allow several cohorts to eat at once. 

Independent schools like Mulgrave must follow the same health protocols for re-opening as public schools.

"Being the first school to open in B.C., we were absolutely under the microscope, so I think we followed the guidelines absolutely to the letter," said Wray. 

"I think the one thing so many of us have been concerned about is the mental health the social and emotional well-being of young people, and I can tell you the first few days of school here the place was filled with excitement filled with energy because it’s given young people a chance to reconnect with each other," he said.

Wray is also pleasantly surprised at how seriously students are taking new safety protocols.

"We don’t have to give a lot of reminders for our students.  Right across the age range, they’re following them quite rigidly."

Like most independent schools, Mulgrave already has smaller maximum class sizes than public schools.  The B.C. Teachers union would like the province to give schools districts $242 million of new federal funding so they can all afford to offer an online option, which would reduce the number of kids in public school classrooms. 

"What we have insisted on is we fund the key priorities that will safety open schools, so that’s exactly where the money is gonna go," said education minister Rob Fleming. 

"And yes I think some districts will look to hire additional teachers and learning resources and providers to be able to keep every kid connected to a learning program as we go forward."

97 per cent of Mulgrave students have chosen to return to in-person learning, which Wray attributes to constant communication with parents. 

"The only advice I would really give is just communicate, communicate, communicate. Let people see photographs and video, the layout of school, what is happening. But also let them know how it’s going and what plans are to be put in place."

As for the future of this very unique school year, Wray says he’s optimistic.

"Obviously we are all a bit anxious about the growing numbers of COVID cases in B.C.  But as things stand, we think this model is sustainable for us for the whole year."