Virtual education is a learning curve for all

By Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
May 6 2020

SHEET HARBOUR – There’s no manual for education during a pandemic, but with students, families and teachers doing their best, we're finding a way through it.

Grade 7 DMHS junior high student, Lydia Josey, and her mom, Heather, are adapting to the new ways students are receiving their education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the Nova Scotia government closed schools on March 13, teachers and students have implemented virtual learning techniques to fill the education void.

“I like the online learning. I am lucky that we have good internet at our house, so I haven't had to deal with any problems with that,” says Lydia in an email interview with The Journal.

Students receive their work, generally for the entire week, on Sundays through Google Classroom. “Sometimes when I first look, it seems like a lot of work, and I get kind of stressed out, but when I sit down and do it, it's not as much as I thought it would be.”

The teachers have been, as Lydia describes them, “…awesome. Google Classroom meetings are fun and we see a side of the teachers that is funny.”

The biggest difference for Lydia learning at home, she confesses, is to “get kind of lazy” and put the work off until last minute. “All of my friends are doing pretty good with this too. My mom is always there too if I need help with anything. Overall, I think it is very strange and it is definitely different. I honestly kind of like it though.”

The mom, on the other hand, emphatically, exclaims, “I am not a teacher and trying to teach two grade levels with two daughters is tough. Motivation is rough. It can be difficult because it is easy to argue with Mom in a way they would never argue with their teacher to get working.”

Josey sees the benefit of more one on one time between her daughter and the teacher through Google Classroom. “The remote learning is at least maintaining a sense of normal as far as schoolwork goes. The workload is a lot less and the kids can set their own hours.”

Socially the students are missing their teaches, friends and the classroom experience. “We have excellent communication with the teachers,” says Josey, “and they are doing everything possible to support both parents and students. It is a learning curve for everyone.”

“It’s hard. Kids need routine and structure. They are just not getting that without actually being in school.” Josey says her dining room table is not a great classroom substitute. “All we can do is try.”

Doug Hadley, coordinator communications, Halifax Regional Centre for Education explained to The Journal how DMHS students are being supported throughout the unprecedented course of the pandemic. “For students in grades 10-12 who did not have technology at home, the school made arrangements for those students to come to the building and pick up a Chromebook for their use.”

“Teachers are using Google Hangout Meets (virtual meetings) to connect with students and provide the opportunity for the students to meet with their classmates for academic, social purposes and emotional well-being checks.” In the instances where students in grades Primary to 9 who are without the internet, “The Nova Scotia At-Home Student Learning Package is being distributed to 340,000 homes across Nova Scotia by Saltwire every two weeks as part of their store flyer package.”

Brent Boutilier, Grade 12 student, sees the experience as a learning curve for everyone involved. “Teachers have to adjust their lessons and digitize them and it is also my understanding that they have to prioritize learning outcomes in order to be able to get through the important things so we don’t run out of time.”

“It is different to teach yourself using PowerPoint, videos, documents and textbooks. It definitely puts more responsibility into the hands of the student because you have to have the initiative to get up and do the work,” Boutilier said in an email interview. “Overall, I’m not struggling with keeping up because I have the initiative to get stuff done.”

Boutilier, a graduate this year, is pleased to have been given the opportunity to finish the school year. “Obviously it isn’t the most ideal situation we find ourselves in. I would much rather be in school with my classmates and teachers. It is very unique circumstance we find ourselves in, so we are adapting in equally unique ways.”

In terms of prom and graduation, no formal plan has been laid out as yet. Boutilier says, “At this point it is a ‘hurry up and wait’ circumstance we find ourselves in. It is hard to not know what is going to happen but at the same time keeping everyone safe is the top priority.”

 Hadley says staff at Duncan MacMillan are working collaboratively to meet the needs of all students. They are “staying connected” with each other through regular web conferencing, telephone calls and emails. The staff at DMHS have “reached out in innovative ways” using a video to let their students know they are missed.

“It’s important to recognize that learning during this pandemic is not meant to replicate school,” Hadley concludes. “If it is adding too much to an already full plate for a family, we want the family to reach out to their child's teacher or the school principal to discuss. No child will be disadvantaged because of COVID-19.”