Meeting children’s educational needs in a COVID-19 world

Vancouver Island, BC

It has been more than a month since the province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency, effectively closing public schools and other educational institutions. The closures began coincidentally at the same time spring break would have happened, giving staff time to figure how to help their students complete the school year from home.

Lelaina Jules is not only a mother of a school-age child, but she also teaches in the Comox Valley.

“We love homeschooling during this scary time. I could not imagine having to send our son to school not knowing if he would be safe there from this virus,” Jules told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

The family is making the best of all the time they have together.

“Being home together as a family has been nurturing and just what we need right now,” said Jules.

Lelaina and her husband Alex are raising their nine-year-old son Jackson, who does all his schoolwork at home under his father’s guidance. Jackson spends some time doing online learning and completes his school day with hard-copy assignments provided by his schoolteacher.

In Ahousaht, school staff were busy building education packages for each of the students, taking care to sanitize each item before sending them out. In most cases, parents came to the school to pick up materials for their children.

Pearl Campbell lives in Ahousaht with her four sons and one computer.

“Three of them use the computer that was given to us by the high school; I let my youngest go first because he’s always the first to wake up,” she said.

She works with her toddler at the same time before letting the boys have time with a tablet to work on educational programs. She works with her older boys in the afternoon and evening.

Ina Seitcher, a retired nurse, has her daughter and six children living with her in Port Alberni.

“My daughter has a craft time, scavenger hunts, native art, stories of COVID-19, math, and reading; we only let one on the computer at a time and the rest are pretty well working on what they need,” said Seitcher, adding that they had to come up with a way to allow the children to share the laptop. “We needed to do it this way or go nuts trying to have them on the laptop.”

Danni Seitcher, a Nanaimo parent, has a new baby and was preparing to return to work when the COVID-19 restrictions came down on everyone. Now, she stays home with her children guiding them through online lessons and paper assignments provided by the school.

“The teacher sent me an email with work sheets for math, and it actually is Grade 8 math and he is Grade 9,” she shared.

Her son uses an app called Google Classroom to complete online assignments in a virtual classroom with his cellular phone. He is also required to record his thoughts on a podcast. He has until April 30 to complete his assignments.

“It would be so much easier for us to have a computer but I was just on maternity leave and was supposed to start work on the 13th, but this all happened so we can't really afford it,” Seitcher shared.

Danni’s teenage son, like many others his age, has a cell phone but the screen is small, making it difficult to do the online assignments. Because he has a cell phone, he does not qualify for assistance from the school to get a laptop.

The Jules family in the Comox Valley are making the best of their alone time together.

“We cook, clean, exercise and create special events together,” said Lelaina.

They work online for 90 minutes in the morning before sharing lunch, then they get back to schoolwork in the afternoon. They find time to get out to play basketball or do yard work.

Jules says Jackson found a pen pal in the neighborhood, so he writes her letters and delivers them to her mailbox. Following dinner Jackson spends time online ‘visiting’ with his cousins in Port Alberni.

“Some evenings we do ‘movie night’; we make tickets that go ‘on sale’ for the big featured movie,” said Jules. “Sure, we miss visiting family regularly, but we know we are protecting them just as much as ourselves. We choose to look at this time as a blessing, to be grounded together, to learn together because we know it’s not forever.”

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