With classrooms likely not in session for the remainder of the school year, the shift for Vancouver Island students to learn at home is underway.
But the sentiment from many teachers as to how it will unfold is uncertain at best.
The willpower is there. However, getting everyone on an even playing field is job No. 1 said Carolyn Howe, vice-president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association. High school teachers were expected to deliver material starting this week.
“High school is concerning, it’s a pass-fail system, and the question is how can we deal with what we are missing,” Howe said. “We have to wrap our heads around it really fast.”
Sixteen-year-old Jaqi Hinkle was given a 10-minute window to clear her locker out at Mount Douglas secondary and grab any other essential learning materials she will need to complete Grade 11. Hinkle is worried about self-motivation but also feels like staff at the school, and the school district, are doing the best they can.
“I want to finish the year, but the way that classes are currently set up, only some things are assigned, so it’s unclear what it’s going to look like,” Hinkle said. “I’m certainly glad I’m not in Grade 12 right now, and glad I can go back and catch up.”
Since spring break, Vic High history teacher Brian Bradley has reached out to his Grade 11 and 12 students. He encountered a collection of cases that vary greatly.
“Some kids are raring to go, they are keen to finish Grade 12,” Bradley said. “Then I have [students] who are struggling while living on their own with further isolation and depression.”
In one case, a student’s entire household is stricken with illness that the family believes is COVID-19. In other situations, students live in households with both parents working at home which means access to digital technology is limited and shared. Not every home has an unlimited internet data plan or up-to-date technology.
Add to that the fact some youth with jobs, such as working at grocery stores, are now an important part of the household, Howe said.
As for teachers, some had already integrated a lot of curriculum online. Others, however, are not as keen on digital learning and the shift online is a major learning curve.
“We are problem solving,” said Jordan Watters, chair of the Greater Victoria school board. “We don’t have all the answers but we have a great team, so we are lucky.”
Watters knows the difficulty parents face. The government employee is working from home while managing three kids, a preschooler, Grade 1 and Grade 3, as her partner is an essential worker with Cool Aid.
“Teachers are trying to distill the curriculum so that it’s meaningful and helpful,” Watters said. “The message we really want going out to teachers and parents is that it needs to be manageable. If parents have concerns they should connect with the teacher.”
It’s best to consider parents as facilitators, not teachers, she added.
“Parents aren’t expected to bear the responsibility of a teacher,” Watters said.
The biggest misconception right now is that digital technology will solve everything, Howe said, though it remains a key piece of the solution.
For instance, last week’s influx of parents and teachers alike temporarily crashed the widely used FreshGrade app that is used as a direct line of communication between teachers and parents in Greater Victoria elementary schools.
“We caution people thinking that everyone needs a computer and internet,” Howe said. “The conversation now is also how can we get texts to kids. Technology is only one barrier. There are other ways to connect with teachers to learn remotely.”
Social media posts have gone viral all over North America of teachers making home visits and giving one-on-one lessons to children while separated by a window or sliding glass door. It’s part of the concerted effort by teachers to maintain a regular, face-to-face connection with students.
“The other day the teacher for our Grade 3 class dropped off an iPad to one of the students,” Watters said.
“I’m curious to see how it all works out,” Hinkle said.
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