Late for class

·3 min read

There was frost the morning Emby Blum-Payne woke up for her first day of virtual school.

Nearly two months after Labour Day, the eight-year-old signed online to meet her teacher and classmates for their Nov. 6 inaugural remote class.

“It started off with introducing ourselves, like, what grade, our name and if we know anyone,” said the always-chatty Emby, moments after the class wrapped up the first video session.

The students vary in grades, between third and fifth, but they are all in French immersion — the main reason for the delay in the start of their school year; for weeks, the Winnipeg School Division was attempting to recruit and finalize French teacher hiring for its virtual classes.

The first session was intimidating, the enthusiastic, outgoing Emby recalled.

At one point, the third-grader says her new teacher muted herself so the students could talk among themselves via webcam and computer.

Nobody had anything to say. Instead, the children started to retrieve their pets as if it were show-and-tell.

Emby scooped up Ravage, one of her cats, into her arms and showed him off.

In order to protect Emby’s grandfather, who is at-risk and lives in their Elmwood home, the Blum-Paynes have limited the time they spend with others through virtual visits and physically distanced outdoor hangouts.

The family’s two cats, Ravage and Edge, and dogs Maisy and Elsie, have been some of Emby’s closest companions in recent months. She wakes up at 6 a.m. every day to walk the dogs with her dad, Andy Blum, before he leaves for work.

The only time Emby has visited her school, Ecole Sacré-Coeur, this fall was for picture day and even then, she was rushed to the front of the photo line to speed up the visit.

“Emby’s really been struggling not being in school. She misses her teachers and friends, and she’s so extroverted that it’s hard for her to be home,” mother Krystal Payne said during a physically distant porch interview on the first day of virtual school.

“But if I look at it from a community test-positivity rate, I feel really good about (the remote-learning decision).”

The Blum-Paynes recently sought out advice from a child psychologist about their decision to keep Emby home.

The psychologist suggested the family request one-on-one time with their daughter’s new teacher so they can start to build a trusting relationship, Blum said, adding he’s hoping the therapist will help him improve his teaching relationship with Emby.

The bilingual parent, Blum has been tasked with helping Emby with her French homework.

“(We) get pretty frustrated at each other,” he said. “The problem is, I’m not a teacher — and it’s a totally different dynamic when we’re sitting down and trying to go over (work). It’s just so far outside of our routine.”

Since the virtual classes just began, Emby and her mom have been spending much of their days working on the home-school curriculum Payne purchased to supplement her daughter’s remote learning.

And, while they were waiting for the division’s virtual school launch, teachers at Ecole Sacré-Coeur checked in with Emby and invited her to participate in classroom activities with her in-class peers.

The home-school curriculum is reliant on reading, so they’ve already read a handful of texts, including Alice in Wonderland and El Deafo, which Emby said is “the best book ever.”

The graphic novel about bunnies is a loose autobiographical account of author Cece Bell’s experience growing up deaf.

School aside, Emby has been participating in virtual vocal lessons and Girl Scouts. And she was involved in sports until the province temporarily banned indoor recreational activities recently.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press