Delta's Director of International Programs

Ms. Karen Symonds

Director of International Education - Admissions, Custodian, Operations

Email: KSymonds@GoDelta.ca

Cell: 604 396 6862 | Tel: 604 952 5372

 
Although the novel Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19,  has been a global health issue and newsworthy concern since January, it was less than three months ago when its impact was suddenly felt with huge force here in our school system.  It was during Spring Break, when schools were already not in session, when the announcement was made that BC schools were closed indefinitely.
 
In the days that followed, our staff helped facilitate the rapid return of over 200 students in the space of about a week.  This was a devastating week for our program – we have never seen a volume of emails as large as we did in that time frame, and have never had to coordinate the return of that many students in that short period, with flight information coming in minute by minute.  For many students and many homestay families, this was devastating – students leaving without time for closure and proper goodbyes.  Some students left after being with families for years, and equally disappointing were the students who left who had just arrived, their plans cut short by a force of nature.  As much as this was all disheartening and sad, what was impressive was the kind and supportive manner that our agent partners, host families and our staff pulled together to make this all happen and, despite the rush and volume of work, feel supported and cared for during that time.
 
This flurry of activity was quickly followed by looking after the 400+ students who still remained in Delta.  At that point, our attention turned to them - checking in personally with each student and having our multicultural staff check-in with parents living in the community with their students as well.  I have been in almost daily contact since March with our homestay families with information and ‘moral support’. I have been impressed with the level of commitment and care they have shown through these tough and stressful times.  And I have been impressed by our students and their commitment to their health and safety and that of the community.  Watching the close bonds that have formed has been a highlight for me.
 
And from there we transitioned to online learning.  This was new territory for us, for teachers and for students.  Some have thrived and some have struggled.  Our International Coordinators and ELL teachers at the school are playing a large role in coordinating this learning for our students, helping us identify who is struggling and putting in place measures to ensure they are successful. With the introduction of part time in class learning, we again are both learning ourselves and supporting our students as well.
 
This is always a challenging time of year, trying to balance efforts and attention between students who are ending their time with us, graduating, or moving on to summer programming and having to look towards next year.  This is even more challenging this year.  Students are ending their time with us without an opportunity for the same celebration and closure as in other years.  Graduates are not given the same platform for celebration as typical.  We are encouraging our returning students who are here in Canada to stay, in fears that it might be difficult to get back for September.  Many of them are missing their families back home. And we are having to plan for September which will likely look quite different than ones in the past.  There are so many unknowns and uncertainties.  We are working hard and thoughtfully on all of this and trying to manouever the challenges and unknowns the best we can.
 
This has been an emotional Spring.  On a personal level, I have experienced the same challenges that many others have – feelings of isolation, not being able to see friends and family, financial strain of job loss in our immediate family and worrying about what the future will bring.  Added on top of that have been long hours of work, coping with parents and agent partners who have been at times candid with their gratitude, and at other times very open with their displeasure at our policies and procedures.  Host families, feeling the stresses of hosting through a pandemic, have relied on us for support and to be a sounding board when their stresses become hard to deal with on their own.  Some days, it has felt like I am wearing the worries of the world on my shoulders.  As we wade through our own emotional baggage, and address the multitude of feelings felt by others, we here have tried to adhere to the key principles that make us successful when times are good – we are operating with professionalism, integrity, honesty and heart.  I am incredibly proud of my team as I watch them all operate with these values embedded in all they do.
 
Going forward, we will continue to do so.  We do not know what September will look like.  It will not look like September 2019.  We are planning for students to have to quarantine upon arrival. We anticipate smaller numbers of students next year, and until there is a vaccine, that COVID will throw us a few more curveballs along the way.  We are excited to have some time potentially to examine what we do and to make our program stronger and better going into the future.  No matter what changes we make, we will continue to be true what makes Delta special and we will offer our students the best support and education that we can under whatever circumstances come our way.  
 
Here is hoping for a day when COVID-19 is a distant memory!
 
Wishing all of our students, parents and partners the best of health.
 
Be well,
 
Karen Symonds
Director of International Education