Community centres jump into action to help families transition to at-home learning

·4 min read
All public and private schools are now closed in Nova Scotia, and students will move to remote learning for at least two weeks.  (Colin Butler/CBC - image credit)
All public and private schools are now closed in Nova Scotia, and students will move to remote learning for at least two weeks. (Colin Butler/CBC - image credit)

Even though community organizations say they're better prepared to help Nova Scotians through a second school shutdown, they also worry some students will struggle and fall behind.

The province closed all schools after confirming another record number of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and tens of thousands of students will begin learning from home Thursday.

Remote learning is a daunting task for most parents, especially those who don't have access to reliable internet.

Donna Sutton Lahmar, the executive director of Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre, said that's the reality for many of the 360 households the centre serves, including many newcomer families.

"That's our concern again this time around," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Tuesday.

"It's great that they have access to a Chromebook, but if they don't know how to use it or have access to internet or have the ability to have support, they will not be able to complete their assignments and be involved with their class, which will mean that they will be behind."

The centre is collecting supplies for kids and parents, like crafts, activity kits and gift cards, to help them cope during the next two weeks, or longer. The provincial government has said it will reassess school closures on May 12.

The centre is also offering 70 lunches for kids beginning Thursday, and a hot meal and breakfast starting next week.

"This is a huge impact in the community," said Sutton Lahmar. "We'll try our best to provide food, as well as snack bags and activities for the children to keep them engaged."

In the southwest of the province, staff at the South Shore Family Resource Association began printing off school work and delivering it to students' homes during last spring's shutdown.

The association operates centres in Bridgewater, Liverpool, Digby and Shelburne. Families living in some of the more rural communities have to contend with unstable internet and spotty cell service, said executive director Heather Fraser.

"We have staff who do weekly check-ins with families that were involved in our programs, and that has seemed to help a lot," she said.

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre delivered Chromebooks to many families last spring during lockdown, and is checking in with them now to see what they need.
The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre delivered Chromebooks to many families last spring during lockdown, and is checking in with them now to see what they need.(Zoe Tennant/CBC)

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax distributed Chromebooks to many students last spring, and executive director Pam Glode Desrochers said staff have already jumped into action to reach out to families and make sure they have what they need this time.

"We kind of knew what to do this time," she said, "We're still learning, no question, but it was a little bit smoother of a transition."

Even so, she said some families will struggle with remote learning. Access to internet and technology can be a big challenge for those who are focused on paying rent and buying groceries, she said.

"I think it's real easy for them to get lost in the shuffle to be quite honest," Glode Desrochers said. "Staff are really good at following up through social media, through phone calls."

Glode Desrochers is executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax.
Glode Desrochers is executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax.(Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Glode Desrochers said many young families and elders she's spoken with are nervous, scared and wondering how long this third wave will last.

In order to help families transition to lockdown, the Mi'kmaq Child Development Centre, which is part of the Friendship Centre, quickly moved programs online and began distributing supplies on Tuesday.

There are days that people feel terribly overwhelmed and debilitated by anxiety. - Lee Merrigan-Thomas, Mi'kmaq Child Development Centre

"I think people are on roller-coasters. Some days, some people are like, 'We've got this. We did it before,'" said co-ordinator Lee Merrigan-Thomas. "And there's days that people feel terribly overwhelmed and debilitated by anxiety."

The centre helps kids up to about 13 years of age and expectant parents. Last year, during the first wave, it started a program called Collective Kitchens that delivers food to families so they can all cook together over Zoom.

They have four sessions planned in the coming weeks, Merrigan-Thomas said.

A new level of exhaustion

Child psychologist Kathleen Smith said even though kids and parents know they've survived a school shutdown before, there's also the exhaustion of having to do it all over again.

"In some ways, I think a lot of people feel worse this time around than last time just because that fatigue is there," Smith told CBC Radio's Information Morning earlier this week.

Her advice to parents is to check in with their kids.

"Any little touch point and connection, I think, is just important right now," she said.

Smith also encouraged parents to check in with themselves, and reach out if they need support.

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