By Sue Tiffin
Published May 26 2020
Sue Yallop has gone back to elementary school.
The Algonquin Highlands resident is sitting alongside her grandchildren 12-year-old Evan and nine-year-old Addyson as they participate in online-based education being offered by their teachers in Tillsonburg ever since public school in Ontario did not reopen after March Break due to the province’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last week the province announced schools which closed March 13 to in-person learning would be closed for the school year due to the COVID-19 crisis but in-home lessons are continuing so students can continue learning from their teachers while practicing physical distancing.
“The programs are a little cumbersome but the kids seem to be pretty good at navigating through them. Personally I have learned about habitats Beroulli’s Principle and how they actually teach math these days” said Yallop and then with a laugh: “Some of these were reminders.”
Yallop’s grandkids joined her after the family members had been isolated from each other for nine weeks when it became apparent her son would be going back to work and her daughter-in-law had been deemed an essential worker.
But with the school year still in session the stay with grandma has turned Yallop into the children’s at-home teacher as well.
“We are one week in to be honest we seem to be doing OK” she said.
Her grandkids are learning in some cases through solo games or challenge games the entire class participates in.
“I have found however that with the other lessons it is essential that there be someone involved with them one-on-one going through the work to make sure they understand/learn and don’t get frustrated” she said.
Yallop said she has found responses from the kids’ teachers to be exceptionally quick even on a holiday Monday and said that extra help when needed has been available.
Throughout Haliburton County the Learning@Home program has been ongoing and Trillium Lakelands District School Board director Larry Hope provided an update on the board’s initiative with the program at an April 28 meeting noting “continued efforts are being made to ensure elementary students are receiving programming and instruction that focuses on numeracy and literacy while secondary school students focus on course and credit completion.”
March 13 is considered the cut-off date for assessment and evaluation for secondary students according to Hope.
“Grades received at this time can be raised by students through their online learning but these grades cannot go down” read the minutes of Hope’s update to the board.
A survey conducted by the board with families received 3200 responses over a week with results indicating 68 per cent of the respondents were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the opportunities available. Twenty per cent of respondents were neutral about the program while 11 per cent were dissatisfied. Eighty per cent of the respondents said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with communication between home and school with seven per cent being dissatisfied and 13 per cent being neutral.
“Regarding the level of satisfaction with the quantity of work 65 per cent were satisfied or extremely satisfied 20 per cent were in the middle and 14 per cent were dissatisfied” read minutes from an April 28 board meeting. “This result is much like the situation in a physical classroom environment where some students will finish work in 15 minutes while others require some more time. Educators have been asked to be mindful of this when it comes to their expectations as well as the various situations each family may be in.”
In total 7000 devices to help families access technology used in the in-home learning program were distributed throughout the TLDSB school community while printed materials have been delivered to 300 homes within the wider school board region who do not have internet access or have requested paper rather than technology.
Melissa Bittner’s family is one that has opted for paper materials.
“My first reaction was baffled” she said. “I didn’t have passwords or login information. My son was expected to go to several web sites for different lessons. I was unable to navigate it and it took me almost a week to get proper login information. We do have a good internet connection. I am not familiar with the programs and even once I found the lessons I couldn’t understand how to respond or return the work. It was overwhelming.”
Bittner said paper lessons were available three weeks after the program started causing a setback for her kids who are in Grade 4 and Grade 2. The materials were first available via school pickup but are now dropped on her porch in a plastic bag bi-weekly and returned the same way.
Bittner said she is still attempting to have her kids do their schoolwork but said her focus has shifted.
“I felt my kids were suffering from the isolation and segregation from their friends and teachers” she said. “The amount of work is too much for all of us. In light of the pandemic my perspective has changed. I feel that life skills and family unity has been lacking in the technological world we have been accustomed to. These are the fundamentals to survival in my opinion. Also I can hardly educate my children when the way I learned no longer exists. I do not remember things from public school. If I can’t understand it how am I to teach it?”
Bittner said her daughter’s teacher has been “incredibly supportive.”
“I have been able to express my frustration and she reassures us that her mental health is far more important than how far down the stack she has gotten” said Bittner.
For teachers managing learning at home while also working at home through a pandemic some with their children at their side has been a new experience as well.
“This social distancing has given me as a teacher time to reflect and really appreciate and remind me of the fact that it truly takes a village to raise a child” said Jason Morissette a teacher at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. “We are continuing to build relationships and make connections with our students by learning at home. Teachers and education support staff care greatly for their students and their wellbeing during this time and are making every effort to be there for them by quickly learning new teaching technologies and techniques in order to do so.”
Morissette is also the parent of three children learning at home and said he and his wife know the situation has not been an easy adjustment for families.
“I have an enormous appreciation for all of our parents for all the help and support in trying to provide educational continuity as best we can together” he said. “We are all trying to do what we are able and that’s going to look and be different at home for everyone and as a teacher and parent I feel people should know that they are the best judge of what works best for their family at this time and that’s okay. We truly are all in this together and will be stronger as a school community coming out of this life changing event.”
Bittner said she thinks it is important for those who may not have kids to understand that parents and children “have had their worlds turned upside down.”
“It isn’t a holiday by any stretch” she said. “It has affected my ability to go to work this season as I can’t find childcare nor afford it. If I could how would I keep up with their education? I am also a single parent and having to school two kids and maintain a house is no easy feat. Everyone is suffering differently from this pandemic and we all need to be kind. No one is above and no one is below.”
In a letter home to TLDSB families on May 22 Hope said he recognizes that each family is feeling different about the Learning@Home program.
“Our teachers and support staff are providing learning opportunities in a variety of ways and all teaching staff have office hours available to parents and to students if there are any questions or concerns” he said. “I encourage you to take advantage of this. We have heard that some students want more work and look forward to summer school opportunities which we will be announcing shortly. And there are other families who are finding learning at home a challenge and have decided to relax some of the expectations for their child. The choice you make as a family is the right choice for you and the well-being of your family should come before anything else right now. If your child is falling behind or struggling with the workload or balance please reach out to their school teacher or principal. We want to be sure we are providing the best possible experience in this most unusual of times and we need to know how it’s going for everyone.”
TLDSB schools are working on a plan for families to collect belongings left behind at school in March and for a graduation plan for those looking to celebrate the milestone.