Online learning comes into its own as parents homeschool

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MANITOULIN – Island schools are seeking to keep the lights of knowledge burning during the closures enforced by the pandemic. Both M’Chigeeng and Wiikwemkoong made arrangements to supply their students with laptop computers and internet connections, including post secondary students at other boards.

Expositor requests to speak to Rainbow District School (RDSB) Board Education Director Norm Blaseg about the board’s plans to deal with any potential end of the school year without a return to classes received the following response from senior communications officer Nicole Charette: “Thank you for your message. Click here: https://www.rainbowschools.ca/parents/coronavirus/distance-learning-k-to-12/. Should the school year be ‘totally cancelled,’ we will follow up with an interview.”

According to the referenced webpage, “the Ontario Ministry of Education has directed school boards to offer teacher-led distance learning for all students. As such, there is an expectation that students will participate, with the support of their teachers, to the best of their abilities.”

As to what that entails, the webpage goes on to note that for the grade levels Kindergarten to Grade 3 the key focus is on literacy and math, with a suggested timeframe for learning of five hours of work per student per week. For Grades 4 through 6 the key focus expands to literacy, math, science and social studies, with a timeframe for learning of five hours of work per student per week.

Things double up once a student gets to grade levels of Grade 7 and 8, with key focuses on literacy, math, science and social studies and a timeframe for learning of 10 hours of work per student per week.

At the secondary school level, the key focus is on achieving credits and graduation, with a timeframe for learning of three hours of work per course per week.

The RDSB assigns the caveat that the above hours of study are the minimum suggested for the work assigned to students by their teachers.

The RDSB website goes on to note that “teachers will provide links to materials or share materials directly using their chosen platform. Resources vary by class and lesson, but will include links to videos, graphic organizers, texts/reading material. In cases where online learning is not possible, arrangements will be made to offer a different method of instruction, e.g. printed packages.”

Following an inquiry as to what progress has been made on provisions being made to provide support to students who do not have access to the internet, the Expositor received an email reply on Monday that the website was being updated. The update consisted of the statement: “In some cases, students without access to the internet will not be able to participate in an online environment. Schools are safely providing paper-based assignments to students and families who need them, while following Public Health guidance.”

New M’Chigeeng Board of Education education director Guy Morin noted that their board were the first on Manitoulin to close their classrooms and have since made great strides in managing to provide every one of the community’s students with internet and the means to access online learning. “It was challenging,” admitted Mr. Morin, who took over the job of education director in November and hit the ground running. “I have spent 23 years in nine communities in education, but there was no template for this. I was literally tossed into the deep end,” he laughed. But then came COVID-19 and things got ratcheted up several notches.

The community began planning two weeks before spring break resulting in a clear plan for moving forward when things went south and travel restrictions and physical distancing recommendations hit the fan. As a result, the M’Chigeeng Board of Education was somewhat ahead of the curve…literally.

“We were the first First Nation school with an online program ready to roll out,” he told The Expositor recently. “We are now good to go.”

Lakeview School already had a high degree of digital integration, so when the board went looking for tablets and laptops to provide students with access, they soon found they not only had what they needed for their students at Lakeview, but also were in position to assist their high school students attending Manitoulin Secondary School as well thanks to a close collaboration with the RDSB.

Internet access is being made available to students in need through the use of turbosticks, noted Mr. Morin.

Mr. Morin had high praise for the work of Kenjgewin Teg principal of academics Kelly Crawford, noting that she has done tremendous work in helping to restructure the programing. He also praised the work being done by all his academic team and noted that he has had tremendous support from chief and council. 

In an effort to provide online educational support for its students, the Wiikwemkoong Board of Education (WBE)  secured laptops for their entire student body—in excess of 350 units. Online supports are accessible through the WBE website, including tips for online learning. For Kindergarten to Grade 12, the WBE is using a virtual approach utilizing Microsoft Teams or VLE powered by D2L/Brightspace.

A message from Josie Tober of the WBE education tech team advises parents: “during this time of uncertainty, it’s vital that parents and guardians remain positive and keep an open mind. Your child will adopt the same attitude and online learning will be successful as a result. If at any time you have any questions or concerns about online work, please contact your child’s teacher directly through email. If you cannot reach your child’s teacher, please email the principal, who can then help you navigate this avenue of learning.”

The site goes on to recommend that parents create a physical environment at home conducive to learning by creating a designated learning space and choosing the right learning space, with in-home WiFi (or access to WiFi at the school parking lot) and a web-accessible device (aka the school-issued laptop). The learning space should minimize distractions. 

Parents can also help by setting a schedule at home, communicating with teachers and checking-in with their child “to not only make sure they’re getting their assignments completed, but just as important, making sure they’re doing ‘ok’ mentally—this is super-important!”

The RDSB also provides similar online supports to their students on the board’s website.

Each of the Island’s education systems has been working diligently to assist students in maintaining their educational advancement during challenging times. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement on the fate of the remaining school year in the next few days.