Their closure till the fall now confirmed, schools across the NWT are rapidly repurposing themselves as first ports of call for families in need.
While the territory’s education officials race to come up with a plan that salvages some form of learning for hundreds of students, schools themselves are trying to fill gaps in the pandemic safety net.
Frank Galway, superintendent of the Beaufort Delta Education Council (BDEC), said on Wednesday plans to keep students learning “will take us a little while” to flesh out.
In the interim, he said, his education council would do anything it could to help the front lines of the health emergency.
“BDEC is quite aware that our families and our communities could be experiencing some real tough times,” he said. “We are trying to open up dialogue with all of our communities … to see how we can support families in need.”
The education council is starting by identifying non-essential workers happy to be redeployed assisting health and social services staff in their communities.
School resources will also be thrown at helping existing initiatives.
“This week, for example, if families have been supported by a particular group or organization, then next week maybe it’s our turn to assist the families,” said Galway.
“We also have families that are out on the land or will want to go on the land, and we are looking at ways we can support that as well.”
Food and mental health
On Monday this week, before school closures for the remainder of this academic year had been confirmed, the Líídlįį Kúę Regional High School announced it would switch “from an education-focused model to more of an essential services-focused model.”
The school, in the Dehcho’s Fort Simpson, said its priority was keeping “our students, families, and community safe and healthy during these uncertain times.”
A statement from the school added: “This means that we will not be providing our students and families with educational packages at this time.
“Instead, we will … assist families in accessing basic necessities such as food and mental health services.”
How to reinstate food programs is an immediate territory-wide priority for the school system, education minister RJ Simpson acknowledged on Wednesday.
His department expects by Monday to have more detail – though possibly only a little – on broader plans for reintroducing programs and classes.
Grade 12 concern
In the Beaufort Delta, Galway said his council would need at least another week to work out how best to give students learning packages from afar. While the Beaufort Delta has piloted a successful distance learning program online, not every student has internet access.
Simpson and Galway each said ministers and post-secondary institutions across Canada are working to make sure Grade 12 students, whose progression out of high school faces unprecedented interruption, are accepted into their chosen programs.
“We certainly want to identify all of our Grade 12 students and see what their needs are going to be from hereon in, and how we can look outside the box, because the box is closed,” Galway said.
“We have to look outside the box to figure out ways in which we are going to be able to engage those students on the outcomes they need.”
The announcement of territory-wide closures followed a motion by Yellowknife’s YK1 school district on Tuesday supporting such action. Initially, the NWT’s chief public health officer had recommended that schools close until at least April 14.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for workers affected by Covid-19, providing $2,000 a month for up to four months. This includes those Canadians not eligible for employment insurance who will be affected by school closures for the remainder of the academic year.